Justis Huni looks to impress against Andrew Tabiti on Foster-Hernandez undercard
Australian heavyweight prospect Justis Huni is looking to deliver a breakout performance when he takes on former IBF cruiserweight title challenger Andrew Tabiti at the Poliforum Benito Juarez in Cancun, Mexico on Saturday.
The fight will be the semi-main event on a DAZN-streamed card headlined by WBC 130-pound titleholder O’Shaquie Foster’s inaugural defense against Eduardo Hernandez.
Huni (7-0, 4 KOs) was originally scheduled to face Tabiti on the undercard of the WBC 140-pound title fight between Regis Prograis and Danielito Zorrilla in New Orleans in June before he tore ligaments in his ankle and was forced to withdraw from the bout. He spent four weeks in a moon boot recovering from the injury.
“It was shattering,” the 24-year-old from Brisbane told The Ring. “Especially because it happened two days before I was supposed to fly out to the States. I think if it had happened earlier in the camp, it would not have mattered as much to me, but because it happened right at the end when I was supposed to leave, it was pretty devastating for me.”
The Tabiti fight will be the first time Huni has stepped into a prize ring in almost a year and he plans on making it count, particularly after watching countryman Joe Goodall shine on the international stage when he knocked out Stephan Shaw in the sixth round of their ESPN televised bout in Shawnee, Oklahoma in July.
Huni remains the only boxer to hold a victory over Goodall after outpointing him over 10 rounds last June.
“Joe’s done very well for himself,” said Huni, who has been sparring Goodall in preparation for Tabiti. “Going over there to defeat Shaw in his backyard, that’s massive. Look at what it’s done for him, it’s set him up for another big fight against Efe Ajagba, who is a credible heavyweight over there.
“I’m grateful to have him as one of my main sparring partners in camp. He has also done work with Tabiti in the past when he was living over in Las Vegas. He thinks I’ll be fine in this fight, so I’ve done all the hard work and that’s all that matters to me.”
The hype around Huni started in his junior amateur days. As a 16-year-old he won gold at the Youth World Championships in Saint Petersburg, Russia in 2016 in the super heavyweight division. Three years later he almost parlayed that into another gold medal at the World Championships in Yekaterinburg, Russia before injury cruelled his chances and forced him out of the final bout of the tournament. He had to settle for bronze.
The plan from there was for Huni to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, but when the global coronavirus pandemic hit and The Games were pushed back, a decision was made for him to turn pro and still return to the amateurs to chase the elusive Olympic Gold.
His team, led by his father Rocki Huni, were always confident in his abilities. He faced Faiga Opelu – Joseph Parker’s last opponent – in his pro debut for the Australian heavyweight title in October 2020, stopping him in seven.
But the boxing gods conspired against him again. He aggravated an old hand injury in his 10-round knockout victory over Paul Gallen in June 2021, forcing him to withdraw from the Olympic boxing squad. He has won two bouts since, both 10 rounders.
Now Huni has the chance to introduce himself to a wider boxing audience on an internationally televised card.
The scale of the opportunity is not lost on Huni, who will be having his first bout under the Matchroom Boxing promotional banner.
“It’s massive mate,” Huni told The Ring just weeks before his original date with Tabiti was scrapped. “It will pave the way moving forward. A lot more people will get to acknowledge who I am and get to see that I’m the real deal and that I’m not just another Australian boxer coming over. I’m not here to take part, I’m here to take over.”
If there is one knock on Huni, it is his relative lack of power for a man of his size. But Chris Byrd won a sanctioning body world title with less dynamite in his mitts, proving that skills pay the bills.
And Huni has skills in spades.
At 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, Huni is right in the sweet spot in terms of size for a modern heavyweight.
Where he really excels though is in his athleticism and shot selection. To see a man of his size glide around the ring with the speed and grace of a middleweight while still pressing the action is poetry in motion.
That is what Huni is hoping to display against Tabiti (20-1, 16 KOs), who he says is tailor-made for him.
“I’m more comfortable with someone who boxes and moves, just with my amateur background,” Huni said. “That’s just what I am used to coming up against in the amateurs. So, I’m looking forward to going up against someone who has that speed.
“He’s very sharp and I can mix it with those fast guys. When I spar cruiserweights, I can keep up with them – the speed, the reaction, the timing. So, I think it’s going to be a bit of a chess match, but me being more comfortable at the weight – this is my natural weight division whereas he is coming up – I feel like I will have the upper hand. But it will all play out the way it’s meant to play out come fight night. I’m just looking forward to getting back in there.”
The 34-year-old Tabiti, who hails from Chicago but boxes out of Las Vegas, is no mug. At cruiserweight he strung together three quality wins against Steve Cunningham, Lateef Kayode and Ruslan Fayfer to earn himself a berth in the World Boxing Super Series in June 2019, losing by 10th-round stoppage in the first round of the tournament to big punching Yuniel Dorticos.
An athletic boxer-puncher with a big tank who counter-punches well, Tabiti moved up to heavyweight for his last bout, a fifth-round stoppage of previously undefeated James Wilson in an eight-round contest on the Oleksandr Usyk-Anthony Joshua rematch undercard in Saudi Arabia in August last year.
Huni believes consistent body work, particularly early in the contest, will be the key to victory.
“If you look back at his one loss against Dorticos, it was against somebody who put a lot of pressure on him,” Huni said. “It’s very hard to move at that weight for 10 rounds against someone who is working the body. I’m going to be looking to work the body, take as much gas out of him as I can early in the fight so that the shots can open up later in the rounds.
“His one loss was from someone that had a height and reach advantage over him and was just constantly in front of him, putting the pressure on him. I plan on doing the same.”