Bob Arum, US promoter of WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, has spoken out about his client’s next move. While rumours abound that ‘The Gypsy King’ will face former WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight champion Andy Ruiz Jr, the Top Rank supremo is advocating a different direction.
In an interview with YouTube channel Ringside Reporter Live, Arum was asked whether the Ruiz fight is likely. “No, not really,” he replied, before adding, “We’re focusing on the Chinese kid that beat Joe Joyce, Zhilei Zhang, he’s the frontrunner for that fight. It’s likely for July, we’re trying to close that out over this weekend.”
Zhang is a more prominent name now than he was a month ago, having sensationally stopped previously-undefeated Joe Joyce in April. It was an impressive victory, with the Beijing 2008 silver medalist grinding down the ‘Juggernaut’ en route to a sixth-round TKO. But this isolated bid for relevance does not make a bout with Fury particularly attractive.
In his previous fight, Zhang had lost a controversial decision to Filip Hrgovic. It was a bizarre 12-rounder in the heat of Jeddah, where both men appeared to gas out early and be fighting on fumes. The IBF title eliminator had the unwanted effect of making fans want to see neither man receive a world title shot.
That opinion may have softened slightly in Zhang’s case, such was the strength of that Joyce win. But when it comes to Fury there are better fights out there. Oleksandr Usyk is chief among them, but the WBA, IBF, WBO and The Ring champion is reportedly heading for a Hrgovic showdown. The Ukrainian star has given Fury plenty of opportunities to make the undisputed title mega-fight and he has not taken them. But even allowing for the death of the fight everyone wants, there are other options out there.
The Ruiz fight that has been mooted recently is a satisfying one. ‘Destroyer’ is one of two men to beat Anthony Joshua as a professional. Since losing the heavyweight belts back to ‘AJ’ in 2020, he has racked up wins over Chris Arreola and Luis Ortiz. Of the chasing pack, Ruiz has one of the better CVs out there. Certainly his credentials are far more compelling than Zhang’s.
Joshua himself is still the most lucrative fight out there for ‘The Gypsy King’. Watford’s two-time heavyweight boss is reported to be circling a fight with Deontay Wilder. But as we’ve found out multiple times in recent years, a fight isn’t official until it reaches the ring. Joshua/Wilder has no poster, no date and no venue. It’s never too late to change course and Fury/Joshua would put more money in the coffers and backsides on seats.
The Zhang fight is not without its charms. The Chinese star endeared himself to British audiences for his affable demeanour and comically modest trash talk in the build-up to the Joyce fight. At 6’6 he is also closer in size to Fury than his last couple of opponents. But given the fairly routine nature of those defences against Dillian Whyte and Derek Chisora, it feels anticlimactic to see Fury fighting another B-level contender. These are the fights you’re supposed to have in between the career-defining bouts, but this will be the third such fight in a row for Fury. His classic 2021 victory over Wilder was the last time he faced a truly elite opponent.
With Usyk and Joshua tied up and little appetite for a fourth Wilder fight, you could argue that elite opposition is hard to come by. But at the age of 39 and with one truly top performance on his CV, Zhang still feels levels below the sort of boxer Fury should target. He’s only a slight improvement on the shopworn Chisora. Fighters like Ruiz are available. Joshua isn’t 100% tied down. Even up-and-comers like Jared Anderson and Frank Sanchez offer a bit more intrigue.
Zhang’s win felt like a late career upset in the vein of Tony Thompson’s wins over David Price or Alexander Povetkin’s shock KO of Dillian Whyte. What it didn’t feel like was the platform for an unlikely run at the title. But this is 2023 and the name and reputation of Tyson Fury are enough to get people in the building without him fighting the cream of the heavyweight crop. But it will be interesting to see how much longer fans accept the diminishing quality of his opposition. Fury is a draw but nothing is permanent. Keep denying the fans the fights they want and the empire might begin to crumble, whether he’s still the champion or not.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change