Anthony Joshua and the Top Prospects in Heavyweight Boxing

James GarnerContributor IJuly 11, 2014

Anthony Joshua and the Top Prospects in Heavyweight Boxing

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    Anthony Joshua returns to the ring on Saturday night in Liverpool against his first name opponent in Matt Skelton.

    Skelton is a former British and European heavyweight champion who contested the WBA title in 2008, but he has not had a significant win since that year. He was 41 then and is now a less-than-encouraging 47.

    This is a reasonable test for Joshua's seventh pro fight, as Skelton looks to become the first man to take the 2012 Olympic champion past the second round.

    David Price bombed out Skelton in late 2012 in just two rounds, so that is a benchmark for Joshua to measure himself against.

    This is Joshua's fourth fight of the year, and he would have had more if not for injury. He is expected to rack up another two or three contests before the year is out.

    If all goes to plan, he will be challenging for British and maybe even European honours next year, before knocking on the door of the world level by 2016.

    The future of the heavyweight division is traditionally the most difficult to forecast, with many talented prospects bombing out due to the inability to take a big shot or a lack of grit and determination when the going gets tough.

    Not long ago, David Price was the British heir apparent in the division, but two defeats to Tony Thompson put a stop to his previously inexorable progress. Thus far, Joshua has shown no real frailties, but there is a long road ahead.

    Here are the other top prospects in the heavyweight division who may one day be contesting global honours with the British Olympian.

6. Dominic Breazeale

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Age: 28

    Turned Pro: 2012

    Height: 6′6.5″

    Typical weight: 17 st. 12 lbs (250 pounds)

    Record: 11-0 with 10 KOs

    Dominic Breazeale (pronounced Brazil) is the most speculative inclusion on this list—he only took up boxing in 2008, having played as a quarterback at the University of Northern Colorado. 

    Breazeale managed to qualify for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team in the super-heavyweight division but went out in the first round on a wide score of 19-8 against Magomed Omarov of Russia.

    That was a less-than-auspicious debut on the world stage, but the big American is perhaps more suited to the pro ranks, where size and power are more likely to overcome speed and technical skill.

    At 28, Breazeale would be old for being an inexperienced fighter in most weight classes, but with the heavyweight division currently ruled by the 38-year-old Wladimir Klitschko, he still has plenty of time on his side.

    Ten years ago, the younger Klitschko was widely written off after suffering a third stoppage defeat to Lamon Brewster but slowly rebuilt himself with trainer Emanuel Steward to become one of the most dominant heavyweights of all time.

    Breazeale has put together a decent run as a pro to date, with the experienced journeyman Nagy Aguilera (who took Tomasz Adamek and Antonio Tarver the distance) being his most notable scalp.

    Given his late introduction to the sport, Breazeale needs to be handled carefully and moved slowly through the ranks. Even if he has the ability to reach the top, it could be three or four years yet before he realises that potential.

    At the end of the day, a guy who is this big and athletic, who doesn't fold at the first sign of trouble—and who can hit—is always going to have a chance in the heavyweight division.

5. Oleksandr Usyk

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    Efrem Lukatsky/Associated Press

    Age: 27

    Turned Pro: 2013

    Height: 6′3"

    Typical weight: 14 st. 4 lbs (200 pounds)

    Record: 4-0 with 4 KOs

    Oleksandr Usyk is the third 2012 Olympian on the list, but his fortunes were at the opposite end to Breazeale's—Usyk won gold in the heavyweight division.

    The amateur heavyweight division correlates to the professional cruiserweight division (with the biggest amateurs competing at super-heavyweight), and that's where Usyk has started his pro career.

    He was the second Ukrainian to win gold at London 2012, and his team-mate Vasyl Lomachenko recently tied records by securing the WBO super-featherweight title in only his third professional fight.

    The bigger man has also made a fast start, and after four fights he is already ranked 32nd on BoxRec's computerised rankings. It is believed Usyk is looking to break Evander Holyfield's cruiserweight record of winning a world title in his 12th fight, and he has certainly been progressing at an unusually quick rate.

    Because of the huge financial incentives offered in the heavyweight division, nearly every top cruiserweight of recent times has chanced his arm with the big fish—David Haye being the most successful, along with Marco Huck, Steve Cunningham and Tomasz Adamek.

    Therefore, if Usyk can dominate the cruiserweights, the heavyweights will surely follow. At 6′3" and never weighing less than 200 pounds so far, Usyk has the frame to compete at heavyweight whilst still being at a clear size disadvantage versus the likes of his compatriots, the Klitschko brothers.

    Usyk's good use of angles, respectable power and vicious body shots give him as good a chance at heavyweight as any cruiser since Haye, and his career could prove very entertaining as he tries to utilise his excellent technical skills at the expense of larger opposition.

4. Andy Ruiz

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    Age: 24

    Turned Pro: 2009

    Height: 6′2"

    Typical weight: 18 st. 3 lbs (255 pounds)

    Record: 22-0 with 16 KOs

    The first thing you have to say about Andy Ruiz is that, yes, he is just plain fat. He started his pro career at over 21 stone (nearly 300 pounds), and although he has worked his way down toward 18 stone, he is still visibly overweight for a man who stands 6'2". 

    The second thing you have to say about Ruiz is that he has shockingly fast hands. With the exception of David Haye, who hasn't been seen in the ring for two years, Ruiz may be the fastest ranked heavyweight.

    Ruiz is Mexican-born and trained at Freddie Roach's Wild Card Gym before relocating to Las Vegas. He is signed with Top Rank and is the promotion's top heavyweight hope.

    Both of his best wins have come on shows in Macau. He had an impressive fourth-round stoppage of the unbeaten Joe Hanks, followed by a contest that saw the talented but erratic Tor Hamer give up after three rounds.

    For a heavyweight, not least one of his size, Ruiz throws impressive combinations, works the body well and has good power, with his last eight wins coming inside the distance.

    But, even though Ruiz has decent amateur pedigree and good balance, you have to believe his weight will hold him back at the highest level, as it did Mexican-American heavyweight Chris Arreola.

    If Ruiz could get down to 225 pounds, adding to his speed and retaining his power, he could be a formidable challenger in a post-Klitschko heavyweight scene.

    Whatever happens, Ruiz has proved an entertaining fighter so far, and with the surprising disconnect between his size and style, he is at least a very watchable proposition.

3. Joseph Parker

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    Age: 22

    Turned Pro: 2012

    Height: 6′4"

    Typical weight: 16 st. 6 lbs (230 pounds)

    Record: 9-0 with 8 KOs

    Joseph Parker is comfortably the youngest man featured here and is causing a small sensation in his native New Zealand, a sporting hotbed not exactly known for its boxing history.

    Heavyweights don't generally turn professional this young, and Parker is the best 22-year-old heavy since Tyson Fury, who remains unbeaten on his quest to challenge Wladimir Klitschko.

    Despite his age, Parker has been matched tough and has three significant names on his ledger—the veteran Frans Botha, Marcelo Luiz Nascimento (who faced Fury and Manuel Charr previously) and, most recently, Brian Minto.

    Minto upset New Zealand's Shane Cameron, the country's top heavyweight hopeful after the retirement of David Tua, in a fight in Auckland at the back end of 2013. The 39-year-old American was hoping to repeat the trick against the youthful Parker.

    But last week it was Parker who had the measure of Minto, decking him in Round 5 and Round 7 before the older man retired at the end of the seventh.

    Parker has a good frame at 6′4" and might be expected to pile yet more muscle on as he matures. Given that he already has power in both hands, that could be a fearsome prospect.

    It will be interesting to see if his handlers continue to move him quickly through the ranks or decide to let him develop on a less steep trajectory. Given that Parker loves to open up and trade punches, he could be vulnerable against experienced fighters who can take this power.

    One possible match-up would be the Commonwealth heavyweight champion Lucas Browne, who is rugged but limited, for an Australia versus New Zealand showdown.

    With their respective ages and manifest potential, Parker and Anthony Joshua could be the two guys challenging for supremacy in the late 2010s, providing they continue to be well-managed through the choppy waters of heavyweight development.

2. Anthony Joshua

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    Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

    Age: 24

    Turned Pro: 2013

    Height: 6′6"

    Typical weight: 16 st. 11 lbs (235 pounds)

    Record: 6-0 with 6 KOs

    Anthony Joshua first hit headlines with his shocking upset win over reigning Olympic and world champion Roberto Cammarelle at the 2011 World Amateur Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan. 

    Having ultimately won silver at those games, Joshua entered his home Olympics at London 2012 with huge expectations of a medal in the blue-ribbon division.

    Joshua rose to the occasion, claiming the gold medal, albeit with some close contests along the way where home advantage may have been the difference.

    Now as a professional, he once again has great things expected of him, and even the brief snatches of action from his pro career are microanalysed for potential weaknesses.

    Given the standard of opposition, we haven't really learned anything about Joshua we didn't know from his amateur career—he certainly has the size and power to succeed as a professional and looks both composed and clinical—but he will need to improve the fluidity of his work as he progresses.

    Perhaps the most encouraging sign from Joshua is his humility and self-critical nature. Olympic gold medallist Audley Harrison, and to a lesser extent James DeGale, suffered from excessive self-confidence and an unwillingness to learn from their mistakes, but Joshua looks unlikely to repeat those failures.

    Joshua also benefits from being a top priority for Eddie Hearn's Matchroom Boxing, a powerful promoter with the resources to guide him carefully to the top.

1. Deontay Wilder

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    Age: 28

    Turned Pro: 2008

    Height: 6′6"

    Typical weight: 16 st. 1 lb (225 pounds)

    Record: 31-0 with 31 KOs

    In boxing there are only really three classifications of fighter you ever want to be—first a prospect, then a contender and finally a champion.

    After six years as a professional and 31 fights, Deontay Wilder should have moved into the second classification by now, but there are so many unknowns about him that he can still be viewed as a prospect.

    The likes of Vyacheslav Glazkov (17-0), Bryant Jennings (18-0) and Mike Perez (20-0-1) are similar ages to Wilder and have had fewer fights—and yet enough has been seen of them to conclude they are good yet not great heavyweights. Those three don't suggest any great reserves of potential such that they could dominate the division.

    Wilder, however, is still one big question mark. Despite 31 fights, the slim-built American has never been past Round 4the last round seen by Nicolai Firtha in October, in what was arguably Wilder's only meaningful contest.

    The game Firtha had previously gone the distance with Johnathan Banks and Alexander Povetkin, having previously been stopped in Round 5 by Tyson Fury.

    Wilder was supposed to make his step up to world level last time out against Malik Scott (then 36-1-1), a skilled American who was unlucky to only draw with Glazkov, before an odd stoppage loss to Dereck Chisora.

    But Wilder wiped out Scott inside 90 seconds, with some observers feeling that Scott could have gotten off the canvas had he really fancied it.

    Given that the one-two that ended the fight didn't land cleanly—either Wilder is one of the biggest punchers of all time, or Scott, who lost to Chisora after seemingly misjudging the referee's count, simply doesn't have the heart for heavyweight prizefighting.

    Because Wilder, a 2008 Olympic bronze medallist, was matched so soft for so long as a pro, especially after been knocked down in 2010 against the little-rated Harold Sconiers, it has long raised questions about his chin, and they remain answered.

    All we know for sure about Wilder is that he's tall and has serious power. His punch resistance, heart and technical savvy are all unproven.

    Wilder is next expected to challenge the Canadian fighter Bermane Stiverne, who holds the WBC title vacated by Vitali Klitschko. A first-round KO either way would not be a shock, and Wilder could be prove to be the top challenger to Wladimir Klitschko since David Haye, or the very definition of a hype job.

    All records from BoxRec.