Premium Feature Issue

The chasing pack – The next generation of heavyweight boxers

Daniel Dubois fights
The heavyweight division is healthier than it’s been in many years, and not just at the top. Matt Bozeat provides an essential, in depth guide to the chasing pack

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

DANIEL DUBOIS

RECORD: 14-0 (13)

AGE: 22

HEIGHT: 6ft 5ins

LAST FIGHT: w ko 2 Kyotaro Fujimoto

WEIGHT (IN LAST FIGHT): 240lbs

JOE JOYCE

RECORD: 10-0 (9)

AGE: 34

HEIGHT: 6 ft 6 ins

LAST FIGHT: w pts 12 Bryant Jennings

WEIGHT (IN LAST FIGHT): 256lbs

Frank Warren is predicting “a decade of dominance” for Dubois at world level – if he gets past Joyce. But does he get past Joyce when the fight is rearranged? The consensus is, Dubois wins before six or Joyce wins after six. Joyce has proven more as a pro – the win over Bryant Jennings is the best either has on their record – but, at a lower level, Dubois has looked more convincing.

He walked through Razvan Cojanu the way only the top heavyweights do, walloped Nathan Gorman in what had been considered a 50-50 fight and of his 14 opponents, only proud Ghanaian Richard Lartey was able to take his punches and hit him back for a few rounds. Dubois got on top of him and knocked him out in four.  

The question is whether Dubois can hurt Joyce, get on top of him and dishearten him?

As an amateur, Joyce was stopped in the first round by Anthony Joshua, Sergey Kuzmin and Hamza Beguerni and puts those losses down to not warming up properly. He’s taken everything his pro opponents have thrown at him without blinking and, at 34 years old, he is 12 years Dubois’ senior and has had more hardening fights. Joyce has returned to trainer Ismail Salas, but we know what we are getting with Joyce. He’s hittable, but tough and keeps churning out punches.

Dubois heavyweight

FILIP HRGOVIC

RECORD: 10-0 (8)

AGE: 27

HEIGHT: 6ft 6ins

LAST FIGHT: w ko 3 Eric Molina 

WEIGHT (IN LAST FIGHT): 241 ¾lbs

Hrgovic ruined what Tyson Fury reckoned would have been “the biggest fight to happen in a British ring.” The Croatian cut David Haye when they sparred in 2013, ruling him out of the fight with Fury. At the time, Hrgovic was still an amateur, building a hugely impressive CV.

He won World Youth (2010) and European senior gold (2015) and in 29 fights with World Series of Boxing – that tough five-round amateur/professional hybrid – Hrgovic was beaten only four times, including a split points loss to Joe Joyce at the York Hall after a back-and-forth war.

Hrgovic turned pro in 2017 and has been pushed on quickly. He met Pavel Sour (6-0) in his second fight and veteran spoiler Kevin Johnson (33-11-1) in only his seventh.

Tom Little (10-4) was his third opponent. He was ruled out in the fourth after a long right hand – Hrgovic’s main weapon – sliced open a cut on his left eyebrow and afterwards said every Hrgovic punch hurt him, even the shots that landed on his arms.

Hrgovic has eight early wins on his 10-0 record. He’s heavy handed and really punches through his target.

Last time out, he knocked out a rusty and reluctant 37-year-old Eric Molina in three rounds on the undercard of the Anthony Joshua-Andy Ruiz Jnr rematch. The damage was done by that right hand and short body punches, but it was noticeable that Hrgovic didn’t think too much about what was coming back at him and when Molina did swing rights at him, he usually landed.

Because he has complete confidence in his power, Hrgovic will take chances to land his punches. He did the same against Sour and as he goes up the levels, Hrgovic may have to tighten up.

Hrgovic heavyweight

ZHANG ZHILEI

AGE: 36

HEIGHT: 6ft 6ins

RECORD: 21-0 (16)

LAST FIGHT: w pts 10 Andiry Rudenko

WEIGHT (IN LAST FIGHT): 278lbs

Eddie Hearn has said Zhang could “change the sport forever” given he could have the support of the Chinese nation. If he can fight.

The 6ft 6ins southpaw is ranked No 10 by the WBO following his points win over gatekeeper Andriy Rudenko (32-4) in Monte Carlo last November. There have to be doubts over his chin. In only his sixth pro fight, Zhang was dropped by Juan Goode (6-2) and that was no flash knockdown. After hitting Goode virtually at will for three rounds, Zhang found himself flat on his back early in the fourth, Goode looping a right hand over his low back hand to put him there. Up quickly, Zhang got through to the bell without further crises.   

Against Rudenko, his hands were higher but Zhang tries to use his feet as his defence and when he throws, he looks to land eye-catching singles, the style that took him to Olympic silver in 2008. Italian southpaw Roberto Cammarelle dropped him and stopped him in the fourth round of that final and four years later, Anthony Joshua dropped him in the second round of their 2012 Olympic quarter final in London on the way to a points win.

Rudenko may have given Zhang a harder night had he doubled up his attacks. In the second half of the fight, he was able to knock Zhang onto his heels with straight rights and then just stood there and watched him nod, take a deep breath and reset. Zhang’s habit of nodding after he’s been caught is a bad one.

At 36, he isn’t likely to get any better.

BREAKING THROUGH

EFE AJAGBA

RECORD: 13-0 (11)

AGE: 25

HEIGHT: 6ft 6ins

LAST FIGHT: w rsf 9 Razvan Cojanu

AGE: 25

WEIGHT (IN LAST FIGHT): 242 ¼ lbs

Ajagba made a breakthrough on the Adam Kownacki-Robert Helenius undercard in March by stopping Razvan Cojanu (17-6) in nine rounds. Only the elite and top prospects stop the 6ft 7 ½ins Romanian, who these days only really fights when opponents upset him. Ajgba gave him a beating until the referee waved it off after a second knockdown.

From Nigeria, Ajagba took up boxing at 17, was a Commonwealth Games bronze medallist and Olympian as an amateur and, with trainer Ronnie Shields, he has added bulk to enhance his solid foundations. Against Cojanu, he looked looser around the shoulders and added body shots to his arsenal.

The jab is smooth and hard and everyone Ajagba hits with the right hand feels it.

He first went to the gym after laying out the local bully with a right hand and made headlines around the world by icing Nigel Paul in Rio before bowing out to Ivan Dychko in the last eight, coming on in the last after being outboxed in the first two.

The right hand doesn’t turn drop everyone, as he discovered last December.

Ajagba cracked Iago Kiladze (26-4-1) flush on the chin, leaving him unable to control his legs.

Ajagba waited for him to fall and when he didn’t, Ajagba switched back on, went for the finish – and ended up on the seat of his trunks. Unhurt, he got up quickly to win in the next. Ajagba will have learned from that, as well as his 10-round points win over Ali Eren Demirezen, who also boxed at the Rio Olympics.

Against Curtis Harper, Ajagba didn’t have to throw any punches. Harper (13-5) walked out of the ring at the sound of the bell, apparently in a protest against the promoters.

FRANK SANCHEZ

RECORD: 15-0 (11)

AGE: 27

HEIGHT: 6ft 4ins

LAST FIGHT: w pts 10 Joey Dawejko 

WEIGHT (IN LAST FIGHT): 222 ¼lbs

The word from the gyms is, Sanchez is disciplined and driven – unlike other Cuban heavyweights we’ve seen. He won 214 of his 220 amateur bouts before defecting and after arriving in the States, Sanchez had a spell on the streets. He got some exposure recently on the Adam Kownacki-Robert Helenius undercard and outpointed Joey Dawejko (20-7-4) over 10 rounds without exciting anyone. For round after round, he outboxed Dawejko showing quick hands and good movement. Dawejko throws quick counters, but seldom got the chance to land them and at one point in the second half of the fight, he pointed to the centre of the ring, asking Sanchez to meet him there. He wouldn’t, he kept moving. Dawejko, only stopped once previously, was never discouraged by Sanchez’s punch and kept up his plodding pursuit until the final bell.

EVGENY ROMANOV

RECORD: 14-0 (10)

AGE: 34

HEIGHT: 6ft

LAST FIGHT: w rsf 1 Dario German Balmaceda  

WEIGHT (IN LAST FIGHT): 226 lbs

Google Romanov and you will find him described as “the fighter who knocked out Deontay Wilder in the amateurs.” That was during a Russia-USA match in February, 2008 and six months later, Wilder won Olympic bronze in Beijing.

Romanov stayed amateur until he was 30, adding the Russian heavyweight title (2009) to his European Junior (2003) and World Junior titles (2004) before turning over.

Only 6ft tall, Romanov is compact, likes to let his hands go and as he showed when dispatching Daario German Balmaceda (19-17-2) on the Sergey Kovalev-Anthony Yarde undercard, he can counter off the front foot.

He’s had things all his own way so far, but Ariel Esteban Bracamonte (9-2) did take him the full 10 rounds, with the help of a 46 3/4 lb weight advantage.

PROSPECTS

ARSLANBEK MAKHMUDOV

RECORD: 10-0 (10)

AGE: 30

HEIGHT: 6ft 5 ½ ins

LAST FIGHT: w rsc 1 Samuel Peter

WEIGHT (IN LAST FIGHT): 261 1/4 lbs

Makhmudov has the look of a real-life Ivan Drago! He’s 6ft 5 ½ins tall, weighs around 260lbs and has been walking through everyone who’s been put in front of him since turning over in Canada with Eye of the Tiger Promotions, the link up made through his friendship with Artur Beterbiev. Golden Boy last month agreed a co-promotional deal. 

As an amateur, Makhmudov outpointed Mahammadrasul Majidov, a few months before he won the world championship in 2011, and came through a ‘Rocky’ fight with Mihai Nistor in World Series of Boxing in 2014. Makhmudov was buzzed inside the opening minute by the heavy-handed Romanian southpaw and repeatedly shaken up in the opening four rounds. The Russian didn’t land a punch of note until midway through the last when he put together a combination that had Nistor wobbling and the referee gave him a count. He dropped Nistor again to pull off a dramatic turnaround, the referee signalling the finish with less than 30 seconds left.

That performance tells us more about ‘Lion’ than his first 10 pro fights. Samuel Peter became his sixth first-round victim in December. That’s the same Samuel Peter brutally knocked out by Wladimir Klitschko in their rematch around a decade earlier. He’s 39 years old now, weighed a blubbery 260 ½lbs and didn’t know where he was when the referee jumped in after just 143 seconds in the ring with Makhmudov.

JERMAINE FRANKLIN

RECORD: 20-0 (13)

AGE: 26

HEIGHT: 6ft 2ins

LAST FIGHT: w pts 10 Pavel Sour

WEIGHT (IN LAST FIGHT): 231 ½lbs

The 26-year-old from Michigan has declared himself to be “the next heavyweight champion for the USA.” But he hasn’t always impressed. Franklin, one of the smallest in this feature at 6ft 2ins tall, was taken to a split by Jerry Forrest (25-2) over 10 rounds last July. Forrest, previously beaten by Gerald Washington and Michael Hunter, was considered unlucky by ShoBox commentators and sections of the crowd booed.

Franklin accepts he is still a work in progress. The 2014 Golden Gloves champion has been the full 10 rounds in his last four fights and his points win over Pavel Sour (11-1) doesn’t compare well with Hughie Fury and Filip Hrgovic’s demolitions of the Czech.

TONY YOKA

RECORD: 7-0 (6)

AGE: 27

HEIGHT: 6ft 7ins

LAST FIGHT: w rsc 3 Michael Wallisch 

WEIGHT (IN LAST FIGHT): 239 1/4 lbs

The 2016 Olympic champion, considered fortunate by many to get the decision over Joe Joyce in the final in Rio, returned last year after serving a ban for missing drugs tests. He’s scored stoppages of 37-year-old Alexander Dimitrenko (41-5) and, last time out, Michael Wallisch (20-2). The record also shows a 10th round stoppage of Dave Allen. Allen had taken Luis Ortiz seven rounds, Dillian Whyte the full 10 and in his fifth fight, Yoka stopped him in the 10th. The pre-fight promise from the Doncaster hard man was to test Yoka’s heart, but the Frenchman has been hardened by fighting the likes of Filip Hrgovic and Erislandy Savon since his teens, had the size and skills to get Allen under control and the enough left in the tank to finish him off in the last.

IVAN DYCHKO

RECORD: 9-0 (9)

AGE: 29

HEIGHT: 6ft 9ins

LAST FIGHT: w ko 2 Nate Heaven

WEIGHT (IN LAST FIGHT): 237 ¼lbs

Twice an Olympic bronze medallist, Dychko, beaten by Anthony Joshua and Joe Joyce in 2008 and 2012 respectively, has stopped all nine opponents inside three rounds. As an amateur, Dychko was known as a mover, a fighter who boxed around his opponents, and he was good enough at what he did to twice win World championship silver, as well as his Olympic medals. At the 2011 World championship, he beat Filip Hrgovic, a sign of his quality. Two years later, once the headguards came off, he was wiped out in the third round of the final by Mahammadrasul Majidov after winning the opening two on all three cards.

That leaves a question mark over the Kazakh’s chin.  

The only name of note on his pro record is Ray Austin, but at a flabby 303 1/4lbs and many years past his best, soon became disinterested. Midway through the third, Austin complained about a tear in his glove to the referee and then decided he didn’t want to fight anymore – little surprise considering he was 48.

GUIDO VIANELLO

RECORD: 6-0 (6)

AGE: 25

HEIGHT: 6ft 6ins

LAST FIGHT: w ko 1 Colby Madison

WEIGHT (IN LAST FIGHT): 237lbs

2016 Olympian Vianello sparred head-scratching rounds with Tyson Fury ahead of the first Deontay Wilder fight, but so far in the pro ring, the Italian has done what he wants with the chubby club fighters that have been thrown to him. Six fights into his career, Vianello has yet to go past the third round. Vianello will get noticed for the gladiator mask he wears and management S-Jam say he is learning under trainer Kevin Barry in Las Vegas after splitting from Abel Sanchez. He says he wants to be a more aggressive version of Wladmir Klitschko, who he regards as the best heavyweight in history.        

APTI DAVTAEV

RECORD: 20-0-1 (19)

AGE: 30

HEIGHT: 6ft 4ins

LAST FIGHT: w ko 2 John Napari

WEIGHT (IN LAST FIGHT): 252 ¾lbs

Davtaev is a project of SugarHill Steward – and the signs are, he’s improving. Once a right-hand happy slugger, Davtaev appears to be putting more thought into his work now and has shortened his punches. The Russian has faced only ordinary opposition and has ruthlessly disposed of most of them. Last to fall was Ghana’s John Napari, flattered by his 21-0 record. That said, the finishing punch was a quality blow, a short right hand screw shot. That was his 17th win inside three rounds and several have come from short right hands.

Davtaev had around 50 amateur bouts in Russia and 21 fights into his pro career, there are still plenty of questions to be answered. Can Davtaev take a punch? Does he have a plan B?

Promoter Dmitriy Salita accepts that and says Davtaev is “four to six” fights away from a title shot. The blemish on his record is a six-round draw with Ante Verunica in October, 2014. In his next fight, the Croatian was chinned inside a couple of rounds by Dillian Whyte.

STARTING OUT

MAHAMMADRASUL MAJIDOV

RECORD: 2-0 (2)

AGE: 33

HEIGHT: 6ft 3ins

LAST FIGHT: w rsc 2 Tom Little

WEIGHT (IN LAST FIGHT): 231 lbs

At 33, Majidov turned pro with three world amateur championships on his CV – he narrowly beat Anthony Joshua for gold in 2011 – and John David Jackson in his corner. On the Anthony Joshua-Andy Ruiz II undercard, he got rid of Tom Little inside a couple of rounds.

“He was on me and he can punch like a mule,” said Little afterwards. “I’ve been hit by some big punchers and I’ve never been knocked off my feet.”

The shot that did it was a looping right hand that caught Little on the top of his head and robbed him of his legs. Because of his punch, Majidov is always in the fight. In the 2013 world championship final, he was two rounds down against Ivan Dychko and 30 seconds into the last, the fight was over after Majidov had twice smashed Dychko to the floor with clobbering rights. He isn’t the biggest of heavyweights – 6ft 3ins – and has left it late to join the pros, but he looks a handful.

Anthony Joshua heavyweight
Majidov beats Joshua in the amateurs. Photo: AIBA

MIHAI NISTOR

RECORD: 2-0 (2)

AGE: 29

HEIGHT: 5ft 11ins

LAST FIGHT: w ko 1 Jaime Solorio 

WEIGHT (IN LAST FIGHT): 244 1/4 lbs

The excitable press in his home country have called Nistor a left-handed version of Mike Tyson in recognition of his all-out aggression and heavy hands. The Romanian loves to swing his back hand and it sent Anthony Joshua crashing out of the 2011 European championships. Up on points after two rounds, Joshua was feeling the pace in his first tournament after returning from a ban and came apart after Nistor slammed a southpaw left off his chin. The referee handed a rattled Joshua a standing count and rescued him moments after the resumption as Nistor jumped all over him.

Nistor went on to win bronze, added another four years later and boxed in the Rio Olympics.

He knows how to pace himself over the longer distances having boxed over eight and 12 rounds in AIBA Pro Boxing as well before turning over with Golden Boy.

JARED ANDERSON

RECORD: 3-0 (3)

AGE: 20

HEIGHT: 6ft 4ins

LAST FIGHT: w rsc 1 Andrew Satterfield

WEIGHT (IN LAST FIGHT): 235lbs

Only 20, Anderson, US National champion in 2017 and 2018 at 91kgs as an amateur, turned pro with Top Rank last year and his first three fights have lasted a combined total of four minutes, 54 seconds. “The Big Baby,” who looks an impressive athlete, will have learned more sparring Tyson Fury before the Deontay Wilder rematch.

MOSES JOHNSON

RECORD: 6-0 (6)

AGE: 27

HEIGHT: 6ft 3ins

LAST FIGHT: w ko 2 Antwaun Tubbs

WEIGHT (IN LAST FIGHT): 251lbs

Johnson made a good impression at the Peacock Gym in Canning Town last year when he came over to spar Dubois. He’s also sparred Jarrell Miller, Adam Gownacki, Filip Hrgoviz, and Otto Wallin. From New York and now based in South Carolina, Johnson didn’t take up boxing until he was 18 years old.

“I played football, I wrestled and snowboarded,” he said of his  years before boxing and as an amateur, he won 15 of 18 before turning over. He’s won his first six as a pro inside two rounds apiece and is aiming high.

“I’m doing this to be the best,” he said. “If you can’t see yourself being the best, what’s the point?”

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