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Filip Hrgovic: Croatian heavyweight keen to showcase his world title credentials on Joshua-Usyk undercard

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Filip Hrgovic says his heavyweight rivals are swerving him and he is awaiting an opportunity to showcase his world title credentials against some of the biggest names in the division.

The Croatian returns to the ring for the first time since December 2021 on the undercard of Anthony Joshua’s rematch with Oleksandr Usyk on Saturday August 20 when he faces China’s Zhilei Zhang in a final eliminator for the IBF crown.

It is a fight that had been due to take place on the Canelo Alvarez-Dmitry Bivol card in May before being pushed back in light of Hrgovic’s father passing away.

Prior to then, there had been well-documented issues when it came to finding an opponent willing to face the 30-year-old. That being despite the prospect of a shot at Usyk’s IBF belt.

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“Definitely [people avoid me],” Hrgovic told Sky Sports. “A lot of people didn’t want to fight me. I had a big opportunity to become IBF mandatory challenger so a lot of people reject the fight and one of the reasons is that I am dangerous and everyone knows they’re going to have a hard time fighting me.

“But I’ll make my way to the top, hopefully I become mandatory and nobody in the future could avoid me anymore. I just wait for my opportunity for the big names and big fights to show I’m the best.”

Hrgovic, who is No 3 in the IBF rankings, has been biding his time and building an unbeaten record of 14-0 (12 KOs) in view of a place among the elite.

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The Olympic bronze medallist can appreciate why high-profile fights may have not yet landed at his doorstep, but insists he just needs one chance to demonstrate why he warrants more recognition.

“When I become mandatory I think it will be easier for my opponents to match me because everyone who beats me, if they beat me, they know they’re becoming mandatory,” he said.

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“I think this fight, if I win, will change a lot of things and it will be easier for me. I come from a small country, without big TV and a big market, so I know it is harder for me than guys from Great Britain or USA.”

He is ambitious and self-assured, but realistic about the position he finds himself in, acknowledging there are fights to be made among the chasing pack amid his pursuit of the division’s front-runners.

Beyond August 20 in Saudi Arabia, he is very much open for business.

“I want to fight all the best fighters of this era,” he added. “I want to fight everyone, starting with guys like (Martin) Bakole or (Joe) Joyce, or Frank Sanchez, and then Joshua, Wilder, Usyk. I want to fight them all, of course.

“I really like all the hard fights, I hope they will happen in the next five years.

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“The best years of my career are in front of me. This was just warming up. I hope all these big fights will happen.”

Bakole boosted his own stock in May when he defeated Olympic champion Tony Yoka, who had long-been linked with a fight against Hrgovic which never materialised due to contractual agreements to face the former.

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The upcoming clash between Joseph Parker and Joe Joyce, meanwhile, presents another avenue of interest for Hrgovic.

“Of course, that’s a great fight and facing the winner will be great,” he said. “I think all of us prospects, you have a few who are considered the best like Fury, Usyk, Joshua, but all the rest of us we need to fight each other to get the best to get the chance to fight for a world title.

“There are a lot of prospects and good fighters, we need to fight each other. A lot of people look to avoid hard fights and get a big pay-day and that’s it. I would like to fight all these good guys.”

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The focus for now remains on a dangerous Zhang, the 39-year-old seeking to extend his own unbeaten record of 24-0-1 having produced a first-round knockout of Scott Alexander in May.

“I think he’s a really good opponent, I take him really seriously,” said Hrgovic. “He has big amateur career, he’s undefeated in professionals, he’s southpaw, he’s big, he has fast hands, but I think I’m a different kind of animal, you know?

“It will be hard for him to deal with my aggression and my speed and footwork, but I think he’s a good fighter.”

As warm-up to Joshua-Uysk II, a title eliminator almost two years in the making offers Hrgovic a platform on which to make a statement.

“It’s a big stage, a big event, and can’t wait to get there and fight,” he said. “You need to have all segments, all the tools to compete with the best and I think I have enough power, I have good speed, good feet, good defence, good chin.

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“I think I have a really good abilities to be the best one day. Good technique, good pace, I throw a lot of punches for a big man.

“I think I have all the abilities and I hope I’ll show that in the future.”

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EPL: He’s not happy at Man United – Erik ten Hag opens up on Cristiano Ronaldo

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Manchester United boss, Erik ten Hag has said that Cristiano Ronaldo is not happy at Old Trafford.

According to him, the Portugal international is ‘p****d off’ at being left on the bench against Manchester City at the weekend and is unhappy with his playing time under the Dutch coach.

Ronaldo was kept on the bench for the entire duration of their 6-3 defeat at the Etihad on Sunday.

Ronaldo has started just one Premier League match so far this season, which was the 4-0 defeat at Brentford.

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“I can’t see that relation, that he is not coming on when we are 4-0 down, I did not bring him on out of respect,” Ten Hag told the press ahead of Thursday’s Europa League fixture.

“It has nothing to do with the future or January. I don’t see him as unhappy. He is happy, training well and enjoying.

“He’s not happy that he didn’t play Sunday, don’t get me wrong, but the question was about his mood in training, where he’s happy.

“Of course, he wants to play and he’s p***** off when he’s not playing.”

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UCL: Michael Owen names player who helped Liverpool beat Rangers

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Former Liverpool striker, Michael Owen, has identified midfielder, Jordan Henderson as the player who helped the Reds defeat Rangers in Tuesday’s Champions League tie.

Owen hailed Henderson as the ‘key’ player during Liverpool’s clash with Rangers, adding that he was protecting right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold during the encounter at Anfield.

Recall that Alexander-Arnold’s name has hardly been out of the headlines in recent weeks as the defender’s place in England’s 2022 FIFA World Cup picture looks in doubt.

But the 23-year-old put that all to one side to open the scoring for Liverpool in their 2-0 victory against the Scottish giants. Mohammed Salah also scored a penalty.

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“I thought Jordan Henderson was key today,” Owen told BT Sport after the game.

“You saw the shape he was playing in the first half, he was filling in for him every time he went forward. To have that insurance behind you when you’re going forward must be a great thing.

“He gets in forward positions and that means there’s a gap there, but when someone’s plugging it, it means he doesn’t have to worry about what’s behind him and that is key. If he’s got Jordan Henderson in the team, I think we will see a different player,” he added.

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EPL: Thierry Henry reveals when Arsenal can be called title contenders this season

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Former Arsenal captain, Thierry Henry, has said the team can be considered title contenders if they are still up there by January.

Mikel Arteta’s men currently lead the way with 21 points after their opening eight fixtures.

When asked if he believes Arsenal are back, Henry told CBS Sports: “What is it – eight games in the league? Back to competing, I would say.

“What is nice to see is a team that can compete.

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Former Arsenal captain, Thierry Henry, has said the team can be considered title contenders if they are still up there by January.

Mikel Arteta’s men currently lead the way with 21 points after their opening eight fixtures.

When asked if he believes Arsenal are back, Henry told CBS Sports: “What is it – eight games in the league? Back to competing, I would say.

“What is nice to see is a team that can compete.

“Competing and for me, I always say it’s not because it’s Arsenal or any different team, when you pass Boxing Day and Christmas, it’s going to be different because you have the World Cup, but when you pass January and you’re still up there, competing for the title, then you’re a title contender.”

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