Tyson Fury, Oleksandr Usyk, Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua comprise the core of boxing’s glamor division, but three of those heavyweights will be 35 years of age and older by the time August rolls into September.
Joshua turns 34 in October and hasn’t won a major fight since he avenged his loss to Andy Ruiz Jr. in December 2019. The Englishman lost to WBO, WBA and IBF world champion Usyk, 36, twice and the killer instinct that carried AJ to the sport’s pinnacle has been absent since he was TKOed by Ruiz in their first match.
Fury, the WBC champ and one of boxing’s top stars, turns 35 in August and has already retired twice. Wilder, arguably the most damaging puncher of the modern era, will celebrate his 38th birthday in October.
All four heavyweights could take part in a proposed megafight doubleheader in Saudi Arabia in December, with Fury battling Usyk for the undisputed heavyweight championship along with Wilder fighting Joshua in a long-anticipated fight.
Whether or not those super fights materialize, boxing needs fresh heavyweights to emerge — and soon. After all, boxing is only as strong as its heavyweight division. Fortunately, there are some intriguing contenders — not prospects — on the cusp of jumping to the next level.
Chief among them: Jared Anderson, who meets his toughest test yet when he fights former titleholder Charles Martin on Saturday in Anderson’s native Toledo, Ohio (10 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN+).
Anderson, 23, hasn’t lost a single round in 14 pro fights and has finished all of his opponents inside the distance. At 6-foot-4, 240-plus pounds, “Big Baby” Anderson possesses the requisite size to tangle with the best of the heavyweight division. He’s also proven that he packs more than enough power.
What Anderson hasn’t proven yet: his chin and how he handles adversity. Martin, a 37-year-old gatekeeper, could force Anderson to answer some of those questions. Martin, of St. Louis, can punch, as evidenced by his two knockdowns of Luis Ortiz last year, and he’s faced some of the division’s best, including Joshua.
Like any reliable gatekeeper, if Martin can test Anderson just enough in a losing effort, he’ll have done his job and perhaps shown the boxing world much more about Anderson’s chances to take the baton from the current crop of heavyweights.
” … We believe that Jared will be the future heavyweight champion of the world,” said Anderson’s promoter, Top Rank founder Bob Arum. “But to do that, he’s got to fight really tough guys.”
Anderson was scheduled to face Kazakhstan’s Zhan Kossobutskiy before visa issues forced Kossobutskiy to withdraw, but Martin might present an even tougher foe, especially on 12 days’ notice.
Anderson has easily dispensed veteran heavyweights George Arias (three rounds in April) and Jerry Forrest (two rounds in December). If Anderson can wipe out Martin in similar fashion, he’ll cement his status as the most promising heavyweight.
But he’s not alone.
There are other heavyweights spanning the globe jockeying for position, hoping to fill the shoes of Fury, Usyk, Joshua and Wilder. Traditionally, heavyweights often develop more slowly and enter their prime at a more advanced age.
Here are five heavyweights poised to make the leap to the next level, big men ready to face gatekeepers (and competition beyond that), regardless of their age and experience.
Filip Hrgovic (15-0, 12 KOs)
The 31-year-old Croatian scored his biggest win in August 2022 on the Usyk-Joshua undercard, a controversial decision over Zhilei Zhang. That victory has aged gracefully after Zhang upset Joe Joyce via sixth-round TKO in April to win the WBO heavyweight interim title.
Hrgovic, an Olympic bronze medalist, has shown his power in stoppages of journeymen Eric Molina and Rydell Booker. What Hrgovic hasn’t done is show off that power against a fellow contender. Zhang was never in any sort of danger, but that was a big step up in competition for Hrgovic.
At 6-foot-6, 240-plus pounds, Hrgovic, who is co-promoted by Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing, seems poised for title contention in the coming years. He’s in training camp in Houston with Ronnie Shields preparing for a fight in August, according to his advisor, Keith Connolly, and if all goes well in that fight, he should find himself in a step-up fight next year.
Frank Sanchez (22-0, 15 KOs)
Sanchez presents the classic high-risk, low-reward dilemma. With his size (6-foot-4, 240-plus pounds), boxing ability and patient approach in the ring, opponents aren’t lining up to fight him.
In a division that builds stars who are action fighters and knockout artists, Sanchez is itching for his shot and might have to wait longer than most. But there’s no doubting his fighting prowess.
The 30-year-old Cuban was able to neutralize Efe Ajagba’s power when they met last year, a decision for Sanchez. Against lesser fighters, Sanchez has displayed enough power.
Aligned with PBC, Sanchez could meet former heavyweight title contender Chris Arreola later this year in the sort of fight that could bring him more name recognition and perhaps deliver a much-needed fire fight.
Martin Bakole (19-1, 14 KOs)
Bakole is the only heavyweight highlighted who has a loss in the pros, but he’s also the one who boasts the best win on his résumé. He routed Olympic gold medalist Tony Yoka in May 2022, showing that he could not only upend a top fighter, but do so in enemy territory in Paris.
Bakole, of Congo, the younger brother of former cruiserweight champion Ilunga Makabu, suffered a 10th-round TKO by Michael Hunter in 2018 in his only pro defeat. At 6-foot-6, 280 pounds, Bakole is a load to handle in the ring and isn’t afraid to scrap in exchanges.
But Bakole needs another notable fight to build off the upset over Yoka and into title contention. A rematch with Hunter, another promising heavyweight looking for a big fight, makes a lot of sense.
Gurgen Hovhannisyan (4-0, 4 KOs)
Hovhannisyan only has four pro fights, but he has already faced tough competition, evidence PBC is looking to fast-track him to a heavyweight title shot.
The 25-year-old Armenian, who fights out of L.A., blasted heavyweight gatekeeper Michael Coffie in a sixth-round TKO in October.
Hovhannisyan, 6-foot-7 and 275-plus pounds, was slated to fight Martin in April on the Gervonta Davis-Ryan Garcia undercard but he suffered a rib injury. The fight with Martin was in the works to be rescheduled for the Errol Spence-Terence Crawford undercard next month but then Martin received the call on short notice to fight Anderson and took the chance.
Now, Hovhannisyan will square off with Ukraine’s Viktor Faust, a top amateur coming off an upset TKO loss to Lenier Pero in February. That bout will take place July 29 on the Spence-Crawford PPV card.
With his immense size, boxing ability and coveted TV slot to showcase his skills, Hovhannisyan is being moved swiftly and with good reason.
Bakhodir Jalolov (12-0, 12 KOs)
An Olympic gold medalist from Uzbekistan, Jalolov just might be the most talented young heavyweight in the world.
He was a pro when he returned to the Olympics to accomplish his dream and now that he’s back in the paid ranks, Jalolov is proving why he’s a heavyweight to keep tabs on.
Promoted by Lou DiBella, Jalolov has faced the worst competition of all the fighters featured here, but he does have the best amateur credentials. A smooth-boxing southpaw at 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds, Jalolov now simply needs proper opposition to showcase his skills.
He hasn’t competed this year, but fought three times in 2022, finishing his campaign with a fourth-round KO of reliable heavyweight opponent Curtis Harper.
The next generation of heavyweights: From Jared Anderson to Filip Hrgovic, Frank Sanchez and others