Moses Itauma knows enough about Mike Tyson’s record as the youngest world heavyweight champion to be able to drop into conversation the exact age that he achieved the task – 20 years, 4 months 22 days.
It is a record the 18-year-old Itauma says he wants to break. He says it, but whether he actually means it is another matter.
Itauma, 18, is on a hot streak right now, having won World and European gold medals at youth level last year. He makes his professional debut on January 28 at Wembley on the undercard of Artur Beterbiev’s world light-heavyweight title defense against Anthony Yarde.
Yet, while the start of a challenge for Tyson’s historic mark might make a few headlines, Itauma – from Chatham, Kent – knows he has an awfully long way to go. After all, he has only boxed 24 times as an amateur and never as a senior.
But he has signed a promotional deal with Queensberry and is being managed by Francis Warren. He has been told he will box eight times in his first year as a professional.
“I keep getting asked, ‘what are your thoughts on becoming the youngest world heavyweight champion?'” Itauma said. “That’s not what I am thinking about now. I’m not preparing to fight Tyson Fury on January 28. I’m preparing for my pro debut. Everyone is skipping all the steps to get to this accomplishment.
“I just want to go step-by-step to fulfill my ambition. I am pretty certain that Mike Tyson wasn’t thinking he was going to be the youngest world heavyweight champion before his pro debut. I’m pretty sure he had some fights and then he thought of doing that.
“I’m not comparing myself to Mike Tyson. I want to have my pro debut, then have a few fights and then maybe the comparisons can start. But as of now I haven’t even stepped in a pro ring yet.”
Itauma is an exciting addition to the heavyweight ranks in the UK, however. And he does have experience of mixing it with the pros, having sparred with Daniel Dubois and Anthony Joshua, who used him as a sparring partner for his first fight with Oleksandr Usyk when Itauma was just 16.
Itauma is a 6ft 4in southpaw, so fit the bill for Usyk preparation, although it was a big step up at his tender age.
“The sparring that AJ had for the Usyk fight seemed wrong,” Itauma said. “He had a 6ft 10in German southpaw and I’m thinking ‘why would you have that?’ But he would only spar six rounds, then do three rounds on the bag, three rounds on the pads. He didn’t really do a full 12-round spar. But the sparring he had was mediocre.
“I didn’t get called back for the second fight but I wasn’t really meant to spar him for the first one, it was coincidental. I was training up in Sheffield when he was training then I was asked if I wanted to spar. I said ‘why not?’ Because at the time I was struggling to get sparring. I was quite confused why they never brought me back, but I am not stressing about that.”
If Fury wants his help to prepare for Usyk, Itauma is keen. “I’ve been asking to do a few rounds with Fury, so that would be good,” he said.
Itauma, who was born in Slovakia but moved to Britain aged 2. He is the younger brother of unbeaten light-heavyweight Karol, who will be boxing on the same bill on January 28. Moses was not short of options and admits that the uncertainty about boxing’s place in the Olympic Games played a role in his decision to go pro. And while Commonwealth Games champion Delicious Orie is expected to be the GB No 1 super-heavyweight, Itauma said he was told he would have had a good chance to go to the Paris Olympics next year.
“Me and my brother sat down and wrote down the pros and cons of turning pro,” he said. “When we did that, the pros just looked better than the amateurs and the fear that the Olympics are not even guaranteed to take place.
“I did get told that if I was to stay amateur, I would be picked over the current boxer that is there.”
The idea of turning professional on a big card and as the day gets close, Itauma is taking the new-found attention in his stride.
“The nerves only really kick in on the day of the fight,” he said. “But I know I am not going to be boxing Muhammad Ali or Mike Tyson on my debut, so I don’t really have anything to be nervous about.”
Ron Lewis is a senior writer for BoxingScene. He was Boxing Correspondent for The Times, where he worked from 2001-2019 – covering four Olympic Games and numerous world title fights across the globe. He has written about boxing for a wide variety of publications worldwide since the 1980s.