The IBF has doubled its pleasure in hopes of moving forward with a heavyweight fight to determine its next mandatory challenger.
BoxingScene.com has learned that Murat Gassiev and Andy Ruiz Jr. were both offered an invitation by the New Jersey-based sanctioning body to enter talks for a final title eliminator with unbeaten Filip Hrgovic. The pair of former unified titlists—Ruiz (34-2, 22KOs) at heavyweight and Gassiev (28-1, 21KOs) at cruiserweight before moving up—have until Friday evening to accept, with the highest-ranked available contender moving forward to a forthcoming negotiation period with Gassiev.
The odd move of extending dual invitations comes as several ranked heavyweights have already declined such an offer. Luis Ortiz (33-2, 28KOs) and former heavyweight titlist Joseph Parker (30-2, 21KOs) both removed themselves from the mix for varying reasons, while unbeaten 2016 Olympic Gold medalist Tony Yoka (11-0, 9KOs) was willing to proceed, only to be blocked by Martin Bakole whose team provided written proof that he is still owed a fight with the unbeaten Frenchman.
Gassiev and Ruiz were next on the IBF’s list after England’s Joe Joyce (13-0, 12KOs) and Agit Kabayel (21-0, 13KOs) were removed from the mix. Joyce remains the number-one ranked contender in the WBO, while Germany’s Kabayel reportedly declined such an offer.
In the event that both Gassiev and Ruiz accept the invitation, Gassiev would be the first to enter talks as the higher ranked contender. The 28-year-old Russian has fought just twice at heavyweight since moving up following a twelve-round loss to Oleksandr Usyk in their July 2018 undisputed cruiserweight championship clash. Both entered the fight as unbeaten, unified titlists, with Usyk (19-0, 13KOs) offering a near-flawless performance to win all of the titles and top honors in the World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight tournament.
Usyk has since claimed the WBA/IBF/WBO/IBO titles, coming in a twelve-round win over Anthony Joshua (24-2, 22KOs) last September in London. The unbeaten Ukrainian southpaw currently awaits a fight date for their contractually-bound rematch, though also seeking an undisputed heavyweight championship showdown with WBC/lineal heavyweight king Tyson Fury (31-0-1, 22KOs). The ongoing drama with the IBF will eventually lead to his next mandatory challenger, assuming that Usyk still has the title by then.
Meanwhile, injuries and the pandemic have since slowed Gassiev’s career progress to a crawl. He managed to return with a first-round knockout of Nuri Seferi in October 2020, followed by a fourth-round stoppage of Michael Wallisch last July. Gassiev was due to face Andrei Rudenko last December, only to withdraw from the fight due to an elbow injury.
Ruiz has struggled to regain the fame that came with his pair of fights with Joshua.
The California-based boxer became the first boxer of Mexican descent to capture a piece of the heavyweight crown following his off-the-canvas, upset knockout win over Joshua in their June 2019 title fight at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The December 2019 rematch saw Ruiz grossly out of shape and soundly outboxed by Joshua at a makeshift venue in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia.
Just one fight has followed, a twelve-round points win over former title challenger Chris Arreola last May in Carson, Californa. Ruiz survived a flash knockdown in round two, going on to outbox Arreola to win on the scorecards of Dr. Lou Moret (118-109), Pat Russell (118-109) and Zachary Young (117-110). Many observers took issue with the wide scorecards, though Ruiz was the clear winner and also a much trimmer version in his first fight with highly regarded trainer Eddy Reynoso.
Should either Gassiev or Ruiz accept the offer to enter talks with Hrgovic (14-0, 12KOs), a fifteen-day negotiation period will be assigned for the two sides to reach a deal. Failure to do so will result in a purse bid hearing.
Hrgovic has been on the hunt for a title eliminator for the entirety of his post-pandemic run. The 2016 Olympic Bronze medalist has been ambitiously matched since his September 2017 pro debut, though with the competition leveling off due to the ongoing struggle to find willing participants.
In his most recent start, Hrgovic earned a third-round knockout of unbeaten but obscure heavyweight Emir Ahmatovic as part of a December 5 DAZN show from MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The bout marked his second consecutive third-round knockout over an undefeated heavyweight, having done the same to Marko Radonjic last September 10 in Klagenfurt, Austria.
The hope is that the IBF’s efforts to expedite the process will lead to a willing challenger for Hrgovic sooner rather than later. Should both Gassiev and Ruiz decline the offer, the IBF will only have four available challengers left to contact. Former IBF titlist Charles Martin (number ten) is next, though coming off a sixth-round knockout loss to Ortiz on January 1, while Parker—now ranked number eleven—has already rejected such an offer.
Demsey McKean (20-0, 13KOs) would come next. The 6’6” Australian southpaw is coming off a sixth-round stoppage of Don Haynesworth in his U.S. debut on a DAZN show last November at SNHU Arena in Manchester, New Hampshire. After McKean is China’s Zhilei Zhang (21-0-1, 13KOs), the one heavyweight who has been vocal about facing Hrgovic but who would have to wait out rejections from the aforementioned contenders ahead of him in the IBF rankings. England’s Hughie Fury—Tyson’s cousin—holds the number-fourteen spot, while Bakole is fifteen but already committed to a forthcoming rescheduled fight with Yoka.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox