Zhang Zhilei has already moved on from his last fight and its debatable outcome.
The rest of his team still regards the development as unfinished business.
China’s Zhilei was considered unlucky to come up short in his IBF heavyweight title eliminator with Croatia’s Filip Hrgovic. Scores of 115-112, 115-112 and 114-113 all landed in favor of Hrgovic, who had to recover from an opening round knockdown to prevail in their battle of unbeaten heavyweight contenders.
The bout served as the chief support to Oleksandr Usyk’s repeat win over Anthony Joshua to defend his unified heavyweight crown this past Saturday in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Hrgovic is now one of three mandatory challengers in queue for Usyk (20-0, 13KOs), while Zhilei seems unbothered by the absence of a guaranteed title fight in his future.
“As soon as I stepped out of the ring, the fight was history,” Zhilei said of the ordered title elimination bout, which was delayed by three months. “I desperately want to fight for the world championship, but I especially love putting on exciting fights for boxing fans across the globe.
The two were supposed to collide in May, only for Hrgovic (15-0, 12KOs) to request a postponement due to the passing of his father. Zhilei (24-1-1, 19KOs) njoyed a stay-busy fight on the original May 7 and seemed to be the sharper of the two for much of their 12-round clash over the weekend.
Most observers had Zhilei—a 2008 Olympic Silver medalist for China—deserving the nod in the end. His team saw an even more decisive outcome.
“This was an easy fight to score,” Shaun George, Zhilei’s trainer and a former light heavyweight contender during his fighting heyday. “I had it 115-112 for Zhilei, 7 rounds to 5, including the extra point for the knockdown.
“The judges should be investigated. Both Zhang and Hrgovic gave great performances, but fair is fair, and this decision was NOT. Zhilei deserved the win. He should be fighting for the world title next.”
The bout was a step up in class for both heavyweights, with Zhilei’s stock rising even in defeat. The notoriety gained along with the viewership he brought to the event should see more opportunities for the still relevant heavyweight.
“There is fast-growing interest for Zhilei in China,” insists Kurt Li, a career-long member of Zhilei’s management team. “Media and public attention on him has exploded. The fight was shown on multiple leading platforms there, and the Mandarin version of the hashtag #ZhangZhilei accumulated more than 340 million views on Douyin – the country’s leading social media platform.
“On Zhang’s own social media account, his post-fight interview is currently approaching thirteen million views.”
That part—and not the negativity surrounding the scorecards—is where Zhilei elects to place his focus and energy.
“I’d love for fans to see more of the Chinese power,” noted Zhilei. I will be back and will work hard to deliver more exciting fights.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox