Filip Hrgovic took a step up in competition last night against Englishman Tom Little in Riga on the undercard of the Oleksandr Usyk-Mairis Briedis combat.
“One step more than my last opponent” is how Hrgovic put it and this is accurate as it saw the Croatian move from guaranteed quick knockouts to a live domestic-level opponent. For Hrgovic to remain on target, however, he still required a quick knockout and this was a task he was more than equal to.
He hunted Little from the off, perhaps a little too aggressively, perhaps expecting Little to pose no greater challenge in real terms than Raphael Love or Pavel Sour, his opponents in his first two professional outings. His mode of attack was a crisp combination that sits at the absolute bedrock of good technique, a destabilizing jab designed to make room for him to bring that deadly right hand over. Little reacted well, combining survivalist strategy with some left-handed counterpunching, including a really nice beltline hook.
Still, Little found himself repeatedly penned in to one corner or another, swaying away from that right hand in an attempt to introduce some distance to a punch that was already foreshadowed as the route of his fistic demise.
By the third the fight had adopted a clear pattern whereby Hrgovic would box Little to the ropes, abuse him there with fast hard punches, before Little, showing heart in keeping with something more than just an opponent, would try to rescue himself, flashing off the ropes with improvised punches. The rest of the time, his guard was up as he boxed on high alert, trying to avert an inevitable disaster for one more round.
That disaster revealed itself in the fourth. Little moved well in this fight, up and down the rope, surrendering ground but never himself, always looking to punch back as he was stalked in and out. He had established himself as a fixture in this fight and became more aggressive in the fourth trying to leave a mark more indelible than that of bravery. The end when it came was both inevitable and shocking, as Hrgovic, himself with his back to the ropes, drove one of the deadly rights that had been harrowing the Englishman all the way home. Little went out on his feet, a deep cut over his left eye spilling blood, hands still high but his feet no longer under him, no longer punching back. It was a brave if doomed performance.
Hrgovic moves as well as any man of his size I can remember. At 6’6”, 230lbs, he carries almost no surplus and he benefits. His footwork is a thing of small glory, and the little moves he made back against Little’s rushes makes a lie of the supposed truism that you must not retreat in straight lines; get the distance right and get the counter-punch right and you’re in business, whatever the story-books say.
His punching is coming along nicely, and the speed with which he throws the second and third punches in combination is withering. We may be witnessing a combination puncher of the highest order under development.
That said, he was hit too often last night. This may be because he felt no danger and because he was overly keen to achieve the knockout, but he will have to be careful as he moves through the classes in the heavyweight division. Even the journeymen at this weight can pack a serious punch and he can’t become world champion from the ground looking up.
I’m hopeful that Hrgovic has mined a rich source of British heavyweight opponents for his development. Someone like Gary Cornish (who succumbed to Anthony Joshua in a round but whose record stands at 25-2) or Sam Sexton (the British heavyweight champion) would make fine opponents for this prospect in a hurry.
That said, patience is a virtue, and at just twenty-five years old, Hrgovic has time on his side.
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