Hrgovic vs Booker: when friendship goes on hold

Filip Hrgovic considers former sparring partner Rydell Booker a friend, but that friendship will go on hold when they meet inside the ring on Saturday night.

The Croatian ‘Stone Man’ (11-0) puts his growing reputation on the line when he meets Booker (26-3) in Hollywood, Florida on Saturday night. Their bout will air on DAZN in the United States while RTL will screen in Croatia.

It will be a stern test for the 28-year-old as he bids to take a step closer to a world title shot.

The 39-year-old Booker took Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev to the scorecards in his last outing in November 2019. Pulev will challenge for Anthony Joshua’s IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight titles in London on December 12.

Hrgovic and Booker have sparred in the past, and there is a mutual respect and friendship. But that must end – for a little while at least – on Saturday night.

We are friends, but on Saturday we are not friends anymore. I would like to finish him,” said Hrgovic.

“He performed great against Kubrat Pulev, but I want to make a statement and stop him.

“He’s a skilful fighter, he has good technique and is slick. However, that was sparring partner, and this is a real fight.

“I can’t predict what is going to happen, what round he will go down, but I know for sure I will win on Saturday night.”

Booker shrugs off Hrgovic boasts

Booker meanwhile has never been stopped as a professional, and despite the Croatian’s boasts he doesn’t believe Hrgovic can change that on Saturday night.

“Everybody says it until they get in the ring. I know I’ll come to fight, I know Filip and I look forward to Saturday.”

Booker says fans will see a different Rydell against Hrgovic, a more offensive one on the back of changes in his team.

“I’ve changed my whole team, staff and my preparations for this fight. My last coach was a straight defensive fighter, but that’s who I was, so I found someone who fit my style better.”

While Booker’s respect for Hrgovic is clear, he still believes he has the ring IQ to pull off a huge upset.

“Naturally I’m a world class boxer, so I use my boxing ability. I have a very high boxing IQ, after doing this for 32 years. I know how to make adjustments; he has a good trainer, but I know what to expect.”

While Booker has not been out since that Pulev defeat last November, Hrgovic returned from his COVID-19 hiatus in late September. That brought an easy knockout victory over Alexandre Kartozia in Denmark.

Saturday’s Florida bill is topped by Devin Haney defending his WBC world lightweight title against Yuriorkis Gamboa.

There is another fascinating heavyweight showdown on the bill as well. That sees Chinese star Zhilei Zhang (21-0) takes on Devin Vargas (22-6).