Zhilei Zhang had arguably the most impressive 2023 in the heavyweight division, but he wants next year to top it.
The 40-year-old southpaw bested Joe Joyce twice, first causing an eye injury that led to a doctor’s stoppage before cracking the previously praised granite chin of the Brit in the rematch with a thudding right hand.
The two victories set him as mandatory challenger for the WBO world title, but all the belts are currently tied up in Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk’s undisputed fight on February 17.
‘Big Bang’ does not want to wait it out for his shot, and is interested in only big fights. One such match-up would be Anthony Joshua, who capped off the year with a dominant stoppage of Otto Wallin in a welcome return to form.
Zhang took to social media after the fight to call ‘AJ’ out, using their amateur contest as a base to sell it.
“I lost to a better man 11 years ago in the Olympics. I’m happy we have both come a long way, gone through ups and downs in life. Now it’s time to do this for the sport of boxing and give it to the fans around the world. Let’s get it on!”
As mentioned, the two heavyweights have history dating back to the 2012 London Olympic Games in a quarter-final bout. Joshua countered Zhang in the second round with a well-timed right hand and sending him to the canvas before going on to win a 15-11 points decision.
Joshua is most likely going to be in with Filip Hrgovic next, as it’s assumed the winner of Fury-Usyk will be stripped of that particular belt for failure to face the Croatian mandatory challenger due to a contracted rematch clause.
Zhang could well appear on the undercard of that four-belt bout.