Filip Hrgovic edges Zileh Zhang in gruelling heavyweight battle
Hopes were high that Filip Hrgovic and Zilhei Zhang would deliver some kind of demolition derby in a final eliminator for the IBF heavyweight title.
It turned out to be an enthralling and unusual 12-rounder that saw both fighters have their moments but Hrgovic ran out a narrow winner by margins of 115-112 (twice) and 114-113.
Zhang dropped the Croat with a cuffing right hook in round one and Hrgovic finished the session on the back foot, giving Zhang a 10-8 opener.
Hrgovic put his shots together well in the next and had the Chinese boxer nodding respectfully but Zhang remained a threat with his strong left hand.
It was a more cultured fight than many had anticipated but it was also very watchable. Hrgovic was cut on his scalp early in the third following a clash of heads and the favoured Croatian was finding it hard to penetrate his opponent’s high guard.
Towards the end of the fifth, Zhang broke through with some hard shots and Hrgovic was on the back foot in the next. Zhang dominated the early and middle part of the sixth and the Croat started to look despondent as he bled from the nose. It was a big round for Zhang.
The seventh saw Zhang breathing heavily with Hrgovic throwing more and varying his attack to the body. Zhang was tiring but Hrgovic was short on self-belief, even though he was displaying plenty of courage. Both had landed and taken big punches but Ronnie Shields was reading Hrgovic the riot act between rounds.
Hrgovic boxed with a rare swagger at times in the 10th, putting clusters of hard shots together. Zhang was a threat with single shots but the 39-year-old was gassing out.
Throughout the fight, as both men dripped with sweat, they struggled to get purchase on the canvas with their boots and often slipped and in the 11th Zhang actually crashed to the deck from a slip after his back foot gave way.
Hrgovic fired in some heavy shots in the final round and Zhang did well to hang tough but the boos at the decision indicated many thought Zhang had done enough. It was close. It swung one way and then the other. A rematch would be welcomed.
Zhang is now 24-1-1 (19), Hrgovic, improves to 15-0 (12).
Olympic silver medallist Ben Whittaker scored the second win of his pro career with a workmanlike six rounds against Croatia-based Bosnian Petar Nosic.