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

The Heavyweights: Ranking the best big men in boxing today

Furyjoshua.com ranks the best heavyweights in boxing and asks where we might see them next as we enter 2021.

Boxing’s marquee division is in rude health currently with some serious talent atop the heavyweight pecking order. 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. A fight (or two) between the pair looks almost assured for 2021 and would be the biggest in British boxing history. But behind the two kings lie 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 Oleksandr Usyk add further intrigue to a stacked division, with Joe Joyce, Filip Hrgovic and Tony Yoka also now knocking on the door.

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

Heavyweight rankings

Such is the influence of the sanctioning bodies in the sport, which sadly often defy logic to push their own agendas, 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 augmented 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. Now set to return to the ring in early 2021 after his planned trilogy match with Wilder collapsed along with a UK homecoming on December 5. We wait to see if it will be against Joshua...

Next fight: tbc

2 Anthony Joshua (24-1)

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. Since then the Watford man has gone some way to silencing the doubters. First he secured an immediate rematch against Ruiz Jr and showed he could adapt to new tactics by boxing smartly to secure a unanimous decision and regain his titles. It was a year before AJ would be out again due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but he showed little sign of ring rust as he crushed durable Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev in nine one-sided rounds. Pulev was decked three times as Joshua cemented his position at number 2 on our list in some style. But will he have enough to overcome Fury in their long-awaited unification match to take top spot?

Next fight: tbc

3 Oleksandr Usyk (18-0)

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. Wins over Chazz Witherspoon last year and Dereck Chisora more recently show that Oleksandr will again be a threat in the marquee weight class. But they also left questions unanswered. More time is needed to see if he can be as effective as he was at cruiser. 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. Now the mandatory challenger for Joshua’s WBO title and pushing hard for an immediate shot at AJ.

Next fight: tbc.

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. The collapse of Wilder’s planned trilogy fight with Fury led to ‘The Bronze Bomber’ unleashing a furious social media outburst with a number of controversial claims. Right now, his career at the very top level appears to be at a crossroads. Which way next?

Next fight: tbc.

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: tbc.

6 Alexander Povetkin (36-2-1)

‘Sasha’ has a pedigree which nobody ever doubted, but many however did doubt his ability to turn back the clock and stop Dillian Whyte in the way he did at Matchroom Fight Camp. Not only did the 40-year-old former WBA heavyweight king shatter Whyte’s world-title dreams with one brutal left uppercut, he also showed that he still belongs at the top table in the heavyweight division. Having looked on the way out as he was put down twice by Whyte in Round 4, he produced a stunning punch a round later to turn things round in incredible fashion. That victory does not give Povetkin an immediate crack at the WBC title, though he is now the mandatory contender. His next assignment will be a rematch with Whyte, now put back to early 2021 after the Russian tested positive for COVID-19.

Next fight: Povetkin vs Dillian Whyte 2 (early 2021).

7 Dillian Whyte (27-2)

It’s difficult not to feel some sympathy for ‘The Body Snatcher’ after his world-title dreams were wrecked by one brutal punch from Alexander Povetkin. But that is heavyweight boxing. After waiting for more than 1000 days as the WBC’s mandatory contender, it appeared as though the 32-year-old from Brixton was finally going to get that elusive title shot. All appeared to be going according to plan for the first four rounds as Whyte boxed smartly and economically and then decked Povetkin twice in the fourth. But he was put to sleep by a beauty of an uppercut early in the fifth to ruin any hopes of facing Tyson Fury or Deontay Wilder next. Whyte’s wish for an immediate rematch has been granted, though it must now wait until early 2021.

Next fight: Whyte vs Alexander Povetkin 2 (early 2021).

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 up is a domestic blockbuster against Junior Fa, which will now take place in early 2021 after being postponed due to a Fa injury.

Next fight: Parker vs Junior Fa (early 2021, date tbc).

9 Joe Joyce (12-0)

The 35-year-old Londoner cracked our top 10 by delivering a first professional defeat to the exciting prodigy Daniel Dubois In late November. ‘The Juggernaut’ went into their eagerly-awaited showdown as a 3/1 underdog, but shocked the layers and many experts in some style. Dubois took a knee to be counted out in Round 10 after Joyce’s jab had closed his left eye and fractured his eye socket in the process. The former Olympic silver medalist displayed everything we know he possesses in the win over Dubois, notably a relentless style and a granite chin. His style to the eye may not be for some, but he will be a nightmare for a lot of elite heavyweights. He seemingly copes with whatever opponents throw at him, and keeps on coming. Do not underestimate his ring savvy either - the win over Dubois showcased his ability to carry out a plan to perfection. Could now get the chance to face Usyk for the WBO heavyweight title should Joshua decide to vacate the belt to chase that showdown with Fury.

Next fight: tbc.

<h3>10 Michael Hunter (19-1-1)</h3>

Few of the top heavyweights out there apparently want a piece of ‘The Bounty’ and it is easy to see why. The hugely talented 32-year-old Californian presents a difficult puzzle for any opponent to solve. Hunter has only lost once in the paid ranks, and that was at the very highest level against the aforementioned Usyk at cruiserweight. Hunter, who is now a promotional free agent after parting ways with Matchroom earlier this year, returned to the ring on December 18 following a year out since his draw with Povetkin in Saudi Arabia. He did what was expected of him, cruising to a fourth-round knockout of the overmatched Shawn Laughery in Galveston, Texas. Bigger things - much bigger things - hopefully await in 2021.

Next fight: tbc

Pushing for inclusion

Dubois had been pushing hard for inclusion going into his bout with Joyce, but those claims will now have to wait for a while. He must first heal and then prove he still has what it takes to cut it at the top level.

Frenchman Tony Yoka, who defeated Joyce in that 2016 Olympic final, improved to 9-0 in the paid ranks with a unanimous decision over Hamburg-based Romanian Christian Hammer on November 27. But Yoka failed to impress and suffered a fractured hand in the process. He will be back in 2021, but for now the jury remains out on any professional world-title hopes.

Croatian star Filip Hrgovic is another unbeaten prospect who is part of an exciting young generation of heavyweights. He is now 12-0 after a recent demolition of veteran Rydell Booker.. Hrgovic’s style, like that of Joyce, may not be one for the purist, but his combination of ability and brute force makes him difficult to beat and he is a fighter on the way up.

Notable absentees

Oscar Rivas might be knocking on the door for inclusion had he not been inactive for over 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.

Luis Ortiz may have reached the end of the road at the highest level after those savage stoppage losses to Deontay Wilder, and his 46-second win over Alexander Flores recently told us little about his continued elite viability. China’s Zhang Zhilei is 22-0 after knocking out Devin Vargas on November 7, 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. At 37 he may have also 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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