Hrgovic-Zhang and Smith-Bauderlique World Title Eliminators feature on stacked card
Ramla Ali creates history in Saudi
Details of the supporting cast to the colossal Unified Heavyweight World Title rematch between Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua have now been confirmed. The rivals will lock horns again at the King Abdullah Sports City Arena in the coastal city of Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Saturday August 20.
Avoided Croatian Heavyweight star Filip Hrgovic (14-0, 12 KOs) meets China’s undefeated Zhilei Zhang (24-0-1, 19 KOs) in a Final Eliminator for the IBF Heavyweight World Title. The rivals were originally set to clash on the undercard of Canelo Alvarez vs. Dmitry Bivol in May but will now do battle on the Red Sea.
Hrgovic sits at No.3 in the IBF rankings and the big-hitting giant has been hunting a dance partner for a showdown to name the mandatory challenger for the title held by Ukraine’s Usyk. The 30-year-old Olympic bronze medallist has cut a lethal swathe through the pro ranks to sit in a prime position for a deserved shot at the big prize, ending all but two of his fights inside the distance, and not going past the fifth round in his last seven outings.
A host of Heavyweights were offered the clash with ‘El Animal’, but not until it came to No.15 ranked Zhang was a dance partner found, with the lofty Chinese star accepting the challenge. The 39-year-old has been circling for a major showdown, and ‘Big Bang’ gets his wish against Hrgovic with the two KO artist promising to leave it all in the ring with the stakes so high.
‘I respect a fighter like Zhilei Zhang, especially as there were plenty of others who could have fought me and didn’t,” said Hrgovic. “The respect stays outside the ring, and it’ll be business as usual for me when I step in there and look to do what I do best; put people away.
“There’s a huge amount at stake in this fight. I’m a fighter who belongs at the top of this division, and there’ll be no doubt about this when Zhang is dealt with and I go on to beat whoever it is out of Usyk or Joshua. I’m entering my prime, and now is the perfect time to be putting myself up against the top fighters in this division. I will become the heavyweight champion of the world.”
“I’m looking forward to August 20,” said Zhang. “My team and I have been grinding every hour of every day for this fight. Hrgovic is going to be the toughest opponent in my professional career. A victory will secure me the IBF mandatory challenger position, which is why this fight is so important to me. I will be in the best shape I’ve ever been in.”
Liverpool’s Callum Smith (28-1, 20 KOs) returns to the scene of his finest moment where he stopped British rival George Groves in seven rounds at the King Abdullah Sports City Arena in September 2018 to be crowned the WBA Super-Middleweight World Champion and the winner of the World Boxing Super Series Muhammad Ali Trophy.
Now campaigning at Light-Heavyweight where he is ranked as the No.1 contender with the WBC, ‘Mundo’ will face France’s reigning European Champion and No.2 ranked WBC 175lbs contender Mathieu Bauderlique (21-1, 12 KOs) in a Final Eliminator for the World Title currently held by Artur Beterbiev.
Smith was last in action on the undercard of the first meeting between Usyk and Joshua at the home of Tottenham Hotspur in September, destroying Lenin Castillo with a brutal second round KO to return to winning ways after his points loss to Mexican superstar Canelo. Bauderlique last stepped through the ropes in September when he retired Igor Mikhalkin in seven rounds to land the vacant EBU crown.
“The last time I was in Jeddah I was crowned the best Super-Middleweight in the world, so I have fond memories of the place,” said Smith. “The whole experience was great, and the fans really got behind me, so I’m really looking forward to returning next month. I won’t come away this time as a World Champion, but this is a tough fight on a great card and one which should set up a challenge at the number 1 in the Light-Heavyweight division.”
In a huge moment for women’s boxing, Somali-British prospect Ramla Ali (6-0, 1 KO) becomes the first female boxer to feature in an official international event in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, clashing with Crystal Garcia Nova (10-2, 10 KOs) in an eight-round Super-Bantamweight contest. Former two-weight World Champion Badou Jack (26-3-3) fights Richard Rivera (21-0, 16 KOs) in a ten round Cruiserweight contest. Andrew Tabiti (19-1, 15 KOs) and Tyrone Spong (14-0, 13 KOs) collide in an eight round Heavyweight contest. There’s also action for Ukrainian Light-Heavyweight Daniel Lapin (5-0) as he continues his education in the paid code against Slovakia’s Jozef Jurko (9-6-1, 6 KOs) and Super-Lightweight prospect Ziyad Almaayouf faces Mexico’s Jose Alatorre (0-1).
Tickets for Usyk vs. Joshua 2 are available from SAR375 and fight fans can get their tickets via Hala Yalla(www.halayalla.com/sa-en/tickets/rage-on-the-red-sea). For VISA entry information, fans should go to Visit Saudi (www.visa.visitsaudi.com) information on how to apply.
The ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ is the latest international sports event to take place in Saudi Arabia, which has recently emerged as one of the fastest transforming countries in world sport. Since the ‘Clash on the Dunes’ between Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr in 2019, there has been a nearly 300% surge in male and female boxers in the Kingdom, with the number of boxing gyms growing from just seven to 59. As part of the country’s aims to get its people engaged and participating in sport, the Saudi Boxing Federation is aiming to inspire 500,000 in the next four years.