ZHILEI ZHANG wasn’t surprised when he heard that Anthony Joshua’s next opponent will be Francis Ngannou.
The Chinese heavyweight was one of the names linked with Joshua following the Brit’s one-sided win over Otto Wallin and also Joseph Parker’s dominant win over Deontay Wilder, Joshua’s proposed next opponent, last month.
On Friday (January 5), however, Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn announced on X (Twitter) that his star man would face Ngannou in Riydah, Saudi Arabia. It will be the second professional fight for the former UFC Heavyweight champion having pushed Tyson Fury all the way on October 28.
“You can’t help [but] think what is happening to boxing right now,” Zhang said when speaking to Boxing News.
“My team approached them [Joshua’s team]. We had this conversation and then next thing you know he is fighting Ngannou.
“I can’t really say I’m disappointed,” he continued. “It’s a matter of personal choice. When you look at Ngannou, he’s somebody from a different sport. All of sudden he’s the cash cow. Everybody thinks if I were to fight Ngannou I’ll make a ton of money. What is boxing at the end of the day? Is it a business or is it a competitive sport? That’s the question.”
Zhang, meanwhile, can take comfort from the fact that in 2023 he was one of the heavyweight division’s shining lights. His two victories over Joe Joyce, both finishing well inside the distance, proved that the 40-year-old is a force to be reckoned with. And Zhang told BN he is “cautiously optimistic” about making his return on the Joshua-Ngannou undercard.
In truth, Joshua-Zhang would have made for a far more appealing prospect for March than Joshua-Ngannou. But Zhang, who Eddie Hearn used to promote, never had high hopes he would get the opportunity to take on the 2012 Olympic Gold medallist.
“I never thought this fight would be made,” Zhang said. “I think there’s one more person, Eddie Hearn, who will not let Anthony Joshua fight me. It’s too much of a risk. When I signed with Matchroom a couple of years ago that was one of the conversations we had. My management team flew to London and sat down with everybody to talk about it. It’s been years since that, and this fight never materialised. They know how to successfully avoid this.”