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Who will fight Filip Hrgovic?

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By Gav Duthie: Kalle Sauerland spent a lot of 2021 trying to find someone to face Filip Hrgovic 14-0 (12) for an IBF final eliminator, and 2022 has started in exactly the same way. Already Luis Ortiz has turned down the opportunity citing a hand injury, and Joseph Parker has declined due to his financial expectations and injury also.

Once again, the IBF will go down their list of the top 15 combatants to find someone willing to face the dangerous Croat. Kalle Sauerland has had enough; if nobody is willing to face him in the near future, he is demanding the IBF make him mandatory without a final eliminator which is understandable. The main questions are why are fighters avoiding Filip Hrgovic? And who, if anyone is his most likely opponent for the honor to fight for the title.

2021

Last year it looked extremely likely that Hrgovic would face Michael Hunter for the belt. The talented American looked set to sign but turned it down to be the poster boy at heavyweight for the Triller TV service. Triller has matched Hunter more favorably, and despite this, he struggled to a draw with Jerry Forrest recently. Due to Hunter turning it down, he was taken out of the rankings, and the same might happen to several fighters who are doing the same now.

The IBF

If I was a boxer and could choose which organization to be mandatory for, it would be the IBF every time. If you are an IBF mandatory, you will get your shot. A situation like Dillian Whyte or Eleider Alvarez waiting for WBC shots for years would never happen with the IBF. This is why I can’t understand why so many would turn down the opportunity for a final eliminator with them.

The Rankings

(Latest)

IBF champion: Oleksandr Usyk

1. Not rated
2. Charles Martin
3. Filip Hrgovic
4. Joseph Parker
5. Anthony Joshua
6. Tony Yoka
7. Joe Joyce
8. Agit Kabayel
9. Murat Gassiev
10. Luis Ortiz
11. Andy Ruiz Jnr
12. Demsey Mckean
13. Zhileil Zang
14. Hughie Fury
15. Martin Bakole

The ratings haven’t been updated since Luis Ortiz stopped Charles Martin, but he has already turned the chance down, as has Parker. Anthony Joshua is to fight Usyk next. Hrgovic, Joe Joyce, and Tony Yoka are all amateur rivals.

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December 4, 2021; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Filip Hrgovic celebrates his win over Emir Ahmatovic during their December 4, 2021 bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom.

Joyce won a tight decision against Hrgovic in the World Series of Boxing, and Yoka defeated Hrgovic in the 2016 Olympic semi-finals, both close fights. Joyce is highly ranked with the WBO, so that gets him a shot without having to fight Hrgovic. Yoka is supposed to fight Martin Bakole, although that fight has been postponed for the time being due to covid restrictions. At present, only Zhileil Zhang 23-0-1 (18) has stated an interest in the fight. At 38 years old, he knows time is not on his side, and this is a direct route to Usyk or amateur rival Joshua if he wins his rematch.

Agit Kabayel, Murat Gassiev, Andy Ruiz Jnr, and Demsey Mckean should all have the opportunity to take the fight before, and other than Andy Ruiz, I think the rest would be interested.

Avoiding

Joseph Parker’s team manager David Higgins comments that Hrgovic didn’t have a big enough economic fanbase or money to invest was quite interesting. Boxing is always about risk v reward. Everyone realizes Hrgovic is a good fighter. I don’t think Parker and Ortiz are scared, but they don’t want to risk losing for small money. The amazing thing is that nobody is backing themselves to beat Hrgovic, get a title shot, and make the money later when they are world champions. It is very short-term thinking. Should Sauerland-Wasserman pay over the odds to get Hrgovic a big win and reputation, or just see how it pans out?

I think Parker’s team has a point. Hrgovic doesn’t seem to have a core fan group. If you take his compatriot Alen Babic as an example, he has all his fights in the UK and is almost an honorary Brit. He has a huge fanbase than the UK, and despite not being nearly as talented as Hrgovic, he has market appeal. Hrgovic is all over the place fighting on undercards. His last six fights have been situated in the following:

Mexico

Saudi Arabia

Denmark

USA, Florida

Austria

USA, Las Vegas

He last fought in Croatia 8 fights ago in a basketball hall. Croatia isn’t a big enough boxing hub to support him. Sauerland has done well to keep him busy and get him on shows all over the globe, but it hasn’t helped him gain a core fan group anywhere. Hrgovic needs a big win to make a name for himself.

Prediction

Given the rankings, what people have to lose, and the opportunity available to fight for the IBF title, I think Agit Kabayel is the highest-rated champion who would agree to the fight. We will see what happens as the situation unfolds.




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