Joshua-Helenius may be a Dud, but Heavyweight Boxing is in a Very Perky Phase


by Arne K. Lang

Anthony Joshua vs Robert Helenius isn’t the sort of match-up that gets the juices flowing, but it sets the table for a deep run of interesting heavyweight fights over the next six weeks.

When Saturday arrives, Oleksandr Usyk’s defense against Daniel Dubois will be only two weeks away. Usyk and Dubois will be locking horns at a soccer stadium in Wroclaw, a city of about 675,000 in the Silesia region of Poland.

As a pro, Usyk has answered the bell for 168 rounds spread across 20 fights. Remarkably considering his relatively brief career, the Ukrainian southpaw has already captured seven of the eight meaningful belts in boxing’s two highest weight classes. His IBF, WBA, and WBO heavyweight belts will be at risk against Dubois. Tyson Fury owns the missing piece.

The odds suggest that Usyk will have little difficulty retaining his diadems. A quick glance at the prevailing prices informs us that he is anywhere from a 9/1 to a 16/1 favorite.

Believe it or not, however, if this match had been made four years ago, Daniel Dubois would have been installed the favorite. In those days, the six-foot-five Brit was spoken of in the same hushed tones that people talk about Jared Anderson today. He was the Next Big Thing. At this juncture, Usyk had just ripened into a heavyweight.

Dubois has lost only once since bombing out countryman Nathan Gorman in a fascinating crossroads match-up between two unbeaten boxers with contrasting styles. But that defeat, at the hands of Joe Joyce in November of 2020, eroded his stature enormously. Dubois was counted out on his knees in the tenth frame after taking yet another stiff jab on his damaged left eye.

Dubois went on to score a fourth-round stoppage of Don King’s heavyweight hopeful Trevor Bryan in Miami, Florida. Although Bryan wasn’t highly regarded, he held a version of a WBA world title (don’t we all?) and came in undefeated. In his most recent bout, he rallied from the brink of defeat to score a third-round stoppage of South Africa’s Kevin Lerena who punched himself out after putting Dubois on the deck three times in the opening round.

In that bout, Dubois, now 19-1 (18 KOs), was befuddled by Lerena’s southpaw-ness. The fact that Usyk is also a lefty factored large in setting the odds for this fight. The venue also favors Usyk. Wroclaw is home to many transplanted Ukrainians, it’s no coincidence that this fight is being staged two days after Ukrainian Independence Day, and it’s worth noting that Usyk won his first title in this country, snatching the WBO cruiserweight belt from Krzyzstof Glowacki in Gdansk.

Nevertheless, Dubois, who will have a two-inch height advantage and in the vicinity of a 20-pound weight advantage, may have more than a puncher’s chance.

Interestingly, a Ukrainian was the “villain” in the lone previous heavyweight title fight held at this venue. WBC heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko and Tomasz Adamek baptized this stadium in the icebreaker event in 2011. Adamek, a native Pole and a national hero, was making his seventh start as a heavyweight after winning world titles at 175 and 200. To the great dismay of the crowd (purportedly 42,000), Klitschko stopped him in the tenth round.

Zhilei Zhang vs. Joe Joyce.

Four weeks after Usyk-Dubois, on Sept. 23, Zhilei Zhang and Joe Joyce will renew acquaintances at London’s Wembley Stadium. In the first meeting of these former Olympic silver medalists, Zhang scored a sixth-round stoppage. When the bout was called off at the behest of the ringside physician, the towering Chinaman was ahead on the cards and Joyce’s right eye was nearly closed. This was a big upset. Although Zhang had lost only once in 26 starts, and was competitive in defeat against a daunting foe in Filip Hrgovic, Joyce was a 6/1 favorite in man-to-man betting.

Since that encounter, Zhang turned 40, but “The Juggernaut,” at age 37, is no spring chicken himself. The rematch has already attracted heavy betting action with most of it on Zhang and if the odds hold up, he will go to post a small favorite. It’s a very intriguing fight.


For fans of heavyweight boxing, the last Saturday of this month will be real treat. In addition to Usyk-Dubois, some of the division’s top up-and-comers will be in action on a Top Rank show in Tulsa. The events will not overlap. Both cards will air in the U.S. on ESPN platforms.

Headlining the Top Rank card will be the aforementioned Jared Anderson (15-0, 14 KOs), who is matched against 39-year-old Ukrainian veteran Andrei Rudenko (35-6, 21 KOs). Rudenko has gone the distance with the likes of Alexander Povetkin and Zhilei Zhang, but is 4-4 in his last eight with those four wins coming against opponents who were collectively 21-34-4 at the time that he fought them.

In his last outing, Anderson was forced to go the distance for the first time in his career by late sub “Prince” Charles Martin. Rudenko brings less to the table than Martin and we would be surprised if he is still standing at the final bell.

Two other heavyweight fights are far more intriguing. In the co-feature, a 10-rounder, Efe Ajagba (17-1, 13 KOs) touches gloves with Zhan Kossobutskiy (19-0, 18 KOs). The six-foot-six, 29-year-old Ajagba has won two straight since getting out-boxed by Cuba’s Frank Sanchez on the undercard of Fury-Wilder III. Kazakhstan’s Kossobutskiy, 34, is making his North American debut. One doesn’t know what to expect from him, but he comes highly recommended.

The card also includes Olympic gold medalist Bakhodir Jalolov, a recent Top Rank signee.

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Bahhodir Jalolov
Bahhodir Jalolov[/caption]
Jalolov, a 29-year-old Uzbek southpaw with a 12-0 (12 KOs) record in the paid ranks, is arguably the best of the up-and-coming heavyweights not named Jared Anderson. He’s matched against Nigeria’s Onoriode Ehwarieme (20-2, 19 KOs), a Kossobutskiy victim. The bout between these six-foot-seven Goliaths, slated for eight, figures to be over in a hurry, so don’t blink.

Jalolov’s most talked-about triumph came in his amateur days, a frightening one-punch knockout of Richard Torrez Jr in Ekaterinburg, Russia. They met again in the gold medal round of the Tokyo Olympiad. Jalolov won a unanimous decision.

And speaking of Torrez Jr, the pride of Tulare, California, he returns to the ring this weekend (Saturday, Aug. 12) in Glendale, Arizona on a Top Rank show topped by Emanuel Navarrete’s defense of his WBO world featherweight title against former two-division title-holder Oscar Valdez. Torrez Jr opposes 40-year-old Indianapolis southpaw Willie Jake Jr. They were slated to meet on March 25 in Fresno, but Torrez Jr suffered an undisclosed injury in training and was forced to withdraw.

Torrez Jr has looked sensational in his brief pro career. None of his five opponents lasted beyond the third round. He will be part of the main card which airs at 7 pm PT on ESPN with the undercard streaming exclusively on ESPN+ beginning at 3:45 PT.