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Analysis: The heavyweight division

heavyweight
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Each week we will break down each division, fighter-by-fighter and carefully examine the best and worst of them. Matt Christie looks at the banner heavyweight division

10. MICHAEL HUNTER (USA): 18-1-1 (12), 31 years old, 6ft 2ins
A charismatic boxer-puncher with the kind of gritty back story that makes him a splendid interview (his father and former heavyweight gatekeeper, Mike ‘The Bounty’ Hunter, was shot by police officers in a mysterious incident where no witnesses came forward). Slippery, awkward, and a highly intelligent operator, albeit one who is generally outsized, Hunter showed his worth when giving Oleksandr Usyk all he could handle in a 12-round points loss at cruiserweight in 2017.

Strengths: Skilled and potent counter-puncher who can ride out troubled periods on smarts alone.

Weaknesses: One of the smallest heavyweights on the list, he can be physically bullied.

Best Performance: Take your pick from beating Sergey Kuzmin or Martin Bakole.

Worst performance: Harsh, perhaps, but Alexander Povetkin looked there for the taking before Hunter faded and the Russian veteran snatched a draw.

Watch on YouTube: The beatdown of Bakole is worth another viewing.

How high can he go? He can pick off some of the ageing names on this list, but a world title looks beyond him.

9. OLEKSANDR USYK (UKR): 17-0 (13), 33 years old, 6ft 3ins
Dripping in ability and potential, Usyk’s dominance at cruiserweight provided ominous signs for his new heavyweight rivals. Few non-English-speaking boxers have so effectively broken the language barrier with body language alone; one only has to observe him go about his business to get an idea of what is going on inside his mischievous mind. Though his promise at heavyweight might ultimately be thwarted by his size, there are few others here who can match his exquisite skillset.

Strengths: Usyk boxes like a chess player thinks – the southpaw can alter and formulate long-term battle plans mid-punch.

Weaknesses: Size is the obvious one but his oft-reported ‘elusiveness’ is off the mark. He gets hit.

Best Performance: Not a thriller, but his dominance over the unbeaten Murat Gassiev was hard to fault.

Worst performance: Struggled for long periods against Michael Hunter and, though exciting, his tight victory over Mairis Briedis highlighted he’s far from unbeatable.

Watch on YouTube: Drawing the best from Tony Bellew in order to flatten him was impressive in the extreme.

How high can he go? Feasibly, all the way to the top. Still very early days at heavyweight, though.

heavyweight

8. DERECK CHISORA (ENG): 32-9 (23), 36 years old, 6ft 1 1/2ins
The cult hero of the bunch, Chisora has morphed from obnoxious bad boy who was difficult to like into a courageous slugger who’s almost impossible not to root for. Very much old school in style and approach, the Englishman’s ability to bounce back from crushing defeats and disappointing performances should provide a lesson to all. Though he’d likely start as underdog to all others here, he carries enough venom in both fists to make him a live one.

Strengths: His newfound punching power and never-say-die forward motion is nightmarish for all but the very best.

Weaknesses: Not hugely quick on his feet nor elusive, “Del Boy” has more miles on the clock than his namesake’s three-wheel van.

Best Performance: In recent years, the come-from-behind bombing of Carlos Takam is the obvious standout.

Worst performance: The second Tyson Fury loss (l rtd 10) was harrowingly one-sided.

Watch on YouTube: The slugfests with Dillian Whyte, David Haye and Takam all stand up to repeat viewings.

How high can he go? Surely this is as high as he gets considering his age and Usyk is his next opponent.

Dereck Chisora
Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing

7. JOSEPH PARKER (NZL): 27-2 (21), 28 years old, 6ft 4ins
Started life as a hyped power puncher but must now be considered among the most reliable and durable contenders at heavyweight. A genuine nice guy who is often accused of fighting too much like one, Parker is likely to be around for a long time to come due to his marketability as an opponent. A better boxer than his critics would attest, Parker would be a tough and long night’s work for any of his closest rivals.

Strengths: Clubbing power, impressive stamina and scope to improve at just 28.

Weaknesses: Not exactly a silky operator, Parker can struggle to close the gap while showing his rivals too much respect.

Best Performance: I wouldn’t advise viewing either again, but outscoring both Carlos Takam and Andy Ruiz Jnr are his finest results.

Worst performance: Must kick himself every time he watches his wide points loss to Anthony Joshua.

Watch on YouTube: Took a while to get going but the up-and-down war with Dillian Whyte was exciting.

How high can he go? Hard to predict but his ranking could improve if the form of fighters like Pulev, Wilder or Ruiz Jnr plummets.

6. KUBRAT PULEV (BGR): 28-1 (14), 38 years old, 6ft 4 1/2ins
What they call in the business a ‘perennial contender’, Pulev has been there or thereabouts since knocking out Matt Skelton in just his fourth fight a whopping 11 years ago. A survivor from the Klitschko era, Pulev is your archetypal European heavyweight; skilled; effective; hard to beat. Though many might argue he deserves his upcoming shot at Anthony Joshua, the truth remains that he can count only Hughie Fury (2019) and Chisora (2016) as noteworthy successes in the last five years.

Strengths: Precise and educated, Pulev has textbook boxing skills to burn.

Weaknesses: Lack of one-punch power, speed, prone to cuts and has been slowly fading since 2015.

Best Performance: Back in 2012, Alexander Ustinov was still unbeaten until Pulev stopped him in 11 rounds.

Worst performance: Though moderately entertaining, he showed his age before stopping the limited Bogdan Dinu.  

Watch on YouTube: His fifth round loss to Wladimir Klitschko was one of the Ukrainian king’s more thrilling victories.

How high can he go? Gargantuan upset of Joshua aside, the only way is down.

Joshua vs Pulev heavyweight
GEOFF CADDICK/AFP via Getty Images

5. DILLIAN WHYTE (ENG): 27-1 (18), 31 years old, 6ft 4ins
Without question overdue a title shot of some kind, his CV since losing to Anthony Joshua in 2015 can stand alongside anyone else’s in the Top 10. Expect the dark cloud, full of mystery surrounding the abnormal drug test that came before his victory over Oscar Rivas in July, to be ushered completely from view before he takes on Alexander Povetkin later this year. Nonetheless, a fearsome competitor who is a threat to all.

Strengths: Spirited in the extreme with a left hook from hell, Whyte uses his long reach to both box and bang with the best of them.

Weaknesses: Often appears vulnerable under fire, is rarely elusive, but his recuperative powers should not be underestimated.

Best Performance: Remained composed during some tough times in rematch with Dereck Chisora before unleashing cinematic finisher in round 11.

Worst performance: Understandably out of shape, he laboured and looked out of ideas against Mariusz Wach.  

Watch on YouTube: Put the kettle on and line up his fights with Chisora, Parker and Joshua.

How high can he go? Wouldn’t be expected to beat Joshua or Fury but should not be written off against anyone.

heavyweight
Jan Kruger/Getty Images

4. ANDY RUIZ JNR (USA): 33-2 (22), 30 years old, 6ft 2ins
The fall from hero to zero after beating and then losing to Anthony Joshua was so severe one wonders if Ruiz will ever again truly find his feet. Oh so likeable in person, a return to form for Ruiz would be welcomed but his habit of ditching illustrious trainers does not paint a bright picture for his future. Rich beyond his wildest dreams, Ruiz doesn’t need to lace on a pair of gloves again but his sense of pride, that is clearly at odds with his appetite, could yet win the day.

Strengths: Carries serious power in rapier hands, has clever feet and is as durable as anyone.

Weaknesses: When his mouth opens his hands shovel food into it.That lack of discipline will always haunt him, one suspects.

Best Performance: The way he savaged Joshua in New York will live long in the memory.

Worst performance: Sloppy and under-prepared, Ruiz Jnr was wracked with regret long before the final bell sounded in the rematch.

Watch on YouTube: Got to be the first Joshua fight. That third round was simply sensational.

How high can he go? If – the biggest ‘if’ in boxing – he can rediscover his mojo, he is capable of posting another upset.

3. DEONTAY WILDER (USA): 42-1-1 (41), 34 years old, 6ft 7ins
Only the fickle nature of modern-day boxing could see someone go from being the most fearsome fighter in history to hopeless never-has-been in the space of 20 minutes. The power responsible for 41 early finishes is real and only a fool would dismiss his chances of rising again. However, when a power puncher’s bubble bursts, only those of strongest hearts and mind can initiate repair. By accepting a third fight with Fury – a bout that could ruin him – Wilder is undertaking the bravest of missions.

Strengths: Mind-altering muscle in his right hand, underrated feet and jab (when he uses it), and serious guts.

Weaknesses: Can be outboxed for long periods and the shellacking he took from Fury could leave a mark that’s impossible to budge.

Best Performance: Though there have been plenty of highlight reel finishes,the manner in which he chased victory in the first Fury fight was mightily admirable.

Worst performance: The hammering he took in the Fury sequel must be the only answer here.

Watch on YouTube: The first Luis Ortiz scrap. A classic heavyweight slugfest.

How high can he go? Would you write him off against Joshua? Can you be completely certain he has no chance in third Fury bout? In short, that right hand makes him a livewire against anyone.

heavyweight Deontay Wilder vs Fury
Ryan Hafey/Premier Boxing Champions

2. ANTHONY JOSHUA (ENG): 23-1 (21), 30 years old, 6ft 6ins
The jaw dropping loss to Andy Ruiz might be the best thing that happened to Anthony Joshua. With his career and gargantuan earning potential hanging in the balance, he addressed what went wrong, made changes behind the scenes and delivered the kind of maturity in the ring that had largely been lacking before. Though his reputation isn’t quite where it was, it seems his mindset is stronger than ever before.

Strengths: Exceptionally potent punching power, studious outlook and better boxing ability than he’s ever given credit for.

Weaknesses: Question marks over his chin will likely always remain and his instinct to engage when in trouble.

Best Performance: Considering the complete dominance and the circumstances that led to it, the 12-round thrashing of Andy Ruiz pips the error-strewn thriller with Wladimir Klitschko.

Worst performance: The manner of his capitulation to Ruiz was shocking in the extreme.

Watch on YouTube: That little known bout with a Ukrainian is worth watching if you can find it.

How high can he go? Would be an underdog against Fury but the best-equipped of all heavyweights to beat him.

1. TYSON FURY (ENG): 30-0-1 (21), 31 years old, 6ft 9ins
With Tyson Fury we could well be in the presence of greatness. The draw with Wilder after so long away from world class was incredible but to triumph so magnificently in the return set a new standard in the art of coming back. Throw in dethroning Wladimir Klitschko in 2015 and the case for Fury to already be regarded among the best of all time is worthy of listening to. The ongoing controversy stemming from failed drug tests five years ago, however, highlight the need for complete transparency from drug testing agencies.

Strengths: Overflowing with boxing smarts, hard as nails and, ominously for everyone else, has shown he can bang like a 6ft 9ins man should if he so desires.

Weaknesses: Can switch off at times inside the ring and unravel completely outside of it.

Best Performance: The clinic he put on against Klitschko is right up there but bludgeoning Wilder so completely was awe-inspiring.

Worst performance: If anyone questions Fury’s faith, they should look at the moment his prayers were answered when gifted a decision against John McDermott.

Watch on YouTube: The first Wilder fight is an obvious pick, so why not check out earlier rumbles with Nevan Pajkic and Steve Cunningham.

How high can he go? Victory over Joshua would see his place in history soar.

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