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British heavyweight goliath Joe Joyce aims to take another step towards a world title shot when he faces top contender Zhilei Zhang at the Copper Box Arena in London on April 15. The 12-round bout, plus undercard action, will be broadcast by BT Sport in the U.K. and ESPN+ in the U.S.
Every division in professional boxing should possess plenty of moving parts, with the big guns constantly interchangeable. However, that’s not the case when it comes to heavyweight. The Fury-Usyk-Joshua-Wilder era is moving at a snail’s pace and top contenders are getting impatient.
Joyce, 37, is in hot pursuit of his world championship contemporaries and he has no time to lose. The Olympic silver medallist has already posted solid wins over the likes of Daniel Dubois and Joseph Parker, so his credentials are beyond reproach. The hard-hitting Londoner is also the WBO’s No. 1 contender, so a clash with unified titleholder Usyk should be imminent.
The Sporting News polled its global staff of boxing writers and editors to produce an updated Top-12 list at heavyweight. Such is the stagnant nature of boxing’s glamour division that there was very little disagreement among SN’s experts.
Frankly speaking, not enough is happening and that needs to change in a hurry:
12. Frank Sanchez
- Record: 22-0 (15 KOs)
- Age: 30
Sanchez, 30, was generally regarded as the finest prospect in heavyweight boxing and he’s been no less impressive since making the transition to contender.
At 6-4 and 250 pounds, “The Cuban Flash” is part of the new breed and the sum of his parts is impressive. Despite his size, Sanchez possesses excellent hand speed, adept positioning, athleticism, and solid technique.
He’s yet to mix with an elite-level opponent, but he passes the eye test with flying colours. Previously trained by former Ring Magazine Trainer of the Year Eddie Reynoso, Sanchez has since made the switch to Joe Goossen.
Over the weekend, he scored a first-round stoppage of Daniel Martz.
Next fight: No fight scheduled
11. Filip Hrgovic
- Record: 15-0 (12 KOs)
- Age: 30
A former amateur standout, Hrgovic captured Olympic bronze at Rio 2016 before turning professional the following year.
The Croatian boxer-puncher was impressive during the embryonic stages of his career and concussive stoppage wins became the order of the day. Trained by veteran coaches Ronnie Shields and Pedro Diaz, Hrgovic made steady improvement and there were many who felt it was a case of “when” not “if” he would win a world title.
However, in his most recent outing, the 30-year-old was pushed to the wire by Chinese heavyweight Zhilei Zhang. Despite the fact that the 39-year-old Zhang was unbeaten, many were surprised that Hrgovic just scraped through on a controversial split decision.
Next fight: As the IBF’s No. 1 contender, Hrgovic is in line to face Oleksandr Usyk.
10. Joseph Parker
- Record: 31-3 (21 KOs)
- Age: 31
This amiable New Zealander is a former WBO heavyweight champion who still harbours hopes of getting back on top.
Parker, 31, has sound technique, good movement, and hitting power. These are the very attributes that have seen him secure solid wins over the likes of Andy Ruiz (MD 12), Hughie Fury (MD 12), and Derek Chisora (SD 12, UD 12).
While he has suffered setbacks to Anthony Joshua (UD 12), Dillian Whyte (UD 12), and Joe Joyce (KO 11), Parker was competitive in all of those fights. If he’s fully motivated and in form, the ex-champ will give any heavyweight a tough night’s work.
Next fight: Negotiations are ongoing for Parker to face capable American Michael Hunter.
9. Luis Ortiz
- Record: 33-3 (28 KOs)
- Age: 44
Ortiz honed his technique in the Cuban amateur system before defecting to the U.S. to begin his pro career at the very late age of 31.
Now 44, it’s fair to say that Ortiz has begun a slow decline. His signature triumphs came against Bryant Jennings (TKO 7) and Tony Thompson (KO 6), but those victories seem like a lifetime ago.
Snake-bitten by then-WBC champion Deontay Wilder, who came from behind to stop Ortiz twice, the Cuban star is still considered a legitimate heavyweight force.
In his most recent outing, the southpaw veteran survived two knockdowns before losing a very close decision to Andy Ruiz.
Next fight: No fight scheduled
8. Joe Joyce
- Record: 15-0 (14 KOs)
- Age: 37
Joyce, 37, looked like the future of the heavyweight division until Chinese star Zhilei Zhang tore op the script.
Next fight: Might opt for a Zhang rematch.
7. Dillian Whyte
- Record: 29-3 (19 KOs)
- Age: 35
One of the most experienced fighters in the division, Whyte has shown the desire and hunger to face any heavyweight out there.
Hailing from London, by way of Jamaica, the 35-year-old power puncher has scored impressive wins over Derek Chisora (SD 12, KO 11), Joseph Parker (UD 12), and Oscar Rivas (UD 12).
When it did come time for a world title opportunity, Whyte fell way short against Tyson Fury, who scored an emphatic sixth-round stoppage over his countryman in April 2022.
Whyte has since bounced back with a close decision win over American Jermaine Franklin and there are big fights in his future.
Next fight: Whyte is looking for a rematch with Anthony Joshua, who defeated him in 2015.
6. Zhilei Zhang
- Record: 25-1-1 (20 KOs)
- Age: 39
An Olympic silver medalist at the Beijing Games in 2008, Zhang was largely on a slow burn after turning pro in 2014. The Chinese goliath looked ordinary, bashing up low-tier opposition before being held to a draw by American Jerry Forrest in 2021.
Then everything changed.
On April 15, in London, Zhang was expected to make fast-rising British star Joe Joyce look like a heavyweight champion in the making. Things didn’t go to plan. The visitor boxed brilliantly, shutting Joyce’s right eye and dominating the bout until it was stopped in the sixth round.
At almost 40 years of age, Zhang is enjoying the best period of his career. The hard-hitting lefty received huge credit for giving unbeaten Croatian Filip Hrgovic all he could handle before dropping a questionable decision last August. The Joyce triumph has him on the cusp of a world title shot.
Next fight: A Joyce rematch has been discussed. Zhang, like almost any fighter over 200 pounds, is eager to face Tyson Fury.
5. Andy Ruiz
- Record: 35-2 (22 KOs)
- Age: 33
In December 2016, following 29 straight wins, Ruiz suffered a decision defeat to Joseph Parker (MD 12) in a bout for the vacant WBO title. This setback seemed to throw the Mexican American star off course and he was very inactive over the next two-and-half years.
However, a dream opportunity to face then-unified heavyweight champ Anthony Joshua at Madison Square Garden in June 2019 changed everything. A huge underdog, Ruiz decked Joshua three times and claimed a sensational seventh-round stoppage.
Unfortunately, one of the greatest upsets in heavyweight history was followed by one of the worst performances in recent memory. Six months later, Ruiz came into the Joshua rematch completely out of shape and surrendered his crown on a wide unanimous decision.
Now working with Canelo’s coach, Eddy Reynoso, Ruiz stays relevant by virtue of a 12-round unanimous decision over Luis Ortiz in September.
Next fight: In recent months, Ruiz has been linked to fights with Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder. Nothing has been confirmed.
4. Anthony Joshua
- Record: 25-3 (22 KOs)
- Age: 33
Despite being a two-time unified champion, the critics have had the knives out for a piece of AJ over the past several years.
Following his stoppage defeat to Andy Ruiz in June 2019, Joshua has struggled to maintain consistency. He bounced back to defeat Ruiz in a return fight before taking Kubrat Pulev apart, but back-to-back decision losses to Oleksandr Usyk damaged his reputation.
On April 1, Joshua scored a 12-round unanimous decision over American Jermaine Franklin. It was a solid enough win, but the trademark aggression and combination punching was missing from the performance.
Joshua has brought a different training team to the ring in his past three fights and he needs to find some rhythm. If he can locate that, he’s a match for anyone in the division.
Next fight: Likely to enter negotiations for a Tyson Fury fight again. Old foe Dillian Whyte would be the backup plan, but promoter Eddie Hearn recently stated that AJ is eager to face both Joe Joyce and Deontay Wilder.
3. Deontay Wilder
- Record: 43-2-1 (42 KOs)
- Age: 37
Arguably the greatest one-punch hitter boxing has ever seen, Wilder remains one of the most dangerous sharks in the heavyweight ocean.
While Tyson Fury has inflicted the only blemishes (two losses and a draw) on Wilder’s otherwise perfect record, “The Bronze Bomber” remains a threat to any opponent he shares the ring with.
Many felt that Robert Helenius could provide Wilder with a stern technical test when the pair met in October. Instead, the former European champ suffered a one-punch, first-round knockout defeat and was left staring up at the lights with a look of terror on his face.
Wilder made 10 successful defences of the WBC title, and if he hits the bullseye against any of the elite, he’ll be a two-time heavyweight champion in the time it takes the referee to count 10.
Next fight: Nothing official although “The Bronze Bomber” has been linked to fights with Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz.
2. Oleksandr Usyk
- Record: 20-0 (13 KOs)
- Age: 36
Currently the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, Usyk remains on course to become an all-time great.
In 2018, the Ukrainian lefty became the second man in history to completely unify the cruiserweight division (the other was Evander Holyfield). What’s most impressive about this accomplishment is that Usyk won all of the titles on the road.
When Usyk moved to heavyweight, there were critics who counted him out due to his lack of size. That was a mistake. Usyk was dazzling in his first triumph over Anthony Joshua, which saw him lay claim to IBF, WBA, and WBO titles, and he doubled down by defeating a superior version of AJ in a rematch, which saw him pick up the vacant Ring Magazine crown.
Unfortunately, an undisputed title fight against Tyson Fury failed to materialize for April 29. If Usyk were to hand “The Gypsy King” his first pro defeat, then he kicks open the door to boxing immortality.
Next fight: Currently in negotiations to defend his titles against Daniel Dubois.
1. Tyson Fury
- Record: 33-0-1 (24 KOs)
- Age: 34
There have been myriad peaks and troughs in the career of Tyson Fury but the gargantuan Englishman remains the glamour division’s top dog in 2023.
“The Gypsy King” lay claim to his destiny by dethroning then-unified heavyweight champ Wladimir Klitschko almost eight years ago. He then hit a massive slump, which included a failed UKAD test for which he received a retroactive ban; mental health issues, recreational drug use, and a weight gain of approximately 140 pounds.
Fury’s career was essentially over… and then it wasn’t. Thanks to incredible willpower and hard work, Fury improved his mental health by getting back down to fighting weight.
Following a two-and-a-half-year layoff, he defeated Sefer Seferi and Francesco Pianeta before challenging the then-unbeaten Deontay Wilder for the WBC title. Wilder retained on a controversial draw, but Fury dominated the American in the rematch to become a two-time heavyweight champion. The trilogy bout was a classic, later named The Ring Magazine Fight of the Year, and once again it was the British star who won by stoppage.
Fury, 34, has made two successful defences since, against Dillian Whyte (TKO 6) and Derek Chisora (TKO 11). However, fans are desperate to see the Usyk and Joshua matchups, and frustration is mounting.
Next fight: No fight scheduled.