Zhilei Zhang’s 2023 consists of two stoppage wins over the previously undefeated Joe Joyce, and the hard-hitting southpaw from Zhoukou, China looks to keep that momentum going in the new year.
With just a sole decision loss on his record to Filip Hrgovic – and a contentious one at that – ‘Big Bang’ has fast become a fighter fans feel is avoided.
Fortunately for him, the Joyce wins have secured his spot at the top table, and he’s earned a shot at unified champion Oleksandr Usyk. The Ukrainian will face Tyson Fury on February 17 to crown an undisputed champion, and Zhang wants to be fighting just before the two titlists.
Speaking to the Express, he named Efe Ajagba as an ideal opponent.
“I would love to get on the Fury-Usyk card as a chief support. Right now, I’m just training, I don’t have any information. I don’t have any updates. I can only keep myself hopeful. But in terms of opponents, I really have no idea because everybody’s fighting everybody else. I like the [Efe] Ajagba fight. Bring it.”
Ajagba – coming off a stoppage over Joseph Goodall – is currently ranked number 11 with the WBO, the sanctioning body that Zhang holds his Interim title with. He is fifth with the WBC and twelfth with the IBF.
The one blemish on his 20-fight record is a decision loss to Frank Sanchez, which came back in 2021. He has built up a string of four victories since.
Whilst it’s perhaps not as high-level as some fans would like, Zhang is right in saying that most others are tied up – five of the WBO’s top ten have fights booked.
Amongst the names that are seemingly free to fight, Andy Ruiz Jr and Jared Anderson are also options, and both are ranked higher than Ajagba.
‘Big Bang’ will be looking to keep hold of his mandatory position in the hope that he fights for the full world title later in the year. With a rematch clause in the Fury-Usyk bout, at least some of the belts are expected to fragment after their first encounter.
The IBF has already confirmed that the winner will be stripped should he not face its mandatory challenger, Hrgovic. Whether or not the WBO will follow suit remains to be seen, and may depend on the second fight’s timeline.
At 40-years-old, Zhang doesn’t have long to wait for his first crack at a world title.