Pick It: Deontay Wilder vs. Zhilei Zhang

When to Watch: Saturday, June 1, 2 p.m. Eastern Time / 7 p.m. BST

How to watch: DAZN Pay-Per-View

Why to Watch: The top spot for this week originally belonged to Artur Beterbiev vs. Dmitry Bivol. But Beterbiev suffered an injury in training camp, postponing the fight for recognition as the undisputed light heavyweight champion.

Fortunately there were already several other notable bouts scheduled for this day at the Kingdom Arena in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Beterbiev-Bivol would’ve been on ESPN+ with the other fights on this DAZN pay-per-view.)

As with other shows put on in the country, there is a stacked card — including a main event between Wilder and Zhang that seems like a must-see both because of the stakes and the styles involved.

Both men are coming off defeats — to the same person, at that. Wilder lost a wide and surprisingly lackluster decision to former heavyweight titleholder Joseph Parker in December. Parker’s career resurgence continued in March, when he survived two knockdowns to take a majority decision over Zhang.

Zhang had a rematch clause giving him the right to face Parker again but opted instead for the money Saudi Arabia was offering for him to face Wilder.

Wilder’s trainer praised Parker and his team for their strategy, which stymied boxing’s hardest puncher. Wilder has also spoken of needing to regain his passion for the sport, which could help him return to old form in the ring.

Wilder was one of boxing’s longest-reigning titleholders, and a can’t-miss/don’t-blink attraction who could change a fight with one punch, and often did exactly that. His trilogy with Tyson Fury was excellent, with the dramatic first fight ending in a draw, Fury’s domination of Wilder in their sequel, and the back-and-forth knockdowns in their third meeting. 

Wilder departed the trilogy 0-2-1 against Fury and lost his WBC belt in the process. He took a year off to recover from the punishment, returning in October 2022 and knocking Robert Helenius out in one round. Then came an even longer layoff, 14 months out of the ring before the Parker fight. That loss dropped Wilder to 43-3-1 (42 KOs).

The pride of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is now 38 years old. His best days could be behind him. But other older heavyweights have often fought and succeeded at a high level. If Wilder can do the same, then a win against Zhang would position him for another title shot, be it against Oleksandr Usyk or for whomever else winds up with the IBF belt that Usyk may wind up vacating.

Zhang, 41, is proof himself that heavyweights aren’t necessarily done as they near 40. It didn’t always look like that would happen. He struggled his way to a draw with Jerry Forrest in 2021, then learned he needed to take better care of himself while preparing for a fight. Zhang lost a close decision to Filip Hrgovic in 2022.

But then Zhang energized his career in 2023 with a pair of big knockouts against Joe Joyce. That landed him in the ring with Parker. Zhang came up short on the scorecards. A win against Wilder would put Zhang back in the mix.

They are two fighters with heavy hands. Zhang in particular is there to be hit. Will he be able to take Wilder’s power? And what happens if Zhang lands a big shot on Wilder?

This will hopefully be a fun one. 

And not that this event needs another hook to it, but Wilder vs. Zhang is part of the “5 vs. 5” card in which five fighters affiliated with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing face five fighters from Frank Warren’s Queensberry Promotions stable.

The undercard includes Bivol vs. late replacement opponent Malik Zinad, as well as the other four matches included in the “5 vs. 5” showdown.

Let’s talk about those fights:

Bivol vs. Zinad: Bivol will need to avoid a letdown against Zinad, while Zinad will seek to score the upset and make the idea of Beterbiev-Bivol moot.

Last year was disappointing enough for Bivol. After earning Fighter of the Year in 2022 with wins over Canelo Alvarez and Gilberto Ramirez, Bivol didn’t appear again until the final days of 2023. He remained undefeated after shutting out Lyndon Arthur. Bivol, a 33-year-old, is 22-0 (11 KOs).

Zinad is 22-0 (16 KOs) and stepping up significantly in level of opposition. The 33-year-old has beaten two undefeated opponents in a row, though it’s fair to say that neither Mickael Diallo nor Jerome Pampellone had yet to distinguish himself in the light heavyweight division. One other note: Zinad has been a road warrior. This will be the 10th country where he’s fought in just 23 outings (and that number hits 12 if you count the different countries of the United Kingdom).

As for the remainder of the 5 vs. 5:

Filip Hrgovic vs. Daniel Dubois: Hrgovic is a heavyweight contender who earned a title shot years ago but has yet to receive it. Dubois has come up short before but wants another opportunity.

Hrgovic, a 31-year-old from Zagreb, Croatia, was the first person to beat Zhilei Zhang, winning a decision in 2022. Since then, he’s taken out Demsey McKean in 12 rounds and Mark DeMori in one to move to 17-0 (14 KOs). Hrgovic is in line for the IBF belt, one of four currently owned by Oleksandr Usyk. 

Dubois, a 26-year-old from London, is 20-2 (19 KOs). That first loss came when he was counted out against Joe Joyce in the 10th round of their 2020 bout; Dubois went down to one knee after suffering a fractured eye socket. Dubois bounced back with four wins, including stoppages of Trevor Bryan and Kevin Lerena. In the latter, Dubois visited the canvas himself three times in the first round after a leg injury before putting Lerena away in the third.

That brought Dubois into last year’s challenge of Usyk for three world titles. This is the bout where people continue to debate whether a shot Dubois landed was a legal blow on the beltline or an accidental foul that veered low. Usyk wound up stopping Dubois in the ninth. Dubois returned this past December with a stoppage of Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller in the final seconds of the final round.

Raymond Ford vs. Nick Ball: This fight was one point away from being a featherweight unification bout. Alas, Ford comes in with a nearly earned world title while Ball gets a second shot at winning one.

Ford, a 25-year-old from Camden, New Jersey, thrillingly came from behind to stop Otabek Kholmatov in the final seconds of their action-packed March meeting. That won Ford the WBA belt and landed him at 15-0-1 (8 KOs).

Ball, a 27-year-old from Liverpool, challenged WBC titleholder Rey Vargas just days after Ford-Kholmatov. This, too, was a come-from-behind story. Vargas pulled out in front until Ball finally closed the distance and got to him. Ball dropped Vargas in the eighth and the 11th rounds but would have to settle for a draw, with scores of 116-110, 113-113 and 114-112. 

One more note: In 2023, Ford and Ball fought a pair of former junior featherweight titleholders who themselves are quite familiar with each other. Ford outpointed Jessie Magdaleno while Ball did the same against Isaac Dogboe, who dethroned Magdaleno in 2018.

Hamzah Sheeraz vs. Austin “Ammo” Williams: This is a fantastic pairing of two rising middleweights.

Sheeraz, a 24-year-old living in Essex, England, had scored 13 straight wins by KO or TKO, including a first-round win over Liam Williams in February. No one had stopped Liam Williams before — not Demetrius Andrade, Chris Eubank Jr. or Liam Smith. That brought Sheeraz to 19-0 (15 KOs).

Austin Williams (no relation), a 28-year-old living in Houston, is coming off a points win over Steve Rolls last September and a seventh-round stoppage of previously unbeaten Armel Mbumba-Yassa this February. Williams is 16-0 (11 KOs).

Craig Richards vs. Willy Hutchinson: Richards is 18-3-1 (11 KOs). The 34-year-old Londoner lost decisions to Dmitry Bivol in 2021 and Joshua Buatsi in 2022. His last fight was in February, when he stopped Boris Crighton in seven.

Hutchinson is 17-1 (13 KOs). The 25-year-old from Carstairs, Scotland, suffered that lone loss in 2021 down at super middleweight against Lennox Clarke. Hutchinson was dropped and cut, leading to the fifth-round TKO defeat. Since then he’s returned to light heavyweight and won four in a row, including a TKO2 of Martin Houben this March.

More Fights to Watch

Friday, May 31: Andreas Katzourakis vs. Kudratillo Abdukakhorov (DAZN, 7 p.m. Eastern Time)

Katzourakis has spent much of his career at middleweight. Abdukakhorov has mostly fought at welterweight. Fittingly, they’re meeting in-between at junior middleweight in this fight, which headlines a show in Houston. This fight is part of Overtime Boxing’s ongoing 154-pound tournament.

Katzourakis is a 26-year-old originally from Athens and now living in Los Angeles. He is 12-0 (10 KOs). 

Abdukakhorov, a 30-year-old from Uzbekistan, suffered his first loss at the end of 2021, losing a unanimous decision to Cody Crowley (who will challenge Jaron “Boots” Ennis for a welterweight belt this July). Abdukakhorov returned 14 months later and lost then, too, dropping a unanimous decision to a 13-3 fighter named Ve Shawn Owens. That necessitated a pair of confidence builders to round out Abdukakhorov’s 2023, with him making short work of foes with poor records. Abdukakhorov is now 20-2 (12 KOs).

Friday, May 31: Kevin Hayler Brown vs. Idalberto Umara (DAZN, time TBA)

Hayler Brown is a junior welterweight prospect from Cuba who defected a couple of years ago, now lives in Las Vegas and has been fighting exclusively at the Caribe Royale Orlando in Florida. That’s where he returns for his fifth pro fight. The 30-year-old was last seen in December stopping Marcos Leonardo Jimenez in five rounds to move to 4-0 (3 KOs).

Umara is a 23-year-old also originally from Cuba. He calls Miami home now. Umara’s largely competed at lightweight. He dropped a decision to Fradimil Macayo in December, outpointed Jayson Velez in February, and is now 12-2 (8 KOs).

Friday, May 31: Steve Gago vs. Aketelieke Jieensi (TrillerTV.com, 6 a.m. Eastern Time)

This fight takes place in Perth, Australia, hence the early start time for those watching in the United States. Gago, who is from Perth, is a 35-year-old welterweight with a record of 13-2 (6 KOs). He lost a decision to Liam Paro in July 2021 and then didn’t return until March 2023. This will be his first fight in nearly 15 months. 

Jieensi, a 26-year-old from Altay, China, is 13-4-3 (4 KOs). He lost to Jalen Tait in November and then returned this March with a victory.

Saturday, June 1: Lucas Bahdi vs. Juan Javier Carrasco (DAZN, time TBA)

Bahdi, an unbeaten lightweight from the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, will fight at home against Carrasco. Bahdi is 30 years old and coming off a pair of knockout wins that moved him to 15-0 (13 KOs). Carrasco, a 32-year-old from Ciudad Mendoza in Argentina, is 20-1 (12 KOs) and will be fighting outside of his home country for the first time.

Follow David Greisman on Twitter @FightingWords2. His book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” is available on Amazon.

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