Earlier this month, Pugilism Company spoke on what’s slowly becoming the most prized possession in the business. Not the green WBC belt (or the “Money” belt as it’s also known as), not the WBA version, but the IBF’s red, Heart and Soul belt. It takes fortitude, character and cashews to not only win, but defend the IBF title. And it’s time we highlight those who’ve given their heart and soul to earn it.
Anthony Joshua (20-0, 20 KO’s) – The maiden world championship for Joshua was none other than the IBF Heavyweight title, which he claimed in 2016 via 2nd round KO of Charles Martin. “A.J.” is on the brink of becoming Boxing’s biggest global attraction since Mike Tyson or Manny Pacquiao. While the goal is to eventually accumulate all four major title belts, there’s something extra special about that first. Joshua takes a major step towards his objective late March, against Joseph Parker.
Murat Gassiev (26-0, 19 KO’s) – Like Joshua, this Russian is undefeated and has reigned since 2016. They say fighters get better after becoming champion and this seems to the case with Gassiev. Since taking Denis Lebedev’s Crusierweight strap via split decision, Gassiev’s score two consecutive knockouts in defense of it. He’s scheduled to unify against Oleksandr Usyk in May.
Artur Beterbiev (12-0, 12 KO’s) – Riddled with Russian talent, the Light Heavyweight division’s best fighter just might be Beterbiev, who won the vacant title November 2017. At 33, Beterbiev’s on an abbreviated course towards carving a niche for himself within our sport.
Caleb Truax (29-3-2, 18 KO’s) – One of the bigger upsets of 2017 was Truax’s majority decision verdict over reigning titlist, James DeGale. Truax exhibited the heart and soul befitting of an IBF champion, overcoming heavy odds to defeat DeGale in his own backyard. An immediate rematch is the most likely next move for Truax.
Gennady Golovkin (37-0-1, 33 KO’s) – Already a long time WBA strap holder, “Triple G” added the precious red Middleweight designation to his collection in 2015, stopping David Lemieux. No trophy case is complete without it. Golovkin looks to rectify the lone blemish on his record May 5th, in a rematch with Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.
Jarrett Hurd (21-0, 15 KO’s) – The 27 year old Hurd picked up the vacant 154 pound crown February of last year and became the first man to stop Austin Trout in his inaugural defense. Poised to assert himself as the man within the division, Hurd will be unifying with WBA champion, Erislandy Lara, on April 7th. Hurd is a huge Jr. Middleweight and a daunting task for anyone in the world.
Errol Spence (23-0, 20 KO’s) – Spence is probably your favorite fighter’s favorite fighter. Seeking no shortcuts or gimmes to a championship, Spence went after the biggest and arguably the best Welterweight, Kell Brook, for his shot at glory. It was in Brook’s hometown of Sheffield, England, no less. Spence stopped Brook impressively, has since defended against Lamont Peterson, and is on the Mount Rushmore of current IBF heart and soul champions and what they stand for.
Sergey Lipinets (13-0, 10 KO’s) – Late 2017, Lipinets acquired the 140 pound belt vacated by Terence Crawford. The Kazakh’s first defense will be against one of the very best fighters on the planet, Mikey Garcia. They tangle on March 10th in San Antonio.
Robert Easter Jr. (21-0, 14 KO’s) – The tall, lanky Easter has reigned as Lightweight champ since September of 2016. He’s made three successful defenses and was in the running to face the aforementioned Mikey Garcia, who elected instead to face Lipinets one division higher.
Kenichi Ogawa (23-1, 17 KO’s) – In his U.S. debut, Ogawa won the vacant strap against Tevin Farmer. HBO televised, along with two other 130 pound bouts, in hopes of producing an attractive option for Vasyl Lomachenko.
Lee Selby (26-1, 9 KO’s) – One of the sanctioning bodies longest tenured titlists, Selby has been the IBF Featherweight champion since unseating Evgeny Gradovich in 2015. He’ll be facing the undefeated Josh Warrington in May.
Ryosuke Iwasa (24-2, 16 KO’s) – A pro since 2008, Iwasa was finally minted as a world champion in 2017, with a 6th round KO of Yukinori Oguni. That’s the level of commitment and persistence required to represent the IBF as Jr. Featherweight champion.
Ryan Burnett (18-0, 9 KO’s) – This baby-faced Irishman lifted the title from Lee Haskins in June of 2017, defended it once and is scheduled face Yonfrez Parejo in March for a WBA super title. Don’t forget who got you there Ryan, the IBF.
Jerwin Ancajas (29-1-1, 20 KO’s) – Ancajas has made four successful defenses since unseating the undefeated McJoe Arroyo March 2016, all of them by knockout. Ancajas ended the undefeated Jamie Conlan in Conlan’s homeland and has been on quite a roll. He’s a certified force to be reckoned with at Super Flyweight.
Donnie Nietes (40-1-4, 22 KO’s) – No spring chicken, the 35-year-old Filipino held championships at 108 and 105 pounds before becoming the IBF’s best at 112. Better late than never, to join the ranks of red belters, and how sweet it is
Ryoichi Taguchi (27-2-2, 12 KO’s) – From Tokyo, Taguchi recently joined the ranks of heart and soul titlists with a unanimous decision over Milan Melindo in a Junior Flyweight affair.
Hiroto Kiyoguchi (9-0, 7 KO’s) – The IBF has deemed its 105 division Minimumweight and Kiyoguchi has been champion since July 2017. The 24-year-old from Japan is talented but is very likely to never be seen by U.S. audiences unless he moves up a weight or two
Claressa Shields (5-0, 2 KO’s) – Pugilism would be remiss not to add the game’s most prominent female fighter to this list. In addition to becoming the only American boxer (male or female) to win consecutive Olympic gold medals, Shields also possesses an IBF title at 168 pounds. She is the face of Women’s boxing and embodies everything the International Boxing Federation has come to be known for.
The International Boxing Federation consists of a diverse array of champions from around the globe. Japan, the Philippines, former Soviet Bloc nations, the U.K. and the U.S. Men and women alike serve as champions, wearing heart and soul on their sleeves.