TWO YEARS, one month and five days. That is how long Moses Itauma will have to beat one of boxing’s best-known records after this weekend’s outing at the Copper Box.
At 18 years old, Itauma is the best teenage heavyweight on the planet. There is an argument he is the most promising teenager in the sport, full stop.
And that is why there was no hint of hyperbole or bluster when he said his first major objective as a professional is to become the youngest world heavyweight champion of all time when it was announced that he had signed a promotional deal with Frank Warren on his 18th birthday in December.
Mike Tyson is widely regarded as the current record holder. He was 20 years, four months and 22 days old when he defeated Trevor Berbick in two famous rounds to win the WBC title back in November 1986, 20 months after his debut and in his 28th fight.
It means that if Itauma is to better that, he needs to become champion before May 20, 2025. It’s an outrageously tall order but try telling that to Itauma, or Enriko as his friends and family call him. His belief in his prodigious talent is bolstered by an amateur record which is bordering on insane.
Of course, having turned over as soon as he became 18, he never boxed as a senior but his impact at the age groups below was significant. His last act in a vest and headguard was to win the world youth championships in Spain last year. He left the unpaid code with a record of 24-0 (11). He has never lost a fight and the closest he came was a split decision victory when he was 11. At the youth European Championships he won gold by knocking all of his opponents out in the first round. That has never been done before.
Things clearly came quickly to Itauma and his elder brother Karol, himself a Queensberry Promotions fighter of much promise. The pair and their middle brother Samuel were born to a Slovakian mother and Nigerian father in the small Slovakian town of Kezmarog but it was not long before the family sought pastures new.
“We left because we didn’t feel like there were many opportunities,” Itauma says. “Especially because my middle brother is a lot darker than me and Karol and back then it was quite a racist place. My mum saw no reason to be there so we moved.
“Me and my brothers got racially abused so we had to. It wasn’t a good place to be. My dad is Nigerian and he had previously lived in the UK. I remember him telling me that once he was walking down the high street and everyone was stopping and staring at him. He had enough of it so decided to move back to England.
“Me and my brothers moved back one by one. I was living with my nan in Slovakia for a bit, I was the last one over in 2008 but eventually we all ended up there.”
Karol had already started boxing when Moses thought he would give it a go himself. It didn’t stick. “I was about nine when I first went in there,” he says. “After about three months I decided it was too hard so me and my middle brother went and played football.
“I got bored of that pretty quickly so I went back to boxing. That was at St Mary’s ABC in Chatham, Kent. I was there from when I was nine until I was 17. I’m with the same trainer now that I was back then. I’ve spent time in three different gyms but I’ve always been with the same trainer.”
That man is Dan Wooledge, who has nurtured and guided Itauma for the best part of a decade now. It was the coach who, during one particular car journey, urged the teenager to watch videos of other fighters to produce what they call ‘a cocktail’ of styles. It has worked.
“When I first went in there they told me to throw two punches on the bag,” he remembers. “The first two punches I threw was a one-two in southpaw. So even though I’m right-handed they said that’s my stance. People don’t realise Mike Tyson was a left-handed orthodox, so was Andre Ward. Lomachenko is a right-handed southpaw, so was Bruce Lee.
“I used to watch a lot of Naseem Hamed. I must have watched the same video of him about 50 times, I remember it was a highlight reel which started off with him dancing. He was one of my favourite fighters. I’ve got a different style from him but I do try to implement some of the things he used to do.
“But I don’t ever want to be compared to another fighter, I’d rather be my own man. I don’t want to be Mike Tyson, or someone compared me to a southpaw Muhammad Ali. These comparisons are great but I don’t want to be those guys.”
The Tyson comparison, however, will not leave him alone, despite the pair being vastly different in terms of style. Talking up his chances of becoming history’s youngest champion has resulted in an obvious link. But there is a need for caution, too.
Itauma has only ever boxed teenagers and has never felt his purpose questioned by a defeat. Also, while he surged through each and every rival like a hot knife through butter, his talent ensured he barely had to take any clean shots. So where else does his confidence in this brutal game come from?
“I think it comes a lot from sparring,” says Itauma who has traded leather with a who’s who of the heavyweight division behind closed doors.
“Obviously I’ve never really learned from fights because I didn’t have many as an amateur but I went from gym to gym to gym to gym to spar. That’s where I learned my style, through sparring. I think having such a difference in my sparring partners helped a lot and that’s how I learned to adapt.”
His work in other gyms began years ago and Lawrence Okolie, for example, says the work he got from a 15-year-old Itauma remains the hardest spar he’s ever had. Anthony Joshua and Joe Joyce, among many others, have used him since.
“I had been sparring Lerrone Richards when I was about 13 but when I was 15 the first big name I sparred was Lawrence Okolie,” he says. “I did well so I kept going back. It was up in Canterbury.
“My brother had been sparring him already and my coach said to his coach that they’ve got another southpaw, he’s only 15 but he’s quite good. Lawrence was like ‘why would I want to spar a 15-year-old?’ But he has since said I was his toughest spar.
“Then with Anthony Joshua I was training at Sheffield preparing for the Europeans and he was training there as well. Some of our training sessions clashed and his camp manager KD asked if I’d like to do some rounds with Joshua. I wasn’t really sparring at those camps because I couldn’t get any so I jumped at the chance to spar Joshua. We did a few rounds and I enjoyed it. Then with Joyce and Daniel Dubois their coaches got in touch with mine.”
His ability to hang with some of the biggest names in the division despite being barely out of school forged a deep belief that he really can achieve great things. Tyson’s record being one of them.
“The first time I sparred Okolie I was nervous because I was 15 and knew all about him,” he admits. “I’ve got a picture when I was a little kid with him. I sent it to him the other day. I was about 11 at the time and he was about to go to the Olympics, it’s funny how things turn out.
“But when I was performing in the spars I started to feel like I was one of them. I didn’t see them as idols or role models so getting nervous wouldn’t help me in any way. I felt like I belonged.”
His decision to turn professional so young, therefore, begins to make more sense. Itauma could have stayed amateur and attempted to win a gold medal in Paris next year but with so much uncertainty around the future of amateur boxing, he decided enough was enough.
“There were multiple reasons but I remember being at the worlds getting ready for the final and I said to my coach it would be the last time I’d box as an amateur,” he says.
“I just didn’t want to do it anymore. It wasn’t a bit of me, I didn’t like the travelling to Sheffield either. I didn’t like it – I’d rather turn pro.”
What has followed is two fights and two quick wins. In fact, both opponents were vanquished in a total of 58 seconds. “They haven’t been good enough,” he concedes. “I literally haven’t taken anything from those fights. I don’t even look at them, I do feel a little bit of embarrassment. These lot shouldn’t be in the ring with me. I don’t expect to be boxing world champions but I feel like I need better guys in the ring than this.
“Frank Warren says I could fight eight times this year. That would be perfect but I don’t want to be boxing eight doughnuts. I feel like I’ve had two binmen so far but I just do the boxing and leave the rest of it to my manager Francis. I’m not really bothered and if I do get a test by the end of the year I’m grateful for that. The only thing I can do is train hard and give 100 per cent. Anything else, fuck it, it is what it is.”
On Saturday he faces Kostiantyn Dovbyshchenko at the Copper Box. The Ukrainian has lost 12 but has never been stopped and he remains the only man to have taken 19-0 Kazakh puncher Zhan Kossobutskiy the distance. It’s the first chance for Itauma to make a mini statement in the division after two walkovers.
“But I’m not here to make statements or get pats on the back,” he counters. “I’m just here to beat the people in front of me. Whoever they put in front of me I just have to knock them down.”
It was 37 years ago last week that Tyson made his debut. His life exploded over the years that followed as a result of the damage he could do with his fists. So is Itauma ready for that change too?
He pauses. “We will see won’t we? It’s like pressure – you don’t deal with pressure, you let pressure deal with you and then see what you’re like on the other side. You asked if I’m ready and I say: ‘we’ll see’.”
Two years, one month and five days? The clock is ticking.