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Filip Hrgovic: Croatian heavyweight keen to showcase his world title credentials on Joshua-Usyk undercard

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Filip Hrgovic says his heavyweight rivals are swerving him and he is awaiting an opportunity to showcase his world title credentials against some of the biggest names in the division.

The Croatian returns to the ring for the first time since December 2021 on the undercard of Anthony Joshua’s rematch with Oleksandr Usyk on Saturday August 20 when he faces China’s Zhilei Zhang in a final eliminator for the IBF crown.

It is a fight that had been due to take place on the Canelo Alvarez-Dmitry Bivol card in May before being pushed back in light of Hrgovic’s father passing away.

Prior to then, there had been well-documented issues when it came to finding an opponent willing to face the 30-year-old. That being despite the prospect of a shot at Usyk’s IBF belt.

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“Definitely [people avoid me],” Hrgovic told Sky Sports. “A lot of people didn’t want to fight me. I had a big opportunity to become IBF mandatory challenger so a lot of people reject the fight and one of the reasons is that I am dangerous and everyone knows they’re going to have a hard time fighting me.

“But I’ll make my way to the top, hopefully I become mandatory and nobody in the future could avoid me anymore. I just wait for my opportunity for the big names and big fights to show I’m the best.”

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Hrgovic, who is No 3 in the IBF rankings, has been biding his time and building an unbeaten record of 14-0 (12 KOs) in view of a place among the elite.

The Olympic bronze medallist can appreciate why high-profile fights may have not yet landed at his doorstep, but insists he just needs one chance to demonstrate why he warrants more recognition.

“When I become mandatory I think it will be easier for my opponents to match me because everyone who beats me, if they beat me, they know they’re becoming mandatory,” he said.

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“I think this fight, if I win, will change a lot of things and it will be easier for me. I come from a small country, without big TV and a big market, so I know it is harder for me than guys from Great Britain or USA.”

He is ambitious and self-assured, but realistic about the position he finds himself in, acknowledging there are fights to be made among the chasing pack amid his pursuit of the division’s front-runners.

Beyond August 20 in Saudi Arabia, he is very much open for business.

“I want to fight all the best fighters of this era,” he added. “I want to fight everyone, starting with guys like (Martin) Bakole or (Joe) Joyce, or Frank Sanchez, and then Joshua, Wilder, Usyk. I want to fight them all, of course.

“I really like all the hard fights, I hope they will happen in the next five years.

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“The best years of my career are in front of me. This was just warming up. I hope all these big fights will happen.”

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Bakole boosted his own stock in May when he defeated Olympic champion Tony Yoka, who had long-been linked with a fight against Hrgovic which never materialised due to contractual agreements to face the former.

The upcoming clash between Joseph Parker and Joe Joyce, meanwhile, presents another avenue of interest for Hrgovic.

“Of course, that’s a great fight and facing the winner will be great,” he said. “I think all of us prospects, you have a few who are considered the best like Fury, Usyk, Joshua, but all the rest of us we need to fight each other to get the best to get the chance to fight for a world title.

“There are a lot of prospects and good fighters, we need to fight each other. A lot of people look to avoid hard fights and get a big pay-day and that’s it. I would like to fight all these good guys.”

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The focus for now remains on a dangerous Zhang, the 39-year-old seeking to extend his own unbeaten record of 24-0-1 having produced a first-round knockout of Scott Alexander in May.

“I think he’s a really good opponent, I take him really seriously,” said Hrgovic. “He has big amateur career, he’s undefeated in professionals, he’s southpaw, he’s big, he has fast hands, but I think I’m a different kind of animal, you know?

“It will be hard for him to deal with my aggression and my speed and footwork, but I think he’s a good fighter.”

As warm-up to Joshua-Uysk II, a title eliminator almost two years in the making offers Hrgovic a platform on which to make a statement.

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“It’s a big stage, a big event, and can’t wait to get there and fight,” he said. “You need to have all segments, all the tools to compete with the best and I think I have enough power, I have good speed, good feet, good defence, good chin.

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“I think I have a really good abilities to be the best one day. Good technique, good pace, I throw a lot of punches for a big man.

“I think I have all the abilities and I hope I’ll show that in the future.”

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Boniface named among Bundesliga’s most skilful stars

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Bayer Leverkusen star Victor Boniface has secured a nomination among the most skilful players in the ongoing 2023/24 Bundesliga campaign so far.

After his move from Union SG last July, the Super Eagles striker wasted no time making an impact under the guidance of manager Xabi Alonso.

Boniface’s initial burst in Germany was nothing short of impressive, netting ten goals in 16 league matches.

However, his promising run hit an abrupt halt due to a groin injury, forcing him to miss the 2024 Africa Cup of Nations held in Ivory Coast.

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Despite his current injury setback, the striker’s noteworthy performances have not gone unnoticed.

The spotlight now shines on a particular display of individual brilliance during Leverkusen’s Bundesliga clash against RB Leipzig at the Bay Arena in August 2023.

In that game, Boniface executed a cunning feint, deceiving his marker into anticipating a right-footed shot, only to cleverly pass the ball with his left foot. Although he didn’t find the net, Leverkusen emerged victorious with a 3-2 scoreline.

Boniface shares the skills spotlight with four other notable players: Andrej Kramaric, Jadon Sancho, Felix Nmecha, and Xavi Simons.

To participate in the voting process, fans can visit the Bundesliga’s official website and select their choice among the nominated players.

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At the time of this report, Jadon Sancho leads the polls with an impressive 75% of the votes. Xavi Simons secures the second position with 17%, while Boniface currently holds 5%. Hoffenheim’s Kramaric and Dortmund’s Nmecha trail behind with 1% and 2% of the votes, respectively.

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BREAKING: Bayern Munich to part ways with Tuchel

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German giants Bayern Munich will be parting ways with its manager, Thomas Tuchel, at the end of the season, Sky Germany reports.

Theheute reports that Tuchel will leave Bayern after both sides had “fair and positive discussions” and came to an agreement.

An official announcement is set to be made in the coming days by Bayern.

The Bundesliga champions have also reportedly started a search for a new coach with Bayer Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso and Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp among the top contenders.

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Details later…

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Osimhen May Miss Napoli’s Champions League Clash with Barcelona

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Napoli could be without Victor Osimhen when they host Barcelona in the Champions League last 16 after the striker missed their last-gasp 1-1 home draw with Genoa in Serie A yesterday due to fatigue.

Osimhen returned to his Italian club after helping Nigeria reach the Africa Cup of Nations final which they lost 2-1 to hosts Côte d’Ivoire last Sunday.

“According to him and the doctors, the boy is at his lowest,” coach Walter Mazzarri told DAZN.

“Coming back from the Africa Cup of Nations it wouldn’t have been the best choice to risk it and let him play for a quarter of an hour to 20 minutes, so the doctor told me.”

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The tournament took its toll on Osimhen, who suffered stomach pains ahead of the semi-final against South Africa and was only cleared to play the day before the match.

The 25-year-old scored one goal in the tournament but his performances played an important role as Nigeria reached the final for the eighth time.

“Today (Saturday) he had an anti-fatigue training, tomorrow (Sunday) he will train. We hope to have him ready for Barcelona (but) his presence will not be certain,” Mazzarri said.

“Since I arrived I’ve never had him. He was injured, I had to recover him gradually. Then there was the Africa Cup of Nations,” the Napoli gaffer concluded.

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