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Filip Hrgovic is the TSS 2018 Prospect of the Year

Matt McGrain

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Filip Hrgovic

So awash is boxing with prospects currently that picking just one has proved so excruciating that I floated a different idea with The Sweet Science’s fearless editor.

“What about selecting a prospect from each division?”

“Egad,” he literally replied.  “I wouldn’t go that far…would be a good story though. But for now we need to recognize just one fighter for historical continuity.”

He’s right of course; the Prospect of the Year for The Sweet Science goes back a bit and it’s an honor to pitch in. As for that divisional breakdown? I’ll have 17 nominees for you in January.  Watch this space.

As for today, I offer you the 6’6 Croatian, “el Animal”, 7-0, 233lbs, 26-year-old, Filip Hrgovic.

This is something of a controversial pick, I think. I don’t lean towards potentiality in heavyweights as a rule. They’re slower, generally less organized, less compact and a questionable chin is a fiercer impediment to a heavyweight of class than the equivalent in any other division. In short, the heavyweight division is a place of hammers and anvils, and if you are shy the latter, journeymen will find you out.

I’m wary, too, of relying upon a fighter’s amateur achievements to protect them from professional doubts. Too many times Audley Harrison; too many times David Price. Hrgovic drew the eye in 2010 though, beating up Tony Yoka and Joseph Parker on his way to winning the World Youth Championships. Times have changed too in that the World Series of Boxing offers an amateur/professional crossover, a nursery for the paid ranks and one in which Hrgovic excelled.

That is the past, however.  What of the future?

Trainer Pedro Diaz is clear: “Filip is ready for a title fight,” he offered in the build up to his last fight with Kevin “Kingpin” Johnson, “right now.  You can all see it.”

Diaz, a late 2018 addition to the Hrgovic camp, is an inspired choice. An eastern European and a tall one, Hrgovic is already being tarred with the “robotic” brush unearned by Vitali Klitschko and questionable even in relation to Wladimir Klitschko, but his fluidity is limited to the jab right-hand. Diaz, a veteran of the Cuban amateur system who has worked with the likes of Miguel Cotto, Guillermo Rigondeaux and the legendary Felix Savon, is the right man to de-program any mechanical tendencies in a charge young and hungry enough to learn. Hrgovic will never be Eusebio Pedroza but already he punches to the body more smoothly than was the case a year ago.

Promoter Nisse Sauerland, too, thinks that Filip is in for “a big 2019.” Croatia Week after discussions with the heavyweight prospect claim that a title fight is possible as early as next year.

That seems ridiculous for two reasons, which I’ll get to momentarily, but first, what does the man himself say about it?

“I go really, really fast,” he told press in his vastly improved English this December.  “They put me in the fast track.”  A smile, then: “I enjoy it.”

“In 2019,” he adds, “I am coming for all the belts.”

In 2018, Hrgovic ran 5-0 and there was a discernible step up in his two most recent contests.  First he met Amir Mansour, the New Jersey fringe contender who had lost just twice, once on a freak cut (Mansour bit his tongue while beating up Dominic Breazeale and could not continue due to breathing difficulties) and once in being out-pointed by the skilled Steve Cunningham over ten rounds. Hrgovic stopped him in less than nine minutes. As I wrote at the time covering that fight “Hrgovic looked nothing less than a natural fighter and a special one. He cracked an elite jaw and solved a singular puzzle with no more effort than if he had been sparring a straight-backed amateur.”

Next up was Johnson, and again Hrgovic impressed but this time he did not dazzle. Variety is not a strong point and Diaz will know now that his man needs work on his left hook and serious work on his feinting, which is almost non-existent.

Hrgovic likes one plane of attack, one-two, at distance. This combination is highly evolved, however. He goes up and down, he has a short cross, a wild looking overhand right in the style of Deontay Wilder and a straight right-hand down the pipe behind that busy jab. People have derided this final punch as “slow”. This is not entirely accurate and while his hand speed is not dizzying, his mechanics are excellent and therefore the right hand is heading in as near behind the jab as is technically possible. This is important because it barracks his greatest asset: his accuracy.

Hrgovic is already wasting very little. Johnson is no longer the fighter that extended Vitali Klitschko the full distance back in 2009 but equally, Hrgovic was clearly landing at a higher rate than the deadly Vitali. Hrgovic hardly missed Johnson with a serious punch. The fighters who were his equal in this attribute after seven professional fights who are currently active are also both on the pound-for-pound list.

Stylistically, he’s going to struggle with someone really good at closing the distance to mid-range, say a Luis Ortiz type, and he is fortunate that modern interpretation of the rules has all but eliminated the great in-fighter, but anyone who remains at his preferred range, outside, is going to be in for a tough night. The very best would be able to outbox him though, and the very best are in possession of the titles and the top contender spots.

This is the big problem with Hrgovic’s “I’m coming for all the belts” statement.  His ambition is to be admired and by December 2019 he could be 10-0 and ranked among the ten best heavyweights on the planet; indeed, he has already started to pop up on some of the less reputable ABC rankings. But however many times he fights next year the heavyweight timeline for 2019 basically looks like Wilder-Fury II and Joshua against the winner of Whyte-Chisora in the first part of the year, with the winners from those fights squaring off in London around November.

Whatever kind of 2019 Hrgovic has, he’s beginning it behind both Oleksandr Usyk and Jarrell Miller and, when the dust settles, is likely to remain so given the way Eddie Hearn continues to corner the market.

So a title shot in 2019 is not just premature physically – Hrgovic needs to work on the left hand, defense and feinting as well as stamina, never having gone past the eighth – but politically.  March 2020 is the earliest he could hope to visit a title ring and even then probably only if Wilder emerges on top of the pile.

What Hrgovic should be gunning for by the end of 2019 is the loser of Chisora-Whyte, perhaps on a London undercard.  If he prefers the United States, his eventual target should be Jarrell Miller and that would be obtainable come the end of next year.

The main reason I make Hrgovic the one to watch however, is that in 2019 we are going to find out about him. It might not be “his year”, it really might not be, but, it will be the year we find out if he can take a punch.

If he has the heart to carry him to the top.

If he’s real.

And that’s a prospect I’m rather looking forward to.

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Jim Gray, To His Discredit, is Too Often ‘The Story’

Ted Sares

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Showtime’s widely-connected Jim Gray is the ultimate networker, insider, and friend to the stars (from Jack Nicholson to Kobe Bryant to LeBron James to Tom Brady and everyone in between—or almost everyone). He has won more awards than Carter has pills, a list that includes 12 National Emmy Awards, and he even has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was named as one of the 50 Greatest Sports Broadcasters of All-Time by David Halberstam and last year he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

For an interesting read about Jim and his complex but important interconnections, see “The Zelig of Sports,” by Bryan Curtiss, dated June 24, 2016. https://www.theringer.com/2016/6/24/16043100/jim-gray-is-looking-for-his-next-exclusive-fc23ceb544e

However, as noted by “Sports Media Watch” writer and editor Paulsen (no first name) and others, Gray has become The Story on too many occasions and that’s a no-no in his line of work.

In boxing, Gray’s condescending and confrontational style was on display as far back as 2001 when he interviewed Kostya Tszyu in the ring following Tszyu’s defeat of Oktay Urkal at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut. As Gray was beginning his routine, the “Thunder From Down Under” grabbed the mic and quickly told Gray “Do not be rude to me.”

Many years later, after Juan Manuel Lopez had just been knocked silly by Orlando “Siri” Salido, a bizarre post-fight interview ensued during which Lopez accused referee Roberto Ramirez and his son Roberto Ramirez Jr (who was the third man for the first Salido-Lopez fight) of having gambling problems.

Lopez was arguably still on Queer Street, but that didn’t stop Gray. Eager to catch someone off guard, as is his wont, Gray managed to get “Juanma” to say more than enough to get himself suspended while Gray went on to induction into the IBHOF

There have been many other incidents including James Toney dominating Gray in an interview after the Holyfield-Toney fight. Jim never had a chance. “Don’t come up here and try to give me no badass questions,” James warned Gray.before knocking the mic out of Gray’s hands..

The fact is Gray had built up a litany of edgy if not downright embarrassing moments. His most infamous came in 1999 during game two of the World Series.

During the game, Pete Rose, barred from baseball but still a fan favorite, was introduced as a member of the Major League All-Century Team as the crowd went wild. Then the ever-opportunistic Gray launched a series of questions regarding allegations that Rose’s had gambled on major league baseball games.

Gray was unrelenting. Finally, Pete cut it off, saying, “This is a prosecutor’s brief, not an interview, and I’m very surprised at you. I am, really.” Later on, New York Yankee outfielder Chad Curtis, who won Game 3 with a walk off homer, refused Gray’s request for an interview as a show of unity with Rose. (Jim Gray’s complete interview with Pete Rose can be found in Gray’s Wikipedia entry. Gray was somewhat vindicated in 2004 when Rose came clean and admitted that he had bet on baseball.)

Fast Forward

After the scintillating Wilder-Breazeale fight this past week in Brooklyn’s Barclay Center, Luis Ortiz bounded into the ring during the post-fight interviews and Gray shoved the mic in his face without so much as a hello and shouted “when do you want to fight Wilder?” Ortiz wanted to focus on what had just occurred in the ring, but he never had a chance. Gary continued to badger him about future fights and thus the fans did not get to hear what Ortiz had to say about the fight.

But what was far worse was when Dominic Breazeale waved Gray away as the commentator walked towards the badly beaten fighter. Gray was stopped by a member of Breazeale’s camp and he quickly got the message that he was persona non grata in the Breazeale corner. Previously, and within Dominic’s earshot, Gray had said to Wilder “the public does not want to see you fight people like Breazeale, the public does not want to see Joshua fight Ruiz, the public does not want to see whoever this guy is fighting Tyson Fury.”

There may be truth in what Jim said, but there was a better way to say it and a better place to say it. The man just got knocked senseless in front of his family and friends, Jim, show him some respect!

Photo credit: Tom Casino / SHOWTIME

Ted Sares is a member of Ring 8, a lifetime member of Ring 10, and a member of Ring 4 and its Boxing Hall of Fame. He also is an Auxiliary Member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA). He is an active power lifter and Strongman competitor in the Grand Master class and is competing in 2019.

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More Heavyweight Boxing On Tap This Weekend (Odds Review)

Miguel Iturrate

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heavyweights

The heavyweights are out there bucking for position as the weight class has more possibilities than we have seen in years. Three heavyweight fights have gotten attention at the sports books for this coming Saturday, May 26.

Manchester hosts the return of Tyson Fury’s cousin Hughie Fury (21-2). Fury (shown displaying his Lonsdale belt) is smaller, less technical and less interesting than his bombastic cousin, but at 24 years old there is still plenty of time for him to become a player.

September of 2017 saw Hughie Fury lure WBO world champion Joseph Parker to Manchester. Fury was coming off a 17 month layoff and lost a majority decision where one judge called the fight a draw. Fury went 1-1 in 2018, losing an October outing to Bulgarian contender Kubrat Pulev in Sofia. Having gone 1-2 in his last three outings puts Fury in the “dire need of a win” category and from the look of the odds for this fight, the matchmakers have not made a mistake in choosing an opponent.

Providing the opposition is Canada’s Chris Norrad who is 17-0 but is stepping up onto a much bigger stage than he is used to. Norrad has never fought outside of regional shows in central Canada, and with just 8 KO’s, he doesn’t seem to pose much of a threat. There are levels to this game and Fury and his training level and partners are enough reason to count Norrad out. The odds are below.

Victoria Warehouse – Manchester, England – Saturday, May 25, 2019

Heavyweight 12 rounds –
Chris Norrad  +2000
Hughie Fury  -5000

DAZN is at the MGM in Oxon Hill, Maryland and two heavyweight 10-rounders on that card are also worth keeping an eye on despite the odds indicating complete crush matches.

Former cruiserweight contender Michael Hunter (16-1) gets his fifth bout in as a heavyweight when he faces 26-2 Brazilian Fabio Maldonado.

Hunter’s name emerged as one of the front runners to replace Jarrell Miller against Anthony Joshua on June 1st, but Joshua and company opted to face Andy Ruiz Jr instead.

Maldonado built his record up to 26-0 before dropping his last two. The Brazilian workhorse also has a 26-13 record in MMA and UFC fans may remember the gritty Maldonado as a guy who always gave his all and wound up bloody. He last fought MMA in December of 2018, so he still qualifies as a two sport athlete, but as he approaches 40 with a lot of wear and tear on his body, he appears to just be grabbing paydays at this point in both sports.

MGM National Harbor – Oxon Hill, Maryland – Saturday, May 25, 2019

Heavyweight 10 rounds –
Fabio Maldonado  +1600
Michael Hunter  -4000

Also scheduled for a 10-round bout is Croatia’s 26-year-old prospect Filip Hrgovic (7-0), who faces 15-1 Gregory Corbin of the USA. Hrgovic won an Olympic Bronze Medal at the 2016 games in Rio and he boasts an amateur background of nearly 100 fights. A good sign that he is trying to fast track his career is the fact that he has never faced a fighter with a losing record as his opponents are a combined 147-34-3.

Corbin’s lone loss came this past March when he was DQ’d for hitting Charles Martin with too many low blows. Prior to that, the Texan had faced largely regional competition and the books have made him a huge underdog against Hrgovic.

Heavyweight 10 rounds. –
Gregory Corbin  +2000
Filip Hrgovic  -5000

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Looking at the Heavyweight Calendar (Odds Review)

Miguel Iturrate

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Joshua vs Ruiz

This past Saturday night saw Deontay Wilder’s WBC world heavyweight title defense against Dominic Breazeale go down on Showtime. The fight lasted just 137 seconds as Wilder floored Breazeale with a cannonball of a right hand to end the night early.

With Wilder out of the way, Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jr is up next. They meet June 1st at Madison Square Garden. Two weeks later, on the 15th of June, ESPN+ will deliver Tyson Fury vs Tom Schwarz, so fight fans will get a look at all three members of the “Big Three” all in a month’s time.

Wilder’s erasure of Breazeale this past weekend sent a message to the rest of the division as well as giving him a highlight reel to show during upcoming negotiations. Wilder entered a strong -1000 favorite at the sportsbooks for this fight.

Check out our pre-fight review of the Wilder vs Breazeale odds right here at TSS –

http://tss.ib.tv/boxing/featured-articles/57588-wilder-vs-breazeale-odds-review

Looking forward, the odds posted for Joshua and Fury’s upcoming tussles are even less competitive. Let’s take a look at what the books are giving us as we await the two big Brits fighting in the USA.

Madison Square Garden – New York City – Saturday, June 1, 2019

Heavyweight 12 rounds –

Andy Ruiz Jr +1500 Over 6½ +100

Anthony Joshua -3000 Under 6½ -130

Ruiz Jr is 32-1 overall with his lone loss coming at the hands of Joseph Parker in a failed WBO world title bid. That same WBO belt is now in the hands of Joshua as are the WBA and IBF belts.

Joshua was a big favorite over Jarrell Miller, his original opponent, who was denied a license in New York after testing positive for a buffet of steroids. Ruiz Jr took the fight with less than a full training camp, but you have to believe that he is going to come in highly motivated. Ruiz Jr has been caught at a different type of buffet, the all-you-can-eat kind, but even when in the best of shape his body type isn’t “poster boy material.” Miller was big and bulky as well, but he was a near 300 pounder whereas Ruiz Jr will come in between 250 and 260 pounds, which is right around Joshua’s size. Rather than slaying a 300-pound giant, he is facing a guy who is shorter and fatter than him, making it very hard for Joshua to look great on paper.

At +1500 will people bite on Ruiz Jr? He is more experienced than Miller and he is probably a better fighter overall and though he is facing a formidable champion, Joshua is not a finished product. Perhaps Joshua will be chasing an early finish, feeling the pressure of Wilder’s performance, and if so will he make a mistake that Ruiz can exploit? We are roughly 10 days from finding out.

MGM Grand Garden – Las Vegas, Nevada – Saturday, June 15, 2019

Heavyweight 12 rounds –

Tom Schwarz +1800 Over 9½ -105

Tyson Fury -3600 Under 9½ -125

Tyson Fury closes out the run of top heavyweights with a very deliberately chosen showcase fight against Tom Schwarz. Schwarz is 24 years old and 24-0 but he is a fighter who has come up on the regional German scene and as the old boxing cliche goes, there are levels to this game.

Former contender David Haye mounted a 2016 comeback, booking fights against Mark De Mori (30-1-2) and Arnold Gjergjaj (29-0). It took Haye precisely 6:42 to dispose of both of them, and though Fury is a completely different beast than Haye, the level difference between he and Schwarz may be even as striking.

Wilder has gotten through his “challenge” and if Fury and Joshua also emerge as winners as expected, it will leave several open questions –

– Will Fury vs Wilder 2 happen first, or will Wilder vs Joshua go down first? Could Joshua and Fury meet and freeze Wilder out?

And….

– Will we see any of these fights take place in 2019?

If Joshua or Fury stumble, it will only add to the chaos in the heavyweight division. But if the professional oddsmakers know anything, it isn’t likely to happen.

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