The heavyweights who could be knockouts in 2021

An African prince, the rising star who claims Anthony Joshua lacks ‘skill’ and a speedy Cuban nicknamed The Flash… after Joe Joyce shook up the division by stopping Daniel Dubois, here are the heavyweights who could be knockouts in 2021

  • The heavyweight division holds plenty of promise ahead of the new year   
  • Joe Joyce shook up the division by stopping young favourite Daniel Dubois
  • It’s set to be a big year for the likes of Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury
  • But there are some lesser-known fighters ready to make a big impact too  
  • Sportsmail takes a look at the heavyweights who you should look out for in 2021 

Heavyweight – the glamour division. It’s where stars are born and made, and in 2021 we could see a few more shining brightly in a year of boxing that promises to be a supernova.

The new year could bring us a fight for the ages in Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury, the biggest bout in British boxing history, but the excitement leading up to that means it’s easy to forget about the fighters on the cusp of something special.

Daniel Dubois has long been tipped as the next big thing in the sport, but his stock took a sharp dive after being stopped by Joe Joyce – who has quietly gone about his business with some impressive displays. Now he could now be in line for the biggest prizes boxing has to offer.

But which other fighters could make 2021 a year to remember? Sportsmail runs through the stars who you should be paying attention to in the new year. 

There are some dangerous heavyweights that hope to make a name for themselves in 2021

Joe Joyce 

When you take a look at The Juggernaut’s record, you have to stop and marvel. 

Twelve fights, 11 knockouts, including wins over seasoned professionals Alexander Ustinov, Bryant Jennings and former world champion Bermaine Stiverne. Surely he can’t go unnoticed any longer after his impressive stoppage of Dubois.

The youngster was the clear favourite to come out on top in their Battle of Britain and looked lively but was disheartened after seeing Joyce shrug off his most powerful shots. 

In turn, Joyce operated smartly and stuck behind his jab – which caused Dubois a lot of problems and eventually some serious damage to his right eye. 

The world is Joe Joyce’s oyster after beating exciting prospect Daniel Dubois last month 

It is Joyce’s power and precision that makes him such a fearsome prospect and now there is talk of him facing Oleksandr Usyk for a final eliminator for the WBO title – held by Anthony Joshua.

Joyce has wasted no time in deciding who he wants as his next opponent – quickly calling out Usyk – who he lost on points to as an amateur – on social media, and his manager Sam Jones has added fuel to a possible rematch.

‘If Joshua doesn’t vacate, he has to fight Usyk,’ said Jones. ‘I hope Joshua does vacate and we’ll fight Usyk – Joe is very confident in that fight as well.’

Joyce has claimed it is ‘all about world titles in 2021’, and he could be just one or two fights away from having one in his grasp.  

Michael Hunter 

Like Joyce, Hunter is a heavyweight many have been keeping an eye on in recent years – but he’s still waiting for his shot at a world title. 

Whenever one of the champions needs a dancing partner, whether it has been Anthony Joshua, Tyson Fury or Deontay Wilder, Hunter’s name usually comes to the forefront, but he’s not the fighter you want to go to war with unless you have to.

No, Hunter is no warm-up act. After starting his career as a cruiserweight and suffering just one career defeat – coming against Usyk – he has since made the step up to heavy and has not been beaten in the new weight category. 

Michael Hunter is targeting a ‘busy 2021’ after falling off the heavyweight radar in 2020

‘The Bounty’ was impressive in a draw with Alexander Povetkin, a fight many had him winning

He’s knocked out the highly-rated Martin Bakole, handed Sergey Kuzmin his first loss before drawing against the feared Alexander Povetkin – a fight many pundits scored him as a winner – last year. Since then he’s fallen off the radar somewhat.

And things could have turned out so differently for the American, who goes by the name of The Bounty in the ring. He was slated to face Joshua last summer, but the British star ended up fighting Andy Ruiz Jr. It was the Mexican who shocked the world instead by stopping him at Madison Square Garden. 

He returned to the ring for the first time in over a year by beating Shawn Laughery on December 18 and is now planning for a ‘busy’ 2021, even though the fighter is currently acting as his own agent after leaving Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom.

Hunter is one of the most exciting heavyweights but needs a big win to remind the world

Hunter said he was eyeing up a bout with Filip Hrgovic and said rematches against Bakole and Povetkin were also in the offing.  

‘We are still working out the particulars for these fights,’ he told Boxing247. ‘Nothing is official just yet. I am looking forward to staying very busy in the early part of 2021. 

‘I want to fight at least three times in the first quarter. I want to set the tone for the early part of the year and then see where I go from there. I have some decent fights that are ahead of me like Filip Hrgović, Martin Bakole, who called me out last week, and a Povetkin rematch is still a possibility. 

Martin Bakole

All the best fighters have been put down – the greatest get back up and put things right. That’s exactly what Martin Bakole is bidding to do against Hunter after out-pointing Sergey Kuzmin this month.

Bakole is out to avenge his only career defeat, which came in a late stoppage against Hunter in 2018, an experience the Congolese fighter claims he has learned from.

‘I told Michael Hunter to watch this fight,’ he said after his unanimous decision win. 

Martin Bakole has lost only once in his career – to rival Michael Hunter (right) – and is targeting some big fights going into 2021

‘My next one is going to be him! Michael Hunter, look at my eyes; let’s do it again. This time I will beat him, believe me. 

‘I made a mistake, and now I’ve fixed my mistakes. I’m improving, and he can see that himself.’

Bakole, a regular sparring partner of Anthony Joshua, is certainly ambitious – he’s ready to go toe-to-toe with the British world champion in the future, even though he describes him as ‘a best friend’ who he exchanges Whatsapp messages with. 

‘100 percent, of course,’ he told Sky Sports when asked if he would fight Joshua. 

He continued his impressive run of wins by outpointing the durable Sergey Kuzmin this month 

He claims Anthony Joshua is his ‘best friend’ but would have no problem taking him on 

Bakole’s trainer says he is ‘the most avoided fighter in the world’ as he bids to rise up the ranks

‘It would be a big show, not only for Africa, but for the whole world. 

‘We have really good sparring. A lot of people avoid sparring me so when he gives me the chance, I always go. You can’t go into a fight without good sparring. I go to Joshua not with the attitude of a sparring partner – I go for myself.

‘I have a very good relationship with Joshua. He is my best friend, we joke on WhatsApp.’

Hunter, Joshua… is there anyone Bakole isn’t ready to face? Africa’s number one heavyweight, whose father is king of the Kananga province in DR Congo – is quickly becoming one of the ‘most avoided’ fighters in the world, according to his trainer Billy Nelson, who trains him in a quiet suburb of Airdrie, Scotland.

Bakole has also sparred with Joyce and Dubois in the past – and next year he will be bidding to come out on top in the battle to become the next heavyweight sensation. 

Frank Sanchez

Nicknamed the Cuban Flash due to his electric hand speed – and it’s how quickly you’ll hit the deck if he lands it right. 

Sanchez vowed to send a message to rest of the division that he is ‘the best in the world’ by beating Brian Howard in style, and he was every bit as good as his word – blitzing the American in four rounds, flooring him three times along the way. 

It was a powerful display from the 28-year-old, who is not usually in the conversation as far as world title fights are concerned. His name might come up now – certainly after his bold claims. 

Frank Sanchez has lightning fast hand speed and is unbeaten after 16 professional fights 

‘I’m happy with the way that my career is moving along,’ he said, as reported by World Boxing News.

‘I have great power, great speed and the division will have to take notice after this fight. My foot and hand speed is unlike any other heavyweight, and I have much better technique than anyone else in the division.’ 

Naturally, comparisons will be made to countryman Luis Ortiz, who has tried and failed to become Cuba’s first world champion with two defeat to Deontay Wilder, but Sanchez is confident he won’t suffer the same fate.

‘That’s the dream that I am working toward,’ he added. ‘It would be extremely important for Cuba and for me personally. That’s why I’m working so hard. Because I want to the be the first heavyweight champion that Cuba’s ever had. 

Nicknamed ‘The Cuban Flash’, Sanchez trains with pound-for-pound king Canelo Alvarez

He wants to succeed where countryman Luis Ortiz failed and become Cuba’s first world champ

‘I have none of the vices outside of the ring that have held back other fighters. All I do is train, train, train and fight. This sport is my whole life.’ 

Undefeated in 16 fights, with 12 coming by knockout, Sanchez has previously called out Usyk and wants to fight him for the WBO world title should Joshua vacate it to face off with Fury. Sanchez is ranked 10th in the WBO’s rankings.

An accomplished amateur fighter who began at cruiserweight, Sanchez – who has trained with Canelo Alvarez –  has been unsuccessful in arranging a fight with Joseph Parker and up and coming Nigerian star Efe Ajagba, according to his manager.

His team aren’t satisfied with easy fights – they have targeted established names like Dominic Breazeale and Gerald Washington as they plot Sanchez’s 2021 calendar. They feel it’s the only way to force the boxing world to pay attention. 

Efe Ajagba

It seems everyone wants a piece of Efe Ajaba. Signed by Top Rank this summer and hailed as a future world champion by promoter Bob Arum, the Nigerian is seen as one of the most promising the division has to offer – which means his rivals have him in their sights. 

Fellow African Bakole said: ‘I am No 1 in Africa. I have been calling Ajagba out. We are No 1 and No 2.’

A battle of Africa would put the winner in the ascendency next year, but Ajagba boasts something his rival doesn’t – an unblemished record.

It seems everyone wants a piece of Eje Ajagba, one of the rising stars of the boxing world 

The Nigerian has 11 knockouts from 14 fights, while it could be argued he is yet to face a stern test. Bakole would provide that, and distinguish how far he has progressed. Just like Bakole, Ajagba has AJ – who is of Nigerian heritage – in his sights, and believes a fight in his home country would be a special occasion.

He has also stuck the boot into the two-time world champion, insisting his skills are far greater than Joshua’s. 

‘Skill would beat Joshua, not power,’ he told Sky Sports. ‘Me and Joshua both have the power. But skills control the power.

‘I have more skills. The best weapon of Joshua’s is the left hook and right uppercut. He doesn’t have a good jab. 

‘It would be perfect. Two Nigerian warriors fighting in a title fight.’

The Nigerian bullishly claimed he has more skills than Anthony Joshua and has called him out

The 26-year-old is among the crop of on-the-rise heavyweights who are mooted as opponents for the belt holders, and was mentioned when Tyson Fury’s trilogy fight against Deontay Wilder collapsed. 

With Ajaba now represented by Fury’s promoter Bob Arum, fights against the Gypsy King will be much easier to arrange. But he will have to be patient in 2021, with Fury set to lock horns with Joshua at some point during the year. 

That means Joshua will be beyond his clutches for a while too – as he looks to take on Fury as well as a mandatory defence against Usyk possibly in the offing. Arum has no doubt that Ajagba will seize his chance and eventually lift up a major belt.  

‘Efe Ajagba is one of the most gifted young heavyweights I’ve seen in quite some time,’ he said. ‘He has immense physical tools and a great work ethic. I have the utmost confidence that we’re looking at a future heavyweight champion.’ 

Tony Yoka

The Olympics give us a hint of who could make it into the big time – just ask Anthony Joshua – and Tony Yoka is the perfect example of that model.

The Frenchman won gold at Rio 2016 by beating none other than Joyce in the final and has enjoyed a perfect start to his career since turning professional in 2017 – now at 9-0 after his points win over Christian Hammer.

Yoka certainly packs a punch – his seven stoppages have all been devastating thanks to his powerful hooks and deadly precision.

Tony Yoka bounced back from a drugs ban to put himself in the picture for success next year 

It hasn’t been all plain sailing for the 28-year-old, however. In 2018 – just a year after turning professional – he was banned for 12 months by the French Anti-Doping Agency after missing three drugs tests between 2016 and 2017. 

His appeal was swiftly rejected, but his time away from the ring hasn’t stopped his development – as he returned to record four successive victories, including early knockout wins over the experienced Johann Duhaupas and Alexander Dimitrenko.

Having come through unscathed against Hammer in November, Yoka has already identified who he wants to take on to put his name in the lights come the new year – and has sized up an old foe. 

He beat seasoned veteran Christian Hammer to secure his ninth win and is eyeing a world title

‘Ok @JoeJoyceBoxing,’ he wrote on Twitter after the Briton’s win over Dubois.

‘Let’s make the Olympic rematch now. I know you want it. And I know everyone wants it.’

It’s possible that Joyce may have bigger fish to fry as he eyes another rematch with Usyk – one that would open far more doors than a bout with Yoka would. But you can’t fault Yoka’s ambition. 

His nickname is La Conqueta, which translate as ‘The Conquest’, and he has made it very clear the path he wants to follow – targeting a world title as quickly as possible.

He beat Joe Joyce (R) in the 2016 Olympic final and has offered him a chance for a rematch

Anthony Joshua took four years to win his first IBF belt after winning gold at London 2012, and Yoka says he wants to do it much faster. 

‘Lomachenko did it after two fights,’ Yoka said. ‘Everybody has his own way. I’m not Lomachenko and I’m not Joshua. I think I’m like between them.

‘I don’t want to waste my time fighting guys I know I’m going to beat. I need a challenge. I’m not saying I’m going to fight the champion now or tomorrow, but I need to challenge myself. I need to fight for something and move up in the rankings.’

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