Two unbeaten 6-6 heavyweights faced off on the Usyk-Joshua 2 undercard in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Saturday, and coming in, the thinking was the younger man had the edge. Thirty year old Filip Hrgovic (243 pounds) entered at 14-0, while the 39 year old Chinese Zhang Zhilei native was 24-0-1 coming to this eliminator. After 12 rounds, I had Zhang up 3 or so rounds. But the judges said otherwise. 115-112, 115-112, 114-113, for Hrgovic, the arbiters said. There was some murmuring to indicate the displeasure with the call.
The bout had been put off when the Croatian Filip Hrgovic suffered the loss of his father. The more heralded boxer had to know that on paper Zhang would be his stiffest test, as matchmakers have done lots to build the legend of the Croat. Zhang has gotten better competition in sparring than in real bouts, with Jerry Forrest being his sternest on-paper test prior to the tango.
Filip Hrgovic said after, “I did everything for my father (who died months ago). He lauded his wife, too, who gave him energy. “Look at her, how beautiful she is, she's an angel,” he stated. He admitted he was losing, but said he came on late. “The last six rounds he was just standing there.” The knockdown wasn't hurtful, “I wasn't hurt at all.” He said Zhang surprised him, and was better than expected.
The lefty Zhang (277 pounds; lives in New Jersey) scored a knockdown, off a right hand, in the final minute of the first. Hrgovic moved and looked to get angles in the opener. Replay showed the telling blow was right behind the head, a cuff when Hrg was dipping his head.
In the second, Hrg tried to take it to 2008 Olympic silver medal winner Zhang more, though he still looked to respect the Chinese man's power. The Croatian hitter, wo won bronze at the 2016 Games, led and countered, and took back the momo in the clash, arguably.
In the third, we saw a slice drip on Filip Hrgovic, the RING prospect of the year in 2018, on his scalp, outside the left eye. Zhang had the edge, it looked like, through the fourth. Would Zhang, with a flabby middle, retain energy if it went to deeper water rounds? Hrgovic's total lack of body work was puzzling, though. The Chinese whacker hurt Hrgovic in the fifth. But by round seven, Hrgovic had more luck, probably because Zhang's energy lagged some. Then in the eighth, Zhang landed a nasty left, which the Croatian man handled. A right hook-straight left follow from Zhang showed watchers that his accuracy game was on.
To the ninth– we saw Filip Hrgovic look like the fresher man, as he kept at middle distance, respecting the foes' power. Then Zhang piled up some connects, he worked inside and Hrgovic's legs were keeping him in range to get blasted. The round ended and Hrgovic looked weary.Ronnie Shields told Hrgovic, “You're giving the round away!” A counter check hook really buzzed the younger man.
In the tenth, we saw Filip Hrgovic in control, he moved and threw where and when he wanted to. Both were weary in the waning seconds, this fight should at least tell Hrgovic some of what he needs to do moving forward to get to where he wants to be. In the 11th, Hrgovic once again got tagged, and then strolled away, with bad body language. Then he got some fuel, and felled Zhang. Nope, it was a slip, in the middle of the ring, where slippery canvas had been an issue. To round 12– we saw Zhang look more gassed and Hrgovic try to close the show better. To the cards we'd go…