Joshua vs Ngannou is the Main Dish, but Don’t Sleep on this Delicious Undercard


By Arne K. Lang

In press releases, the word “undercard” is invariably prefaced with the word “stacked.” That’s usually bunk – condescending hyperbole – but the undercard on Friday’s show at Kingdom Arena in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia is an exception to the norm; it’s genuinely stacked.

The main go between Anthony Joshua and Francis Ngannou is the icing on the cake, but one or more of the lead-ins may steal the show. Three match-ups, in particular. are very attractive:

Rey Vargas (36-1, 22 KOs) vs. Nick Ball (19-0, 11 KOs)

At stake is the WBC world featherweight title. It rests in the hands of the Mexican who failed to add a third belt to his dossier when he fell short in a bid for the vacant WBC 130-pound title, suffering his first career loss at the hands of O’Shaquie Foster. Vargas doesn’t have a fan-friendly style –all eight of his title fights went the full distance – but he’s a fine technician who was reportedly 128-6 as an amateur and this is an interesting style match-up.

At five-foot-two, Liverpool’s Nick “Wrecking” Ball will be giving up almost six inches in height. The rangy Vargas will be looking to smother his punches, but Ball’s non-stop aggression may ultimately wear him down. The oddsmakers seem to think so as Ball will go to post the favorite. He turned 27 last month whereas Vargas, at age 33, may be slowing down.

Justis Huni (8-0, 4 KOs) vs. Kevin Lerena (30-2, 14 KOs)

This 10-round heavyweight match is a true crossroads fight for Brisbane’s Huni who won the Australian heavyweight title in his first pro fight and was considered Australia’s best bet to win a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics before being shelved with a damaged right hand. Standing six-foot-four, Huni will have a three-inch height and perhaps 20-pound weight advantage over Lerena, but the 31-year-old South African southpaw is accustomed to fighting bigger men.

Lerena doesn’t have a signature win, but he certainly has a signature round. In December of 2022 he went to London and smashed Daniel Dubois to the canvas three times in the opening stanza. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to press his advantage and Dubois stopped him two rounds later. He’s won two fights since then, scoring 10-round decisions over European opponents.

Huni, who is of Dutch, Swedish, Samoan, and Tongan heritage, opened a 7/2 favorite. Lerena spurned a fight with WBC bridgerweight champion Lukasz Rozanski to take this fight and has the scent of a live underdog.

Zhilei Zhang (26-1-1, 21 KOs) vs. Joseph Parker (34-3, 23 KOs)

Twelve years ago, Zhang out-pointed Parker at an amateur tournament in Azerbaijan. Zhang was between Olympics after capturing silver at the 2008 Games in Beijing. In 2021, the big Chinaman suffered a metabolism issue midway through a match with Jerry Forrest that he was winning handily and barely made it to the final bell where he salvaged a draw. He’s 4-1 since that episode. The loss came in a very competitive fight with Filip Hrgovic and he followed that up with back-to-back stoppages of previously undefeated Joe Joyce, a boxer thought to have been indestructible.

Back in December of 2016, Parker won the WBO world heavyweight title on his home turf in Auckland, New Zealand, with a narrow decision over Andy Ruiz. The title had been stripped from Tyson Fury because of inactivity and mental health issues. He lost it to Anthony Joshua and would be defeated twice more, by Dillian Whyte and by the aforementioned Joe Joyce who wore him down and stopped him in the 11th.

Parker will be making his third straight start in Riyadh where he turned in a career-best performance in his last outing, a lopsided 12-round decision over Deontay Wilder (the Kiwi won every round on one of the scorecards). He trained for that fight at Tyson Fury’s home gym in Morecambe and had Fury’s bosom body Andy Lee serving as the chief voice in his corner.

Parker will be the underdog here, notwithstanding the fact that at age 32 he’s the younger man by eight years. He figures to out-box Zhang if he can keep his composure and we like his chances.


Another fight of note pits Ismail Madrimov (9-0-1, 6 KOs) against Magomed Kurbanov (25-0, 13 KOs). They will compete for a WBA world title at 154 pounds. The belt was formerly held by Jermell Charlo who the WBA reclassified as its “champion in recess.”

This match was on and off and now its back on again. There’s confusion over why the fight was in limbo. Some say that there was an “anomaly” with Madrimov’s A-sample that wasn’t confirmed by the B-sample. Others say it was an administrative matter. Regardless, as the late Mills Lane would have said, “let’s get it on.”

Madrimov, from Uzbekistan, is a stablemate and former amateur teammate Otabek Kholmatov who came up a hair short this past weekend in a doozy of a fight with Raymond Ford at Turning Stone. He’s answered the bell for only 69 rounds as a pro but had a deep amateur background that included two wins over Cuban stalwart Arlen Lopez in 5-round fights. The draw on his ledger is of the “technical” variety, accruing from an accidental clash of heads in a bout that lasted only three rounds. Coming out of the amateur ranks, he was so advanced that his first pro fight was a 10-rounder. Magomed Kurbanov is something of a mystery fighter as virtually all of his 25 pro fights were staged in his hometown of Ekaterinburg, Russia, and, with a few exceptions, were not televised in other parts of the world.


Dubbed “Knockout Chaos,” Friday’s card carries a suggested list price of $39.99 for DAZN subscribers. Per DAZN, the undercard will begin at 11 am ET/8 am PT with the main event ring walks expected to go at 5:50 pm ET/2:50 pm PT.
O K you got my attention on the under card's so that i can agree could be interesting esp the Zig Zag fight and i got the Chinaman on that one also. And the other two will be of interest, now how to get the card without having to deal with Dumbzone...... maybe i can figure out a way.