At this moment, things are only starting to get interesting at heavyweight!
Boxing’s heavyweight division has a rich and celebrated history. The sport’s biggest and brightest stars often shine in the division of the big men!
Legends of Yore
Historically in the sport of boxing, the division often goes through highs and lows in terms of talent. The 1970s saw Olympic Gold Medal winners Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, and George Foreman cement their legacies battling each other and a host of legendary tough contenders in heavyweight title clashes.
The 1980s followed up with Larry Holmes dominating the majority of the decade. Most consider this era a drop-off in talent from the 70s. Then, the late 80s and early 90s brought us a huge burst in talent.
Heavyweight champions Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, and Riddick Bowe had fans on the edge of their seat for every fight. The division was always bolstered by a host of very good competitors as well. Tommy Morrison, David Tua, Michael Moorer, Frank Bruno and a returning George Foreman made the 90s all the more memorable.
Lennox Lewis would end up being the most dominant of the lot. He ended his career having a bloody war with Vitaly Klitschko. The fight was stopped due to a cut on Klitschko’s eye. However, many pundits thought the Ukrainian was on his way to dethroning Lewis.
In the end, it was telling that Lewis opted to ride off in the sunset. This opened the door for Klitschko and his younger brother Wladimir to dominate for the next decade and more. Much like the reign of Holmes in the 80s, the talent level took a dip for the next ten-plus years.
This in no way diminishes the historic reigns of heavyweight legends Holmes and Klitschko. It merely annotates that the supporting cast wasn’t as deep; even if they did fight some very good challengers along the way.
Dawn of a New Era
Wladimir Klitschko ultimately had his crown wrestled away by Tyson Fury. When a rematch between Fury and Klitschko fell apart, Olympic Gold Medalist Anthony Joshua (AJ) moved into a WBA/IBF title fight with the younger Klitschko. The world witnessed an epic encounter that was a fitting send-off for a legend. Though, along AJ’s victory, the world also witnessed the dawn of a new era.
It’s this writers opinion that this current era will be reminiscent of heavyweight divisions of old. We are heading towards a time where the heavyweight supporting cast is just as dangerous as its champions. Right now, sitting atop the throne we have unified WBA/IBF/WBO Champion Anthony Joshua. Amidst said throne are WBC champion Deontay Wilder and Lineal champion Tyson Fury.
We all know Joshua is a super marketable athlete who can sell out stadiums. Wilder, as we are all aware, is a polarizing knockout artist. Further, we all know Fury is a charismatic personality with an inspirational comeback story. But what about the supporting cast and up-and-comers? Well, this is where it gets intriguing. At this moment, we are seeing a deep pool of young talent in the division that likes we haven’t seen in quite some time, and things are only starting to get interesting.
Challengers on the Rise: Ajagba and Hrgovic
Last weekend, we saw the 6’5” Efe Ajagba knock veteran Amir Mansour around the ring with relative ease. He enjoys an 85-inch reach, which is hard to even fathom. The Nigerian former Olympian possesses athleticism comparable to that of Deontay Wilder, albeit the latter’s fundamental flaws. He exploits his explosiveness while remaining fluid and coordinated.
This is a nightmare combination for anyone but top-notch operators. I expect the former PBC Prospect of the Year to be brought along somewhat slowly, but surely. I look for the veteran of 9 fights to be in title contention within 15.
Also on the rise is Croatian Olympic Bronze Medalist, Filip Hrgovic. He also had little trouble blasting out veteran Mansour in September of 2018. At just 7-0, he is ranked top 15 in 3 of the 4 major sanctioning bodies.
His handlers are looking to use his momentum to build the next fast-tracked world champion. Hrgovic just signed a co-promotional deal with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Promotions, which will hopefully have him showcase on the DAZN app against increasingly tough opposition.
Hrgovic, age 26, carries the kind of home nation support that gets fighters favorable positions. 43% of all televisions in Croatia were tuned into his last victory over former title challenger Kevin Johnson. Standing 6’6’’, he possesses many similar qualities to former heavyweight king Wladimir Klitschko; surprisingly light on his feet and able to effortlessly dive in with a nuclear left hook or straight-right.
Some of his early work is reminiscent of Wladimirs knockdowns against Povetkin and Pulev. Certainly, Hrgovic is not an equal to the all-time great. Though, the same level of athletic prowess of a youthful Klitschko exists within Filip. That said, his track record of improvement makes him a safe bet to develop and fix some of his rookie flaws.
The 2016 Olympics that spawned Hrgovic and Ajagba also gave us Gold Medal winner Tony Yoka. The Frenchmen has dealt with some controversy as of late due to a series of missed drug screens; leading to a ban from the French Athletic Commission. Outside the controversy, Yoka is a unique heavyweight talent measured against recent memory.
The tall youth does the little things extremely well. He is being trained by Virgil Hunter, but his ability conjures the imagery of a very big Andre “S.O.G.”Ward.
The 6’7” the gold medalist certainly fits the mold of today’s super heavyweights, but he doesn’t rely on the KO punch. He has a very educated jab that he often doubles up on. He uses the jab to disguise his straight-right to the body; a trick often used by Ward. Also, like “S.O.G.”, he transitions seamlessly from the outside to fighting on the inside, an impressive feat this early in his career.
On the inside, he’s able to sneak in big uppercuts that have fight-ending potential. I would say Yoka is the most complete product of among the current heavyweight prospects. He looks to return this summer, hopefully against former title challenger and rugged veteran Johan Duhappas. A Duhappas victory could find Yoka in the deep end of the division very soon.
At age 21, not dissimilar to Yoka, UK youngster Daniel Dubois has an astronomical level of potential. He’s a massive kid, that already understands how to utilize the strength of his very good reach. In his nine fights, much has been said about his shocking knockout power.
Comparatively, his educated jab has often been overlooked. At the next level, it will bail him out in tough spots and alter fights when he decides to box behind it.
In most cases, when the young big men first get started, it’s not always pretty; even some of the best big men struggled with balance and coordination. In that respect, Dubois’ extraordinary balance is uncharacteristic. He’s also able to throw smooth combinations with punches that cover distance.
These are not things generally exhibited in 21 year-old prospects. His ability to throw multi-level combinations will be what sets him apart from his peers. While he still has issues with his defensive mobility and staminance and ability heading into a showdown with fellow Frank Warren heavyweight prospect Nathan Gorman. If Dubois wins that fight, it will pr, those are things he certainly has time to correct.
He’s currently being brought into camp after camp to emulate Anthony Joshua for whoever the unified champion is scheduled to fight. Sparing with top level heavies Parker, Povetkin, and now Jarrell Miller will only increase his confidence and ability heading into a showdown with fellow Frank Warren heavyweight prospect Nathan Gorman. If Dubois wins that fight, it will propel him to the next level.
Other Names of Note
The sheer number of legitimate talents is what leads me to believe we are in the middle of a heavyweight renaissance. There are a host of young heavies just below these four individuals capable of breaking into the conversation at any time.
Joining their fellow 2016 Olympians are silver medalist Joe Joyce and bronze medalist Ivan Dychko. Joyce is keeping a busy schedule against increasingly tough opposition and at 33, is looking to get into contention now. While I don’t believe he’s as talented as some of the other young heavyweights, he certainly is a threat and possesses a solid pedigree.
Other Olympians like Clayton Laurent and Bakhodir Jalolov are just getting their starts. The Uzbeks Jalolov is now training in the US and the 6’7” southpaw is likely to get his name out there as soon as he’s given the opportunity.
Philadelphia prospects Darmani Rock and Sonny Conto also are certainly worth watching out for. In fact, there are many more to keep an eye on. Names on that list are Jermaine Franklin, Oleksandr Teslenko, Junior Fa, Frank Sanchez Fuare, Evgeny Tischenko.
The Heavyweight Renaissance is Now
Needless to say, I could continue this all day. These young talented heavyweights are all coming up during a time when top-notch prospects are no longer bottle fed 20-25 “no hopers” to pad their records and build experience. These guys are taking on tougher and tougher fights from the jump.
Current champion and gold medalist Anthony Joshua fought for his first world title at just 15-0 and these young guns are aiming for that same trajectory. So, when you have this many elite young amateurs flooding the pro ranks, you mix that with a host of young champions and contenders, you end up with a heavyweight boom period.
Just five or six years ago, a non-title heavyweight fight couldn’t have dreamed of creating a buzz; there was Klitschko and that was it. In today’s market, Dillian Whyte had non-title fights with Joseph Parker and Dereck Chisora that were very well received by fans. An increasing amount of talent to choose from gives us an endless supply of intriguing match-ups between the rare unification fights.
It’s an exciting time to be a boxing fan. We all love it when the big guys go to war, and in what is a clear boom period in terms of heavyweight talent, the fights are going to start rolling. Pay attention, because the rise of many of these talented fighters is going to be quick and devastating. The likelihood of creating more heavyweight rivalries and moments that will live on is more likely now then it has been in a long time!
By: Tanner Gill