The Heavyweights: Ranking the best big men in boxing today

Where do we stand with the heavyweight division? (Pic: Amara Shaw)

As part of our continuing build-up to next year's potential showstopper, ranks the best heavyweights in boxing and asks where we might see them next.

Boxing’s marquee division is in rude health currently with some serious talent atop the heavyweight table. Crucially, these men are keen to meet each other and when the best fight the best, there is still no spectacle quite like it. Undefeated lineal champion Tyson Fury has become a crossover star and his well-documented return from the abyss of just a few years ago has been an enormous shot in the arm for the sport.

Then there is British rival Anthony Joshua, whose crown momentarily slipped when he lost his unbeaten record to Andy Ruiz Jr in New York before setting the record straight in their rematch in Saudi Arabia. Fury and Joshua are now almost universally seen as the top two heavyweights in the world and currently hold all the major belts, but behind the two kings lies a medley of violent contenders to give the division a depth it has not had since the 1990s.

Deontay Wilder lost for the first time as a pro against Fury last time out, but such a huge hitter who reigned as WBC boss for so long cannot be written off just yet. Men like Dillian Whyte and Oleksandr Usyk add further intrigue to a stacked division, with Daniel Dubois, Filip Hrgovic and Tony Yoka also now knocking on the door. The UK has literally never had it so good with the top three heavyweights in the world currently hailing from these shores for the first time in the sport’s history.

Here assesses the landscape and ranks the best big men around.

Heavyweight rankings: Top 10

Such is the influence of the sanctioning bodies in the sport, which sadly often defy logic to push their own agenda, it has never been an easy task to impartially rank the heavyweights. Our list ignores the so-called ‘alphabet’ ratings in favour of a non-partisan system which ranks fighters based purely on their skillset, ring achievements, title victories and potential.

1 Tyson Fury (30-0-1)

Fury’s ascent back to the top of the heavyweight tree has been pure box-office. Once the enfant terrible of British boxing, few can now argue with any real conviction that he is not the best heavyweight on the planet after that sensational TKO victory over Deontay Wilder. The bad news for the opposition is that ‘The Gypsy King’ has the physical attributes to reign for many years to come, too. His sheer size is complimented by surprising speed for a big man, while his footwork and piston-like jab mean he would start as a betting favourite against any of his rivals currently. After stunning the world with his victory over Wladimir Klitschko in 2015, Fury’s career then fell apart amid a myriad of controversy and personal torment. However, his redemption in and out of the ring has been truly inspiring and the two-time world heavyweight champion, now fully focused again and enjoying his craft, is the man they all have to beat.

Next fight: Fury vs Deontay Wilder 3 (potential date December 19)

2 Anthony Joshua (23-1)

The rise of former Olympic king Joshua in the pro ranks was meteoric, as he became IBF heavyweight champion with a facile stoppage win over ‘Prince’ Charles Martin less than three years after making the transition from amateur. He added the WBA and IBO belts after an unforgettable stoppage victory over Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley in 2017, and at that point he was considered the best heavyweight in the world. However, a TKO defeat by rotund battler Andy Ruiz Jr in New York in June 2019 left many questioning whether the previous hype around ‘AJ’ was justified. Despite winning a rematch with Ruiz Jr in Saudi Arabia six months later there are still question marks surrounding the British fighter, whose aura of invincibility has seemingly been lost. Joshua is an explosive fighter with serious power, and similar to 80s heavyweight great Mike Tyson he was a one-man wrecking crew in the early part of his world-title reign. However he showed in the Ruiz Jr rematch that there is variety to his game too as he won that fight in Saudi Arabia by staying patiently on the outside, using his advantages in height and length to cruise to a win on points. Whether that will be enough to win any proposed superfight against Fury though, is another matter entirely.

Next fight: Joshua vs Kubrat Pulev (date tbc)

3 Dillian Whyte (27-1)

Whyte’s own brand of ‘maximum violence’ has seen him win 11 straight since losing a frenetic British title scrap against London rival Joshua in 2015. He has certainly improved physically since suffering his first pro loss and while he doesn’t have the reach of Fury or the power of Joshua, ‘The Body Snatcher’ is an excellent in-fighter with a dangerous left hook. He has been waiting over 1000 days for a shot at the WBC world heavyweight title and has gone on record to describe how he would beat Fury, insisting any fighter must go to the body and back him up if they are to stand a chance against ‘The Gypsy King’. It remains to be seen how his recent, and seemingly acrimonious, split from trainer Mark Tibbs will affect him but after fine recent wins over Oscar Rivas, Dereck Chisora and Joseph Parker, nobody can deny Whyte has earned a crack at the heavyweight crown. This is a fighter lacking sophistication but never courage. A man as tough and uncompromising as the Brixton streets which raised him.

Next fight: Whyte vs Alexander Povetkin (August 22)

4 Deontay Wilder (42-1-1)

Before his rematch with Fury, Wilder was confidently claiming he was ‘the hardest-hitting puncher in history’. The stats seemed to back him up too with all but one of the American’s 42 wins coming inside the distance. However, he was ‘rag-dolled’ in that return fight with Fury, taking a sustained beating before his corner wisely threw in the towel during round seven. While not a naturally gifted or indeed defensively sound fighter, Wilder’s power gets him out of trouble time and time again (notably when two knockdowns in the first Fury fight salvaged a controversial draw) but it will be interesting to see whether he can make the necessary adjustments in the planned trilogy fight with ‘The Gypsy King’. As things stand though it’s difficult to make a case for him being outside of the top four based on what he has done to every opponent not called Tyson Fury. Wilder’s game was always based on supreme self-confidence in his ability to knock his opponent out. The type of morale which fuels overachievement. So unless that Fury shellacking has destroyed his own inner belief, he could be involved at the top end of the sport for a few years yet.

Next fight: Wilder vs Tyson Fury 3 (potential date December 19).

5 Andy Ruiz Jr (33-2)

For a big guy, Ruiz Jr has crazy hand speed. Having boxed for much of his career under the radar, he turned the heavyweight division upside down in the summer of 2019 when he rose from a third-round knockdown to eventually slay the mighty Joshua at Madison Square Garden. However, having reached the pinnacle of his career, Ruiz Jr seemingly let the trappings of fame and fortune consume him and he showed up for that Joshua rematch shamefully out of condition. He still pushed ‘AJ’ to the scorecards after 12 rounds and if he can start to live the life of a professional athlete there are still some big names and big nights out there for him at the age of 30.

Next fight: No confirmed opponent or date.

6 Kubrat Pulev (28-1)

‘The Cobra’ enjoyed a lengthy amateur career, is well schooled and a big, vicious heavyweight who hits hard with both hands. Time is against him at 39, but he’s happy to roll the dice against Joshua next in a bid to finally realise his dream of becoming heavyweight champion of the world. The Bulgarian has lost just once in a 29-fight pro career and that was a heavyweight title challenge against Wladimir Klitschko back in 2014. Like Klitschko, he can be a bit ‘safety-first’ in his approach but he is hard to beat and should prove a legitimate test for ‘AJ’ when they finally collide.

Next fight: Pulev vs Anthony Joshua (date tbc).

7 Oleksandr Usyk (17-0)

Boxing continues to thrive, primarily because despite everything there are still fighters who have proven themselves eager for competition. Usyk is certainly one of those, and having cleaned out the cruiserweight division he has now moved up to heavyweight and has his sights set on the summit once again. There is absolutely no question that he has earned the right to hang with the heavyweight giants, purely because of his extraordinary body of work at 200lbs. The question now is can he be effective after moving up? Usyk’s offensive variation is both novel and unorthodox and he has virtually every punch in the book in his arsenal. His footwork is sublime too and with an extensive amateur background, winning Olympic and World honours during a 335-15 amateur career, he could yet emulate Evander Holyfield by making a run towards the unified heavyweight title having first taken care of business at cruiser.

Next fight: Likely to face London warhorse Dereck Chisora next, possibly in October.

8 Joseph Parker (27-2)

The South Auckland slugger held the WBO world heavyweight title from 2016 to 2018 and at just 28 is young enough to come again. His 2018 loss to Anthony Joshua was expected but the manner of the defeat was not. ‘AJ’ paid Parker a huge compliment by abandoning that ‘Seek and Destroy’ mentality which had seen him vanquish 21 straight professional opponents inside the distance in favour of a more circumspect, clinical strategy. Joshua won on points but Parker proved in Cardiff that night that he was an elite fighter. Despite losing his next fight to Dillian Whtye, three stoppage wins since then means Parker retains a certain box-office appeal and will soon be back in the mix in terms of world-title shots.

Next fight: There’s nothing concrete been set for Parker in terms of a next outing, but the New Zealand star has been keeping us entertained during lockdown with a slew of hilarious videos on social media.

9 Michael Hunter (18-1-1)

The American continues to fly under the radar despite some impressive performances in the last few years. His win on the road against the dangerous Martin Bakole at York Hall, Bethnal Green was a bit of a masterclass and despite only emerging with a draw last time out against Alexander Povetkin, he did more than enough on the night to beat the Russian despite what the judges said. He also holds a stoppage win over Andy Ruiz Jr in the amateurs.

At 6’ 2’ there are concerns that ‘The Bounty’ Hunter might be too small to compete with the true giants of the division, but the Las Vegas-based stylist is very crafty with a fabulous jab, a great chin and seemingly limitless stamina. His association with Matchroom and Eddie Hearn was short-lived but he is certainly deserving of a world title shot in 2021 on current form.

Next fight: No news about Hunter’s next fight with the boxer now a free agent having left Matchroom.

10 Dereck Chisora (32-9)

‘War Chisora’ may be 36 with a spotty 32-9 pro log, but he’s been in with just about everyone and showed in beating David Price last October that there’s life in the old dog yet. There’s been serious talk about Chisora facing Oleksandr Usyk next and it would be intriguing to see how the Ukrainian superstar deals with Del Boy’s pressure style. His career has been a wild ride and few who saw it will ever forget the bottle and skill he showed to get past Carlos Takam in 2018. Never lacking in cojones, a fully prepared Chisora is still a match for all but the very best heavyweights.

Next fight: Tentatively set to box Usyk in October, five months after they were first due to clash

Pushing for inclusion

Daniel Dubois is only 22 but his reputation is growing and should he come through against fellow unbeaten British fighter Joe Joyce on October 24 there would be a strong argument for his inclusion in any heavyweight top 10. Rumours won’t go away that he floored Joshua when they sparred a few years ago, but in truth he is probably still 18 months away from a legitimate world-title crack. When the time comes, he will be ready.

Frenchman Tony Yoka has the size and speed to become a real player in boxing’s blue-riband division. The 28-year-old is 7-0 but has already beaten some good men in Dave Allen and German trial horse Alexander Dimitrenko. Yoka had a one-year suspension imposed from the summer of 2018 to 2019 for missing three drug tests, and while this has stalled his momentum, he is young enough and talented enough to move up to elite level.

Croatian star Filip Hrgovic is another unbeaten prospect who is part of an exciting young generation of heavyweights. He is 10-0 and was last seen knocking out Eric Molina in three on the undercard of Joshua v Ruiz Jr 2. He is also the man who caused Tyson Fury v David Haye to be cancelled in 2013 after cutting Haye in sparring. Hrgovic’s style is not one for the purist, but his combination of ability and brute force makes him difficult to beat and he’s a fighter on the way up.

Notable absentees

Oscar Rivas might be knocking on the door for inclusion had he not been inactive for a year following that summer 2019 loss to Dillian Whtye. The powerful Colombian had Whyte on the deck during a thrilling fight which he eventually lost on points, but he has disappeared without trace since that gripping bout at London’s O2.

At their best Alexander Povetkin and Luis Ortiz were fantastic fighters but both are now also into their 40s, and look to be heavyweights on the way down. It will be intriguing to see what Povetkin has left against Whtye in August, while Ortiz may have reached the end of the road at the highest level after those savage stoppage losses to Wilder. China’s Zhang Zhilei is 21-0 and would be a remarkably popular and marketable world champion. He is ranked by the IBF and WBO but he might just be the most protected heavyweight out there and at 37 may have already reached his ceiling.

Polish pro Adam Kownacki has a fervent following in Brooklyn, and ‘Baby Face’ looked to be going places after his 2019 win over Chris Arreola moved him to 20-0. However, a shocking TKO loss to the limited Robert Helenius earlier this year exposed his flaws. Kownacki, while skilled, rarely looks in peak physical condition and while Ruiz Jr proved that chubby guys can fight, if the Pole is genuine about realising his dream he needs to get serious as this remains the toughest and loneliest sport in the world.

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