Zhilei Zhang is apparently very fond of his promotional deal with London-based Queensberry Promotions, not least of which has to do with Queensberry’s business ties with well-heeled benefactors in Saudi Arabia.
Zhang, the hard-hitting southpaw heavyweight from China, has had a banner year, with two straight knockout wins over contender Joe Joyce. After forcing a sixth-round stoppage in their first encounter in April, Zhang ended their rivalry even more conclusively in the rematch, last month, with a one-punch kayo in the third.
The two wins have catapulted Zhang into the upper crust of heavyweight boxing.
They have, moreover, solidified Zhang’s relationship with Queensberry, the British firm headed by veteran Frank Warren.
In a recent interview with the YouTube channel GFunky Boxing, Terry Lane, a co-manager of Zhang, indicated that while their charge has two fights remaining with the company, their ultimate desire is to extend the contract.
Lane pointed out Queensberry’s “great deal” with backers in Saudi Arabia as a key motivation for their pursuit of a lengthier deal.
Queensberry, of course, co-promotes Tyson Fury, the WBC titlist, whom Zhang had called out immediately after knocking out Joyce, and Fury’s next two fights will both take place in the so-called Oil Kingdom. He takes on Francis Ngannou on Oct. 28 followed by a full heavyweight title showdown with Oleksandr Usyk either in December or January. Fury is also promoted by Las Vegas-based Top Rank.
Queensberry’s access to the sovereign wealth fund of one of the world’s leading oil producers could spell an especially lucrative opportunity for a fighter like Zhang down the line.
“Two” Lane said when asked how many fights Zhang had with Queensberry. “We’re talking about extending though. They have a great deal with the Saudis.”
Saudi Arabia, and the Middle East at large, has emerged as a destination for elite prizefighting in recent years because of the gargantuan guaranteed paydays they are able to offer marquee fighters, which is part of a larger trend of hosting high-profile sporting events in that region. These efforts have been described as “whitewashing” by critics who believe the region is trying to cover up their human rights atrocities by improving their image via sports.
Earlier this year, global star Cristiano Ronaldo signed a deal with Saudi Arabia’s football club to make him the highest paid soccer player in the world.
Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn has tried for the better part of the past year to stage a fight in Saudi Arabia between his charge Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder for what would have been career paydays. But those plans, at least as they pertain to Saudi Arabia, do not seem likely, now that the country has focused its efforts on Fury vs. Ngannou and Fury vs. Usyk.
Hearn recently suggested that he may look to stage a card featuring Joshua and a fight between Chris Eubank Jr. and drug-embattled Conor Benn in Abu Dhabi on Dec. 23.
Sean Nam is the author of Murder on Federal Street: Tyrone Everett, the Black Mafia, and the Last Golden Age of Philadelphia Boxing.