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Hrgovic vs. Yoka – Can Tony beat the boogeyman?

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By Jim Calfa: 2016 Olympic super heavyweight gold medalist Tony Yoka has agreed to face the boogeyman Filip Hrgovic in an IBF world title eliminator to decide the mandatory to champion Oleksandr Usyk.

Hopefully, Hrgovic’s promoters have their feet on the ground and are making the right decision about letting their fighter take this fight with the 6’7″ Yoka.

With the fuss that Hrgovic’s promoter Kalle Sauerland has made about 43-year-old Luis Ortiz and Joseph Parker rejecting a fight against him, it may have given him the false belief that he’s better than he is.

If Hrgovic loses this fight against Yoka, it could upend his pro career before it’s ever gotten a chance to get started. There are more accessible routes to a title shot for Hrgovic than going through Yoka, and it would be wise for his promoters to consider them before he suffers his first loss.

Hrgovic is a good fighter, but he was exposed repeatedly by Yoka during his amateur days and shown to be robotic, slow, and one-dimensional.

Yoka to  face the Boogeyman

“Filip Hrgovic has an opponent in that IBF eliminator against Tony Yoka,'”  said Chris Mannix on Boxing. “They’re engaged in negotiations. In the last six months, we’ve had Michael Hunter turn down the chance to fight Filip Hrgovic.

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“Hrgovic in our fighter meeting a couple of weeks back called Hunter, a coward. He was pretty strong on that one.

“Recently, it’s been Luis Ortiz, who quickly declined to enter negotiations there [with Hrgovic], and it was Joseph Parker who declined [next].

“There were plenty of reasons why these guys won’t fight Hrgovic, especially the last two because Ortiz and Parker can probably get something economically viable in the next six months before Hrgovic is.

“Does this surprise you that we’re going down the list in an IBF title eliminator, and we stop at Tony Yoka, who has done nothing to warrant an IBF eliminator opportunity?”  said Mannix.

“It doesn’t because Filip Hrgovic is a high-risk, low-reward type of proposition, right?” said Keith Idec.  “Luis Ortiz is not going to fight Filip Hrgovic. That makes no sense, right?

“I mean, he [Ortiz] could get closer to a world title shot, but he was knocked down twice by Charles Martin [on January 1st]. Obviously, he came back and landed a big shot [in the sixth] to win the fight.

“But he’s showing signs of whatever age he actually is. He’s not going to fight Hrgovic, and I don’t blame Joseph Parker either [for not agreeing to fight Hrgovic].

“Joseph Parker has been in a lot of tough fights and wants to get back in position to fight for a title.  Now, he has to go through this guy?  I don’t blame him. I wouldn’t do it either.”

Hrgovic’s so-called reputation for being the boogeyman in the heavyweight division was built on his wins over fluff opposition, which is why the fans could be in for a surprise when they see him get beaten by Yoka.

Filip Hrgovic’s best wins as a pro:

  • Eric Molina – 39-years-old
  • Rydell Booker – 40-years-old
  • Kevin Johnson – 42-years-old
  • Amir Mansour – 49-years-old
  • Gregory Corbin
  • Mario Heredia
  • Sean Turner
  • Tom Little
  • Raphael Zumbano

If you know anything about boxing, you’ll recognize that Hrgovic’s opposition as a professional has been atrocious from start to finish, making it difficult to understand how he developed a reputation as a boogeyman.

To be a boogeyman in a weight class, you must fight quality opposition, and this writer fails to see one fighter that fits that description on Hrgovic’s five-year pro resume.

Hrgovic & Yoka have history

“There is some history. I think you have 11 and 14 fights respectively, Hrgovic and Yoka,”  said Idec. “So there’s history between them. They fought three times in the amateurs. Yoka beat him, and you were ringside for the semifinals of the super heavyweight tournament in 2016 in Rio [Olympics].

“So there’s a lot of history there, and it’s an interesting fight. I give Tony Yoka a lot of credit because I’ve seen a lot more from Hrgovic as a pro than I have of Tony Yoka.

“So, he would seem to me to be more prepared for the fight. So, it speaks to Yoka’s confidence that he’s willing to take this kind of fight in what would be his twelfth fight.

“So, there’s some intrigue there. You’d rather see this fight a little further down the line, but kudos to both guys for being willing to do it. They have to come to an agreement.

“He’s [Yoka] only agreed to today so far is to enter negotiations, so they have to get this deal done and everything. But if the money is there, there’s no reason why they can’t fight.

“It’s an interesting fight between two very good young heavyweights. Joseph Parker can go fight someone else to try and edge closer to a world title shot and the same for Luis Ortiz,”  said Idec.

If Hrgovic doesn’t improve since the three previous times he fought Yoka in the amateur ranks, he’s going to lose again. Hrgovic is an excellent fighter, but he struggles against boxers with skills, and Yoka is gifted.

It might be better for Hrgovic to go in another direction for a world title shot rather than face his old nemesis Yoka.

If Hrgovic loses this fight, it could take him many years to come back from the defeat, and he’s not young at 29.

Hrgovic’s promoters have brought him along too slowly, resulting in him wasting the first five years of his pro career fighting lesser opposition exclusively and zero contenders.

Assuming Hrgovic loses to Yoka, it could be another five years before he’s back to where he is now, fighting in an eliminator. By that time, Hrgovic will be 34 and likely not the fighter he is today.

Yoka-Hrgovic winner will need to wait

“One thing to remember in the grand scheme of eliminators. The winner of this fight [Yoka vs. Hrgovic] is not going to get a world title shot this year, I would imagine,” said Mannix.

“The IBF is way down in the queue for mandatories, and you’re probably going to see a unification fight between Fury and the winner of Joshua and Usyk before the end of the year.

“So, it’s not like you get this opportunity, and bam, heavyweight title shot coming this summer. You’re probably going to have to wait your turn for a while and take another fight or two fights in between,” said Mannix.

Under a best-case scenario, the Yoka vs. Hrgovic fight winner will need to wait until 2023 before they get a title shot for the IBF belt. When that time comes, it’s possible that Tyson Fury could own the IBF title, and he might choose to vacate the belt rather than face the Yoka-Hrgovic winner.

Fury can make more facing Anthony Joshua, Oleksandr Usyk if he hasn’t fought them by 2023. Even if he has, there’s more money for Fury in a rematch against either of those guys than in facing Yoka or Hrgovic.

“If you’re Parker, he’s shown he can make some money,”  Mannix continued. “If you’re Ortiz, you’re probably trying to cash put against Andy Ruiz or something.  There are plenty more viable options.

“I think it’s a good fight, Hrgovic against Yoka. I probably would have preferred Hrgovic against someone like Zhilei Zhang because maybe it’s a little more of a U.S fight then.

“Maybe we could do it in China in that area. Macao, or something like that. That’s kind of a big event. Eddie Hearn has eye-balled big fights with Zhang over in China at some point.

“They’ve involved Anthony Joshua with those talks, but I’d be kind of curious to see what kind of fan base he has over there in a big professional fight,” said Mannix in talking about a fight that has no chance of happening due to Zhang’s low ranking [#13] with the IBF.

“And Zhilei Zhang is an older fighter [38] and is looking for this kind of opportunity,” said Idec. “He got stuck in the pandemic and got stuck in China a couple of times.

“He trained here in New  Jersey in a couple of towns from where I live. I’m very familiar with him and his story and everything. He  [Zhang] can fight. He’s looking for the right dance partner, so to speak.

“It would have been nice for him to get that opportunity, but it looks like Eddie has to find him an opportunity elsewhere. He lives in a couple of towns away from me, and it’s not a town where there’s a lot of Chinese people.

“There’s a lot of Italian people, and he’s 6’6″. A lot of people think he’s a basketball player because he’s so tall.”

Zhilei Zhang would have been a poor choice for Hrgovic in an IBF title eliminator because he would be an obvious contest winner. Zhang is 38-years-old and recently fought to a controversial 10 round draw against journeyman Jerry Forrest.




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