Filip Hrgovic is currently playing an important part in the Queensberry vs Matchroom ‘5 s 5’ pre-event hype machine but if you caught the 32-year-old Croatian in a quiet moment and if he was totally honest, he would probably admit that he couldn’t care less whether Team Matchroom wins the event. He will just be desperate to beat Daniel Dubois and go home.

Hrgovic has been spoken about as a future world champion since he claimed a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. 

He slowly but surely climbed the rankings and has patiently waited as the IBF’s mandatory challenger since beating Zhilei Zhang in August 2022. 

It was widely expected that a vacant IBF title would be on the line on Saturday night but Oleksandr Usyk’s decision to request that he be allowed to keep his belt for his December 21t rematch with Tyson Fury means that it will only be the interim bauble on the line.

Hrgovic will have arrived in Saudi Arabia expecting Saturday to be his coronation night. Now he must quickly come to terms with the fact that rather than challenging Dubois for a vacant world title, he is - despite the interim belt on the line – essentially  defending his position as mandatory challenger.

It could lead to a bout for the vacant (full fat) title against Anthony Joshua if the IBF opt to strip Usyk. Therefore this fight with Dubois comes with danger for a number of reasons. 

Hrgovic is alert to it. When he arrived in Saudi Arabia, he told Queensberry that he was aware just how important victory was to his future plans. 

“I definitely have the will to win. For me, it’s a really important fight. It’s ‘To be, or not to be,’” he said.

“For him, he’s already lost two fights but they’ve built him up again. I think it’s easier when you’re coming from Great Britain. You lose, have two easy fights and then you are there again. For me, it’s not like that. If I lose, it’s going to be harder to come back. I definitely have the will to win.”

The ultra confident Hrgovic took every opportunity to disparage and talk down to Dubois throughout the build-up to the fight, reminding him of their previous sparring sessions, criticising the manner of his stoppage defeats to Joe Joyce and Oleksandr Usyk and likening the quiet Londoner to a cartoon duck.

His mood towards the 26-year-old has certainly changed as the fight has got closer but it would be unwise to interpret his sudden readiness to praise Dubois as a softening of his attitude towards the Brit. If anything, his willingness to acknowledge Dubois’ qualities indicates that although he still sees weaknesses, he has recognized a genuine threat and has prepared accordingly.

“This is a good fight. This is really what I was looking for. He is a good fighter. He has a good ranking and a good name. He’s young, hungry and I’m happy with this fight,” he said.

“He quit two times and it’s not good for fighters to quit. It shouldn’t be in a fighter’s options to quit. I think he’s a solid fighter. He proved in some fights that he’s good and especially in his last fight he proved that he can fight in the late rounds as well [Dubois stopped Jarrell Miller last December].

“I feel like he has a problem with receiving punches. He’s not so good with that. I think I am the opposite. I think I’ve proved that I can receive a lot of punches and have a really good chin. I was never stopped in more than 100 amateur fights and never in sparring. I think I have that quality to never give up and I think if I put good pressure on and hit him with my best shots, I will stop him.”

The fight looks like being a mental battle as much as a physical one and a fast start could be crucial to both men. If Hrgovic has been affected by his disappointing news, Dubois may have an early window of opportunity to make an impression. He will obviously have wanted to fight for a real world title but he still has something to win. 

For his part, Hrgovic will be trying to give Dubois flashbacks of those sparring sessions as quickly as he possibly can. If he can make Dubois doubt himself early on, his job should become much easier. 

“It always means something. Sparring is almost like a fight. When you spar someone you want to win. It was a long time ago. He definitely improved and I improved as well. It was good experience for me but it doesn’t need to mean anything. I think I hold a psychological advantage with that sparring session and what happened, but a fight is a fight and it was a long time ago. We’ll see what’s going on on Saturday.”