Is there anything in boxing more exciting than the next Mike Tyson?
Right now, the United Kingdom’s heavyweight division is alive with exciting possibilities, but the following list is not a British list. Heavyweight is where the blurring of the lines laid down by nationalism become the most unsure. Jack Johnson was beloved by the French. Floyd Patterson was admired by the Swedish. The British were quite happy to adopt Lennox Lewis despite his Canadian accent and Jamaican heritage. The Americans frowned upon Jack Dempsey’s apparent draft-dodge and cheered Georges Carpentier to the ring.
I would argue that we haven’t yet had “the next Joe Louis” and that we’ve seen nothing near “the new Muhammad Ali” so the possibility that one of them is lurking on the list below is a heady one. Certainly it’s one that crosses the line laid down by jingoism and patriotism.
It’s not exhaustive – it’s not even a top ten, not really – but these are the ten most intriguing heavyweight prospects in the opinion of this reporter.
THE COLOSSUS: ARSLANBEK MAKHMUDOV
FROM: Russia HEIGHT: 6’5.5 WEIGHT IN SHAPE: 250lbs AGE: 29 RECORD: 3-0 with 3 KOs
It sounds ridiculous given that he has only fought three contests, but Arslanbek Makhmudov isn’t being moved fast enough. Less than a year from his thirtieth birthday, this Russian giant is likely to test the adage that thirty is the new heavyweight twenty.
Nevertheless, the eight punch combination Makhmudov dropped on the legendary amateur Mihai “The Rock” Nistor in April 2014 stuck with me, and made so deep an impression that I covered his turning professional for The Sweet Science and sat back to await the carnage.
I was rewarded, in a sense, but what has been learned?
To be fair, Makhmudov is being extended further with each fight. Jaime Barajas managed twenty-four seconds in December 2017; Christian Larrondo forty-six seconds this April; and Elder Hernandez pushed him just past the minute mark in May.
The colossal Makhmudov has a genuinely dangerous winging right hand and right uppercut, prodigious strength, is physically robust but reasonably disorganized, and we knew all of that before he turned pro. If he’s too old to improve, the division should breathe a collective sigh of relief. If he can put it together, things are going to get interesting.
SIX NINE: IVAN DYCHKO
FROM: Kazakhstan HEIGHT: 6’9 WEIGHT IN SHAPE: 250lbs AGE: 27 RECORD: 5-0 with 5 KOs
Two-time Olympic bronze medal winner Ivan Dychko towers, at around six feet nine inches, over even this group of giants and he has a skyscraping ambition to match: a second tilt at the world’s number one heavyweight, Anthony Joshua.
Dychko met the world’s #1 heavyweight in the London 2012 Olympic Games and dropped the narrowest of decisions, one that Dychko thought was unjust. This, in part, prompted him to turn professional around the time of the Joshua-Wladimir Klitschko contest. That symbolism should be lost on nobody.
The Kazak turned pro with Australian management which sent him boxing in venues across the USA, a wonderful illustration of globalization in boxing. The big change required, though, is in transforming himself into a winner. He has undeniable talent and significant physical advantages but consistently failed to get across the winning hurdle as an amateur; a collection of silver and bronze marks him out but as a professional he needs to burnish those near victories into gold.
For a sense of whether or not this might be possible, track down his frightening knockout of Rodriguez Cade online and note that Dychko, at 5-0, has publicly complained about the quality of his opposition. He is ready for something better.
THE QUIET ONE: DANIEL DUBOIS
FROM: Great Britain HEIGHT: 6’5 WEIGHT IN SHAPE: 239lbs AGE: 20 RECORD: 7-0 with 3 KOs
Silent at press conferences and reticent in interviews, Daniel Dubois (pictured on the right alongside Filip Hrgovic) is a quiet, respectful young man making his way in a sport that rewards noise and bombast. It speaks of the devastation he has wrought with his fists that already that countenance, that sheer non-responsiveness, is slipping into something like mythology.
“You’re captivated,” wrote Boxing News earlier this month. “You’re captivated by the brooding silence and the simplicity of his movements.”
Only the most devastating heavyweights have that mythical aura surrounding not only what they do but what they don’t; Jim Jeffries, Joe Louis and George Foreman, too, were in some strange way admired for their silence and stillness.
Dubois has many miles of bad road to travel before he can be compared to the likes of those men, however. That said, aged just twenty, he is already boxing in contests scheduled for ten rounds, although nobody has been able to extend him to nine minutes. His most recent victim, undefeated fellow Englishman David Jones, set the record after capitulating in three this February. His next opponent is by far his most interesting though: former Filip Hrgovic opponent Tom Little. Little managed four rounds with Hrgovic and it will be interesting to see how Dubois compares.
Pretty well is my guess. He has legitimately heavy hands, is beautifully balanced for his age and experience and has good pressuring footwork.
I’m not entirely sold on him though for this reason: Dubois does not have elite handspeed, and his left, in particular, sometimes looks like it is traveling through syrup.
If and how he overcomes this disadvantage will probably determine the detail of his future.
THE BRUTE: SERGEY KUZMIN
FROM: Russia HEIGHT: 6’3.5 WEIGHT IN SHAPE: 245lbs AGE: 30 RECORD: 12-0 with 9 KOs
Sergey Kuzmin is a pressure fighter with a stylistically stated preference for power-punches. He throws with bad intentions, sometimes wildly, while tucking his head into his chest and giving the impression that he would rather be smaller than bigger.
Kuzmin did not particularly impress me early in his professional career, nor, if I’m honest, his amateur career, although he did have some success. I had my eyes opened a little by his performance against the tough and experienced journeyman Malcolm Tann last June. Tann showed heart and Kuzmin showed patience in his destructive violence, seeing the American off in four with a brutal straight-right.
He had generated the requisite amount of heat for his tenth opponent, a good one in Amir Mansour. Alas, an accidental clash of heads in the third resulted in a meaningless technical draw, later downgraded still further to a no-contest when Mansour tested positive for drugs. A knockout win over American Jeremiah Karpency in April got him back on track but at 12-0 and 30 years old, Kuzmin needs to be moved on now.
His major barrier to defeating world-class opposition is likely his reach, which is not that of a modern heavyweight. Skill, guile and an upgrade from good defensive discipline to genuinely dynamic slipping and sliding will be required.
THE AMERICAN: DARMANI ROCK
FROM: USA HEIGHT: 6’5 WEIGHT IN SHAPE: 240lbs AGE: 22 RECORD: 11-0 with 7 KOs
Big, young, strong, a storied amateur armed with a cool sounding name and an 11-0 record, the silence surrounding Darmani Rock is as curious as the one emanating from Daniel Dubois. Perhaps the arrival of Deontay Wilder has satisfied America’s once endless demand for top heavyweights.
Whether he is eventually to be named “Rocky” or “The Rock” only time will tell, but certainly the Philadelphian – Sweet Science aficionados will know what that address can mean – has made the right kind of start on his road to riches. Quick, with an ability to improvise evident from his very first night in a professional ring, Rocky hits with decent power, boxes with good sense and not inconsiderable skill – but has no Wikipedia page in English nor the rabid online following expected of a heavyweight prospect from the States.
Delightful off-center positioning might help make a mockery of the lack of interest – or his continual and familiar problems with excessive weight gain may sabotage it. Time will tell.
MY FAVORITE: FILIP HRGOVIC
FROM: Croatia HEIGHT: 6’6 WEIGHT IN SHAPE: 230lbs AGE: 26 RECORD: 5-0 with 4 KOs
Everything about Filip Hrgovic appeals to me. He is the right height, the right weight, the right age, carries little fat and a little raw bone which suggests more pounds may be safely added. He has a good amateur pedigree without seeming married to the code. He moves well but with the proper economy. He can hit, but not so hard that there is any kind of danger of his falling in love with his power. He is quick but not so fast as to be able to do away with any of the hard won technical learning that is both behind and before him.
There is a lot to like.
And yet, he is getting hit a little too often against limited opposition. Hrgovic has been moved along at the fast end of sensible; his first opponent, Raphael Zambano, was Anthony Joshua’s eleventh, for example, but he’s shipped punches throughout his introduction in the paid ranks. A very good rather than a great amateur, professional boxing suits him and he’s brought only the good from his time “wearing the vest”, including a delicious one-two right out of the pages of How To Box by Joe Louis.
The defense, though, is becoming a minor concern. It is possible that Hrgovic is simply trying to close the show against over-matched opponents and a rather more conservative fighter is lurking within him ready to out-box more powerful, accurate opposition and I’m undecided on whether or not to hope for such a thing. On the one hand, Hrgovic could be legitimately brilliant if he tightens up but on the other, the thought of him in a series of blood and thunder heavyweight shootouts makes me want to weep with joy.
It may not matter for some time yet. Hrgovic was brilliant in his most recent contest, dispatching the unbeaten Mexican Filiberto Tovar in four rounds in Germany earlier this month. His body punching, especially, was irresistible and much improved. Hrgovic may not run into a fighter who can hit him consistently with meaningful punches until he reaches world level.
By then, he might be unstoppable. Heavyweight boxing, the ultimate sporting truth machine, will, in time, tell.
HAYMAKING: JOE JOYCE
FROM: Great Britain HEIGHT: 6’6 WEIGHT IN SHAPE: 255lbs AGE: 32 RECORD: 4-0 with 4 KOs
From the supposed pick of the crop in Hrgovic to the man who beat him.
The amateur/professional cross-over WSB is a nursery for the paid ranks and Joyce’s defeat of Hrgovic cannot be overlooked. The two were ranked #1 and #2 for that organization at that time and Joyce, using a clinical jab married to old fashioned hustle, a high workrate and direct, unafraid fighting, took a deserved decision from his vaunted foe.
What stands against Joyce is his age. He is thirty-two years old and a huge part of his gameplan relates to his superb engine. Joyce is already in the elite bracket for workrate for a heavyweight and for one of his dimensions his potential for punching pressure approaches the uncanny. It is a fact, however, that this engine is likely to begin cramping as he approaches his mid-thirties. For this reason, promoter David “The Hayemaker” Haye is moving him along quickly. Joyce, who is a little shy of speaking publicly and Haye, who is not, have been pursuing a match with veteran Dereck Chisora no less. This potential contest fell through but it speaks of Joyce’s confidence that he felt ready for such a meeting at just 4-0.
Joyce knows he doesn’t have time to waste and although his coming match with Ivaca Bacurin (29-13-1) is actually a step down from his impressive defeat of Commonwealth Champion Lenroy Thomas, it will be his third fight this year.
Joyce in many ways is the most interesting fighter on this list because he probably will not be in competition with the other men listed but rather with the current generation of heavies. I suspect Joyce will find his way into the ring with an international class opponent before he hits 10-0 and a world level fighter before he hits 15-0. This is likely a space worth watching.
THE PUB BOUNCER: NATHAN GORMAN
FROM: Great Britain HEIGHT: 6’3 WEIGHT IN SHAPE: 250lbs AGE: 21 RECORD: 13-0 with 11 KOs
Nathan Gorman isn’t really a pub bouncer but because he looks a little like one he’s been consistently overlooked as a heavyweight prospect in the UK in favor of the ripped Joe Joyce and the less tubby Daniel Dubois. This is unfair. Gorman has plenty to offer heavyweight boxing.
What he doesn’t have is reach. Like Sergey Kuzmin, Gorman is big on pounds but short on inches and so each man is learning to trick, buy and hustle his way to the inside and do his work. Gorman looked to have taken a big step forwards on this front on the undercard of last week’s Tyson Fury comeback in beating Sean Turner by stoppage in just three rounds. This, alone, is impressive given that Turner is a legitimate tough who had never been stopped and who had extended Filip Hrgovic the eight round distance in his previous fight.
Gorman also displayed fast hands, fast feet and accurate, fluid punches which detonated upon his opponent in narrow bunches. I was legitimately impressed in what I would consider a breakthrough performance at that level.
The big challenge for Gorman is going to be Daniel Dubois. These two share a promoter in Frank Warren and Frank is ready to make this fight. It is assumed that the fight is to be made with a Dubois victory in mind, and I agree he should be the favorite, but I am interested in the way these two skillsets line up. Gorman is aggressive and essentially an inside fighter even when he boxes given the reach disparity he is going to have to consistently overcome; Dubois is going to be interested in keeping the shorter man out.
More than that though I’ve identified Dubois’ shortcoming as being his handspeed; I am convinced that Gorman is quicker – the Lancashire man just might shatter some smiles when these two get in the ring together.
THE LITTLE GUY: OLEKSANDR USYK
FROM: Ukraine HEIGHT: 6’3 WEIGHT IN SHAPE: 220lbs AGE: 31 RECORD: 14-0 with 11 KOs
Note that in listing weights of these fighters I’ve gone exclusively for the heaviest I think they can be and retain a claim to their being in top shape at this time. This is speculative at best, but Oleksandr Usyk has never weighed in at anything like 220lbs and may never. The current cruiserweight number one is not a heavyweight.
Nor is he a prospect; in fact, I think you could reasonably rank him among the ten best fighters in the world pound-for-pound. But is he a heavyweight prospect? Usyk has made no secret of his ambitions as they pertain to the richest of divisions and there are those who believe his brilliant, gliding footwork and the butter-smooth combination punches which slide out of him like bullets from a well-greased gun make him a direct threat to the more robotic Anthony Joshua.
That all remains to be seen – more, it remains to be seen if Usyk will land at heavyweight as a winner or a loser. His division defining fight with number two cruiserweight Murat Gassiev is currently moribund in promotional difficulties and may yet be abandoned, but if it comes off, the winner will demand the attention of the heavyweight division.
That winner may not be Uysk, however, as Gassiev seems just as dangerous. I hope Usyk prevails because his creeping southpaw genius will be a fascinating addition to the kingpin weight class.
AT THE SCHOOL OF MANNY STEWARD: VLAD SIRENKO
FROM: Ukraine HEIGHT: 6’3.5 WEIGHT IN SHAPE: 243lbs AGE: 23 RECORD: 7-0 with 6 KOs
Vlad Sirenko has fought nobody of note in his seven professional fights to date and is boxing not out of his home country of Ukraine but out of South Africa, two very good reasons why even hardcore Sweet Science readers may not have heard of him. That may change over the coming years.
Sirenko is trained by Emanuel Steward disciple James Ali Bashir who has also done work with Sirenko’s countryman Oleksandr Uysk. Although no direct comparisons can be made between the two men it is interesting to me that Bashir sees it as worthwhile to travel all the way to South Africa to work with the Ukrainian.
Sirenko is a quick-fisted and technically excellent puncher with very decent pressing footwork when he is called upon to use it. He punched with stiffening power against the very limited opposition he has met and appears to be a talented and direct body-puncher in a division where this skill is often neglected. Six-three-and-a-half is probably par for heavyweight these days but if Bashir is developing himself a body-snatcher in Sirenko, the fighter being a little lower to the ground may not displease him.
The red flag here is Sirenko’s loss in WSB to the more than solid but less than brilliant Frazer Clark who stopped Sirenko in five. These things can happen, and holding sub-professional losses against fighters new to the paid ranks is never advisable in my opinion, but if Sirenko’s chin is less than good, so is his potential, disciplined defense or not.
THIS TIME NEXT YEAR
In June 2019 we’ll take a look at this smorgasbord of talent once more and see who has done what. Has Gorman shocked Dubois? Has Joyce gone over the top? Is Hrgovic delivering on his promise? How many of these guys have been bombed out?
One or more, for certain, will have suffered that ignominy; heavyweight boxing is merciless with the fragile. Good, probably even great heavyweights have never revealed themselves as such because getting hit wasn’t in their skillset.
One or more of the above will be armed with a granite mandible though, and as the herd is thinned out throughout 2018 and 2019, this web site will work to keep you abreast of the movers and shakers.
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