For Moses Itauma, 2024 began with the small matter of helping Tyson Fury prepare to make history. Some task for a 19-year-old. But having already shared a ring with some of the biggest names in British boxing, he was the right man for the job.
The teenage heavyweight sensation was among the fighters to join ‘The Gypsy King’ in his fight camp in Saudi Arabia ahead of his undisputed title showdown with Oleksandr Usyk on 17 February.
Finding southpaw sparring partners to replicate Usyk, the masterful 6ft 3in Ukrainian who possesses one of the best boxing minds in the sport, is a nightmare. Impersonators are hard to come by with Itauma and cruiserweight champion Jai Opetaia among those fitting the bill.
Training camp rumours are nothing new, occasionally emerging to fill the void during the lull leading up to fight week. During the last few days, whispers of Fury being knocked down by Opetaia began to swirl before being dismissed by the Australian’s camp.
‘There are a lot of stories I hear,’ Itauma said. ‘I have been in the camp and Jai has been here. I was scrolling through Instagram and I have seen someone reckons that Jai has dropped Tyson in sparring. I was like, “what?” Stories are stories and there are always going to be stories.’
Itauma has collected a few sparring stories of his own. The Chatham fighter is a heavyweight of immense potential, considered the natural successor to Fury and Anthony Joshua once the current stars of the division bow out.
Before embarking on a professional career that has so far produced seven victories, the teenager shared rounds with some of the UK’s elite operators, putting in work with Joe Joyce, Daniel Dubois and Joshua in the gym – arriving for some of those sessions still in his school uniform.
Former WBO cruiserweight champion Lawrence Okolie described his time in the ring with Itauma as ‘the hardest spar of my career so far’ when the youngster rocked up at the age of 15.
Over the last few years, the towering young fighter held his own with all of those giants. While fully confident in his potential to reach the heights of those names, he fully appreciates old sparring tales guarantee nothing.
‘Stories can’t fight for you,’ he said. ‘I have been there with the top guys, mixed it with them and held my own or done even better than that. I could have a million stories but when you are in the ring it is just you and your opponent. It doesn’t help you.
‘All I can say is my whole journey, I have been grateful. I was sparring Joe Joyce from a very young age, Lawrence Okolie from a very young age. I was sparring with AJ from a young age. I’ll be honest, I held my own in a lot of them so imagine what my career is going to be like I am 24 or 25.
‘The praise, you have to put it to the back of your head. When you sit down and look at what you’ve achieved, that is when it gets taken from you. It is good Lawrence has said that and it’s good people have praised me but I have to drown that out.
‘Once I start thinking I am the top dog, you get complacent. Every day I start at the bottom of the ladder, just to start climbing up.’
While also helping Fury prepare for Usyk, Itauma is warming up for his own fight taking place on that undercard in Saudi in three weeks. He was out there in October the night Francis Ngannou almost produced the shock of the life time, knocking out Istvan Bernath inside one round. Only two of his opponents to date have made it beyond that point.
Already, Itauma is clamouring for bigger challenges. ‘My manager keeps sending me names and I’m like, “come on, I need better opponents”. I am not saying I want to fight AJ or Deontay Wilder next, but it is about making smart moves. I don’t mind moving slowly if I am not wasting time. I feel like with every fighter I want them to be better than the previous one.
‘I am striving for more. I am grateful but I am not content. I am never going to be satisfied or content because you can always be striving for better things. That has got me to the position I am today.’
Top of Itauma’s long list of goals is to become the youngest heavyweight world champion in history. If he is to do that, he will need to shatter the record set by Mike Tyson when he blasted through Trevor Berbick in two rounds in 1986 aged 20 years and 150 days year old.
Boxing has grown more complicated over the last 30 years and even for the most prestigious talents, the route isn’t clear.
‘It would be great to achieve it but I am not delusional, I know there is a lot of stuff I can’t control,’ Itauma said. ‘But I don’t blame people for thinking like that. I put it out there. I want to achieve and do everything in my power to achieve it.
’30 years ago it more straight forward. I know it was a lot easier to win a world title back then, boxing was a completely different sport. But if I think it is possible I want to achieve it. I am striving for greatness.
‘People are saying it is a much more difficult to win the titles but it means the victory will be sweeter when I do it.’