Zhang finishes Wilder as Dubois upsets Hrgović on morning of shifting fates | Boxing

Deontay Wilder’s career as an elite heavyweight came to a crashing end. For Daniel Dubois, the journey into the top flight is only just beginning. And the unceasing, unsentimental round-and-round of boxing’s glamour division turned in dramatic fashion early Sunday morning in the an-Nafud desert.

Wilder, who held the WBC’s version of the heavyweight title from 2015 through 2020, suffered a brutal fifth-round knockout at the hands of Zhilei Zhang in the main event of a joint Matchroom-Queenbury card that pitted the stables of British boxing’s leading promoters against one another.

The disastrous defeat marked the American’s fourth loss in his past five outings and the likely terminus for the 38-year-old fighter widely regarded as boxing’s biggest puncher, who had strongly hinted at retirement in the run-up to the crossroads fight at Riyadh’s Kingdom Arena.

“I have to pay attention to his right hand, but I successfully took his right hand away,” Zhang said through a translator. “I block a few punches, but hell yeah. He punches hard. I give him a lot of respect. He’s a heavy puncher.”

Zhang, the 41-year-old from China’s Henan province based in the suburbs of Newark, New Jersey, was coming off a December setback against Joseph Parker where he lost on points despite scoring two knockdowns. But he spent the opening four rounds on Sunday morning pressing an eye-opening weight advantage of 68lbs and methodically walking down the uncharacteristically timid Wilder, who appeared a silhouette of the Alabama knockout artist who raced to a record of 40 wins in 40 fights with 39 coming inside the distance before the first instalment of his heavyweight championship trilogy with Tyson Fury back in 2018.

Zhilei Zhang drops Deontay Wilder during the fifth round of their heavyweight non-title fight on Sunday morning at Riyadh’s Kingdom Arena. Photograph: Mark Robinson/Getty Images

Wilder roused from his slumber early in the fifth, landing a pair of wild right hands that moved his mountainous foe backwards, but the abrupt offensive created openings that Zhang wasted little time seizing on. Within moments he’d spun Wilder 180 degrees with a lead right hook that left the American stunned before following it up with a free shot: a second right hook that detonated flush and dumped him to the seat of his trunks. Wilder managed to beat the 10-count, but he was out on his feet and referee Kieran McCann correctly stopped it at the 1:51 mark.

“I lost to Parker,” Zhang said. “It was a fair loss. He was a better man that night. But I do think I learned a lot from that fight, because after I knocked out Joe Joyce [twice in 2023], I was overconfident and I underestimated Parker. So I learned that I had to stay focused. As long as the bell doesn’t ring, stay focused.”

The mostly dull affair, at least until the violent denouement, was in stark contrast with the all-action, defense-optional melee before it, which saw Dubois upset the odds and take a major stride toward a heavyweight title shot with an eighth-round stoppage of Filip Hrgović, a 2016 Olympic bronze medalist and the IBF’s mandatory challenger .

The twice-beaten Dubois, a 26-year-old from south-east London who lost by ninth-round knockout to unified heavyweight champion Oleskandr Usyk in August, absorbed heaps of punishment in the opening rounds as Hrgović found alarmingly consistent purchase with one punishing right hand after another. But the 31-year-old Croatian was cut over his right eye in the second round and over his left around the fifth and his conditioning wilted under the frenetic pace that he’d set from the opening minutes.

By the seventh Dubois was stalking Hrgović around the ring, throwing and landing heavy blows with his exhausted opponent in retreat. The bloodied Hrgović, whose white trunks had faded to an ominous pink, was badly hurt by a concussive right hand near the end of the frame, then a pair of explosive shots along the ropes that might have closed the show if not for the bell.

Dubois picked up where he left off in the eighth but it wasn’t long before referee John Latham called time, summoning the ringside physician to inspect Hrgović’s double wounds. When the doctor proved unsatisfied, Latham waved it off 57 seconds into the round and Dubois’ career-best performance was accomplished.

Daniel Dubois lands a right hand on Filip Hrgović during their fight on Sunday morning in Riyadh. Photograph: Mark Robinson/Getty Images

“I ate them shots, but it was all to wake me up,” Dubois said of his sluggish start. “Once I’ve felt a few shots, a few stings, I woke up and I was just on it. I just thought don’t wait. Don’t wait.

“The round before the last, I was getting to him. It was just coming together like magic. … I’m just so proud of myself for this. It’s all a learning experience. I’ve come from rock bottom last year and now we’re back on top.”

The heavy-handed Briton nicknamed Dynamite claimed the IBF’s interim heavyweight title with Sunday’s win, which could be upgraded to a proper world championship should Usyk, who outpointed Fury for all four major titles last month, be stripped by the sanctioning body ahead of their scheduled Demember rematch. Dubois could also move into a lucrative showdown with former two-time champion Anthony Joshua, who took in Sunday’s action from ringside.

“I’m glad I’ve got this IBF belt and on to the next,” Dubois said. “I’ve heard the next opponent will be AJ, so bring it on. I’m just anxious to to become the best. This is my era. This is my time, and I just need to keep improving and [keep] coming through these tests.”

Earlier, Liverpool’s Nick Ball gave Britain a second current male world champion by winning the WBA featherweight title from the American Raymond Ford in a razor-thin 12-round split decision.

One judge scored it 115-113 for Ford but was twice overruled by the same margin for Ball, who captured a world title in his second try after being cruelly denied in a controversial March draw with Mexico’s Rey Vargas.

Liverpool’s Nick Ball won the WBA featherweight title from Raymond Ford by a narrow 12-round split decision over Raymond Ford of the United States. Photograph: Richard Pelham/Getty Images

“He’s a tough man and a class boxer. I had to dig deep to get the belt,” Ball said. “I’m made up. I should be two-time [champion] but it’s not the case. I’m the champ now so it doesn’t really matter.”

The 27-year-old Merseysider finished strong in a wildly entertaining back-and-forth scrap that surely demands a rematch. He joins WBO cruiserweight title-holder Chris Billam-Smith as Britain’s second man to currently hold a major world title.

Also on the undercard Russia’s Dmitry Bivol successfully defended his WBA light heavyweight title against Malik Zinad of Libya, scoring a knockdown in the opening session before winning by sixth-round TKO for his first stoppage win since 2018.

The unbeaten Bivol, one of the sport’s most gifted technicians and a fixture on pound-for-pound lists since a 2022 win over Canelo Álvarez, was initially slated to headline Saturday’s card against Artur Beterbiev in a hugely anticipated four-belt unification fight for the undisputed title at 175lbs. But Beterbiev was forced to withdraw due to a ruptured meniscus suffered in training camp last month, prompting Zinad’s call-up as a replacement opponent.

Afterward Turki Alalshikh, chairman of the General Entertainment Authority and the driving force behind Saudi Arabia’s expanding influence in boxing, entered the ring to announce that Bivol’s fight with Beterbiev was rescheduled for 12 October in Riyadh.

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