Sunday, June 16, 2024
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Queensberry vs. Matchroom 5v5 fight card: Biggest storylines surrounding Deontay Wilder, Zhilei Zhang and more

Saudi Arabia is set to host yet another big boxing event on Saturday with a card headlined between heavy-handed heavyweights Deontay Wilder and Zhilei Zhang. The card was originally slated to be main evented by Artur Beterbiev vs. Dmiry Bivol for the undisputed light heavyweight championship before an injury forced a shake-up.

For fans of heavyweight action, there’s another bout featuring big men as Filip Hrgovic takes on Daniel Dubois. The two heavyweight bouts are of more importance than ever in the wake of Oleksandr Usyk becoming the first undisputed champion of the four-belt era and a renewed interest in boxing’s glamour division.

There are plenty of other notable fights on the card, which is themed around a “5 vs. 5” showdown between Matchroom Boxing and Queensberry Promotions fighters, and with any big card comes a host of compelling storylines.

Let’s take a look at the key storylines you need to know ahead of Saturday’s action.

Will Zhang or Wilder’s biggest flaws cost them?

Both Wilder and Zhang enter the main event off a loss to Joseph Parker, who re-established himself as a heavyweight contender after having previously been written off. The biggest problem for Zhang and Wilder against Parker was exactly the same: a complete failure to be active enough in their offensive output.

Wilder has struggled with that same issue at times in the past, including in his rematch with Luis Ortiz when Wilder was down 59-55, 59-55 and 58-56 on the three official scorecards before a crushing knockout. His performance against Parker was worse as he only there 94 power punches across 12 rounds, connecting on just 26. Zhang landed 40 of 147 power shots on Parker, though at least scored two knockdowns to keep the final scores close, only losing by majority decision.

This is a meeting of two of the most fearsome punchers in the sport but also two men who can fall into long spells of inactivity and passivity. There’s a strong possibility the main event plays out as a snoozefest if both men are passive and want to avoid the threat of eating a big shot.

Wilder has promised to try to deliver a vintage performance after admitting he “just couldn’t pull the trigger when it was time” against Parker. Zhang tends to come out strong but fade badly in the second half as his gas tank starts to fail him.

The fight could ultimately come down to whether either man can apply — and maintain — pressure throughout the fight. You have to throw punches to win a fight and whoever falls victim to their worst habits will likely end up on the losing end of this one.

A complicated title situation involving Hrgovic and Dubois

During the long lead up to Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk to crown a four-belt undisputed heavyweight champion, the IBF repeatedly said if the winner went ahead with their contractually-mandated rematch, they would be stripped of the IBF championship. This was the result of Hrgovic’s long wait as mandatory challenger for the IBF belt. After Hrgovic defeated Zhang in 2022, the IBF ordered Usyk to enter into negotiations with Hrgovic only to pull back because they were not next up in the rotation of mandatory obligations.

Hrgovic has dominated Demsey McKean and Mark de Mori while waiting for a shot to become world champion. After Usyk became undisputed, the IBF seemingly reversed course, saying Usyk had the right to request an exception to his mandatory defense against Hrgovic in favor of the Fury rematch, though saying they would have to review the request before coming to a final determination.

At a press conference days out from the fight, Hrgovic appeared completely unaware the IBF title wasn’t slated to be on the line when asked about the situation.

“What do you mean it isn’t? It should be,” Hrgovic said. “It should be for the belt, man. What are you talking about? It is. Yeah. That’s what I heard. I mean, that was the plan from the beginning so what changed now? Who said? You. I don’t know, man, I expect it to be for the title. That’s what I was told. I don’t know.”

After this past weekend’s fight between Jack Catterall and Josh Taylor, Matchroom Boxing’s Eddie Hearn suggested that it would instead be the Hrgovic vs. Dubois winner fighting Anthony Joshua for the vacant IBF title later in the year because it was too soon after Usyk’s request for the IBF to make their decision.

The IBF has not provided any clarity on the situation and it seems odd that the sanctioning body that has said as far back as October 2023 that the belt would be vacated if Fury and Usyk rematched only to now go radio silent and leave fighters unsure of the stakes of their bout days away from stepping in the ring.

Two world title fights on the card

While we don’t know for sure if Hrgovic vs. Dubois will be for a world title, there are two world title bouts set for the event.

Perhaps the best fight on the card features Raymond Ford defending his WBA featherweight title against Nick Ball in a showdown of undefeated fighters.

Ford is coming off one of the most dramatic wins of the year when he stopped Otabek Kholmatov with just seven seconds remaining in the final round. Had Ford not scored the stoppage, he’d have lost the fight on the scorecards. Instead, he pushed through a tough fight and pulled out a bit of magic to win the vacant championship.

Ball is coming off his own dramatic fight, battling Rey Vargas to a draw in a bout for Vargas’ WBC featherweight belt. The compact Ball, who strives to emulate Mike Tyson’s style, scored a pair of knockdowns in a fight he otherwise struggled in, with those knockdowns resulting in a split draw.

The other world title fight is something of a letdown as Dmitry Bivol puts his WBA light heavyweight title on the line against Malik Zinad. Bivol was supposed to be headlining the card in a long-awaited showdown with WBC, WBO and IBF champion Artur Beterbiev to crown an undisputed champion.

Beterbiev suffered an injury in training camp that forced him out of the bout and Bivol chose to remain on the card against a replacement opponent. Zinad had already established himself as a mandatory for the IBF with a win over Jerome Pampellone in a title eliminator, but the injury to Beterbiev gave him the chance to challenge for the WBA strap.

Zinad hasn’t fought the best of the best but he’s a legitimate challenger, even if everyone will be looking ahead to the still-to-be-rescheduled battle between Bivol and Beterbiev.

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