The New Year always brings the promise of emerging talent, the life blood of the sport.
In boxing, last year’s prospect can be this year’s top contender, titleholder, or even a major player in a given division.
Just ask Amir Khan, who some didn’t even consider to be a prospect at the start of 2009. The British lightweight standout had been “exposed” after suffering a first-round knockout to unheralded Bredis Prescott last September.
However, after three victories — a technical decision over Marco Antonio Barrera, a one-sided decision over Andreas Kotelnik and a first-round blasting of Dmitriy Salita — Khan ends 2009 with a major 140-pound belt around his waist and a top-five RING ranking. He’s the man all the top junior welterweights want to fight.
A lot can happen in 12 months, and it’s not always good.
Victor Ortiz, the prospect of the year for 2008, did not advance to contender status in 2009, something that was almost considered a given by most boxing writers.
The charismatic junior welterweight southpaw looked like the real deal when he halted former title-challenger Mike Arnaoutis in two rounds in March but he was stopped in a six-round shootout with hard-slugging contender Marcos Maidana in June. However, Ortiz rebounded with a six-round TKO of veteran Antonio Diaz in December to position himself for another run for title contention in 2010.
Here’s a tough question: Is Ortiz, who turns 23 in January, still a prospect?
I don’t think so. His accomplishments and experience (which includes the tough loss to Maidana) qualify him as a “fringe contender” or something more advanced than a prospect in my opinion. Despite Ortiz’s youth, four of his fights have been scheduled for 12 rounds. The Maidana fight was for an “interim” title, which is basically a title-elimination bout.
I don’t care how young a boxer is, if he’s fighting the “championship distance” on a regular basis and he’s in position to contend for a major title I can’t consider him a prospect.
Keep that in mind when you read part one of my list of prospects to look out for in 2010, which covers the top up-and-comers from flyweight to middleweight. Part-two will cover super middleweight to heavyweight.
I didn’t include RING-ranked fighters (such as Denis Boytsov, Vanes Martirosyan, Antonio Escalante, and Ji Hoon Kim), anyone who currently holds, has held or has fought for one of the four main sanctioning organization belts, including interim titles (which precludes talents like Marvin Sonsona and Beibut Shumenov), fighters over 30, and anyone who has fought in more than two bouts scheduled for 12 rounds (which rules out young standouts such as Saul Alvarez, Nathan Cleverly, Kell Brook, Wilfredo Vazquez Jr., AJ Banal, Ali Chebah, Isaac Chilemba, and Karo Murat).
So don’t email me asking why they aren’t on the list.
I know they are young (some, like Sonsona and Alvarez, are still teenagers). I know they are inexperienced (Shumenov doesn’t even have 10 pro fights yet). I know some haven’t been tested, but in our era these young men are “world”-title contenders. (And, hey, I had to draw the line somewhere).
Prospects to watch in 2010, part one:
Flyweight: Cesar Seda Jr. (18-0, 14 knockouts)
This tall (5-foot-6) boxer-puncher from Puerto Rico takes advantage of his height and reach by using his rangy jab to set up his accurate straight left. Seda is well-schooled, patient and economical.
The 23-year-old southpaw fought three times in 2009, stopping seasoned veterans in each outing.
Honorable mention: Richie Mepranum (the 22-year-old Filipino lefty has two losses, but the defeats were to current titleholder Denkaosan Kaovichit and undefeated Thai standout Panomroonglek Kratingdaenggym), Karim Guerfi (this 22-year-old French standout only has one KO in his 12 victories but he makes up for his power shortage with aggressive boxing and showmanship)
Bantamweight: Chris Avalos (14-0, 11 KOs)
Avalos is an aggressive boxer-puncher with solid technique. The talented teenage Southern Californian (he turned 20 in November) fought six times in 2009, scoring impressive stoppages of fellow prospect Andre Wilson in July and durable spoiler Giovanni Caro in a Showtime-televised bout in September.
Avalos, received a stern test from 26-year-old Caro, Mexico’s national 122-pound champ, who pressed the 19-year-old amateur standout until the younger man stopped the tough veteran cold with a chilling hook-cross combination in the fourth round.
Junior featherweight: Guillermo Rigondeaux (4-0, 3 KOs)
The 29-year-old southpaw from Cuba leads the prospect-packed 122-pound division despite only having four pro bouts, all fought in 2009. But who needs pro experience when you had more than 400 amateur bouts and won every major international competition at least twice? Rigondeaux is a complete fighter with the skill and poise of a champion, but until he beats a bona fide contender or at least a few more seasoned pros (he already has the scalp of 71-bout veteran Giovani Andrade) he’s the sport’s top prospect.
Honorable mention: Rico Ramos (flashy speed demon looked like the real deal in dropping fellow prospect Alejandro Perez en route to a ShoBox-televised eight-round decision), Teon Kennedy (well-schooled Philadelphian‘s last bout ended in tragedy when Francisco Rodriguez died two days after Kennedy stopped him in the 10th round of a barnburner), Victor Fonseca (Puerto Rican southpaw capped a good year with a ShoBox-televised ninth-round TKO of Al Seeger), Roberto Marroquin (sharp-shooting Texas southpaw’s poise and power belie his 20 years), Leo Santa Cruz (younger brother of former lightweight contender Jose Armando Santa Cruz is just as relentless as big bro but possess much better technique).
Featherweight: Miguel Angel Garcia (18-0, 15 KOs)
Younger brother of former 130-pound titleholder Robert Garcia is just as tough, talented and precocious as his big brother (and trainer) was but the rangy 22-year-old boxer-puncher also possess one-punch knockout power. “Mikey” won all three of his bouts in 2009 by stoppage, setting each KO up with a stiff jab and body-head combination punching like a seasoned pro.
January 16 bout with Mexican prospect Joksan Hernandez (17-1) looks like Garcia’s toughest test on paper.
Honorable mention: Daud Yordan (22-year-old Indonesian boxer gave fans a glimpse of his talent during his two-round No-Decision with Roberto Guerrero in March and remains undefeated), Matt Remillard (undefeated Connecticut native put it all together in 2009, exhibiting a world-class jab and body attack), Gary Russell Jr. (2008 U.S. Olympian went 6-0 in 2009), Abraham Lopez (Southern California standout among the hardest hitting of the 126-pound prospects), Michael Farenas (powerful Filipino southpaw unbeaten in last 20 bouts), Ronny Rios (aggressive 19-year-old Orange County standout is a natural fighter), Ricky Lopez (former amateur star from Colorado improved with each outing in 2009).
Junior lightweight: Eloy Perez (15-0-2, 4 KOs)
This well-schooled Northern Californian is under the radar because he hasn’t appeared on national TV, but the crafty counter puncher is a complete fighter with better power than his low KO ratio would indicate.
The 23-year-old boxer enjoyed a successful 2009, impressing insiders with his mix of defense and offense en route to knocking out Gabe Garcia in March, out-gutting and out-pointing fellow prospect Dannie Williams (12-0) in an all-out 10-round war in September, and picking up a vacant regional belt with a fifth-round stoppage of spoiler of Juan Santiago in December.
Scheduled showdown with David Rodela on Shane Mosley-Andre Berto undercard looks to be the toughest assignment of Perez’s career.
Honorable mention: Carlos Ivan Velasquez (Puerto Rican prospect has size, speed and power but needs to be more active), David Rodela (rangy boxer-brawler had to work hard for his three victories in 2009 but he was matched very tough), Gary Sykes (gutsy British boxer sported a built-up record until he beat fellow prospect Anthony Crolla), Archie Ray Marquez (21-year-old New Mexico standout has star potential but will be sorely tested in his next fight vs. more mature Juan Casteneda Jr.), Argenis Mendez (NYC-based Dominican talent rebounded from first loss suffered last October with three victories in 2009).
Lightweight: Luis Ramos (13-0, 7 KOs)
This 21-year-old southpaw from Santa Ana, California mixes speed, precision punching and power in a crowd-pleasing style that is being forged against more experienced opponents.
Ramos fought four times in 2009 and was featured three times on the Fight Night Club series televised on Versus. The former national amateur champ impressed fans with his victories over young journeymen Baudel Cardenas and Cristian Favela, which were highlighted by a fierce body attack.
Honorable mention: Brandon Rios (all-action boxer-brawler went 5-0 in 2009 and looked especially impressive stopping Mexican prospect Oscar Meza in five in May), Adrien Broner (busy and brash 20-year-old Cincinnati native fought eight times in 2009 and often looked explosive), John Molina (rangy puncher is still green as evidenced by his first loss to veteran Martin Honorio but affable Californian, who fought sick, can learn from the experience), Sharif Bogere (Las Vegas-based Ugandan showboat has obvious talent and is improving with each fight under tutelage of veteran trainer Ken Adams), Gary Buckland (Welsh product bounced back nicely from his first loss last June with three victories over solid opposition in 2009), Hylon Williams Jr. (19-year-old Houston native is a relentless Juan Diaz clone).
Junior welterweight: Victor Cayo (24-0, 16 KOs)
Cayo had a banner year in 2009, going 5-0 (3) against quality opposition. The 25-year-old native of the Dominican Republic has a natural, fluid athletic boxing style (hands down, relying on speed and reflexes to get in and out of range) that he put to good use against former lightweight titleholder Julio Diaz, who he out-pointed in an ESPN2-televised 10-round bout in July, and Julio Reyes, an undefeated (14-0) Dominican prospect he knocked out in three rounds in December.
Honorable mention: Danny Garcia (heavy handed Philadelphia product has benefited from a tough schedule in 2009 as evidenced by his impressive second-round KO of Enrique Colin in December), Josesito Lopez (athletic boxer-puncher rebounded from close decision loss to Edgar Santana last April with three victories over solid opposition in 2009), Denis Shafikov (stocky southpaw from Russia is 22-0 including a recent 12-round decision over tough but shopworn Fernando Trejo), Kenny Galarza (Puerto Rican puncher has won all of his 11 bouts by KO), Henry Lundy (strong-but-skilled Philly fighter began year with KO of fellow prospect Jason Cintron and remains unbeaten), Mike Dallas Jr. (athletic volume-punching boxer has everything but power).
Welterweight: Antwone Smith (17-1-1, 9 KOs)
This once-beaten Floridian went 4-0 in 2009, turning heads in the industry with his eight-round decision over undefeated (16-0) Norberto Gonzalez in February, his 10-round decision over fringe contender Richar Gutierrez, and his ShoBox-televised ninth-round stoppage of unbeaten (22-0-1) prospect Henry Crawford in October.
The 22-year-old boxer isn’t the fastest or hardest hitting welterweight but he’s crafty and gutsy with counter-punching ability and a mean body attack. His timing and his will power break down more experienced and better talented boxers as Gutierrez and Crawford discovered.
Honorable mention: Mike Jones (undefeated Philadelphia standout has size, power, technique and a fan-pleasing style; it would be nice if the networks showcased him once in a while), Lanard Lane (ShoBox-televised second-round KO of fellow prospect Said El Harrak put Philly fighter on the map), Jermell Charlo (19-year-old Houston resident looked like the goods in dispatching fellow prospect Abdon Lozano in two rounds), Luis Enrique Grajeda (Mexican puncher is known for quickie KOs), Javier Molina (19-year-old 2008 U.S. Olympian possesses uncommon poise and skill for a teen).
Junior middleweight: Erislandy Lara (9-0, 5 KOs)
Former Cuban amateur standout fought seven times in 2009. The rangy southpaw boxer was thrilling when he scored first-round knockouts of Rodrigo Aguiar, Keith Gross and Jose Varela, and he was boring when he pitched shutouts against Chris Gray and Luciano Perez, but regardless of how he wins his talent and skill are undeniable.
The 26-year-old is accurate and economical with good footwork and technique, excellent reflexes and hand-eye coordination that translates into a solid defense and the ability to pot shot his opponents at will. He feels that he will be ready to fight for a world title in 2010.
Honorable mention: Shawn Porter (poised and powerful boxer gained notice as Manny Pacquiao’s chief sparring partner for the Miguel Cotto fight but the 22-year-old Ohioan made a name for himself with nine victories in 2009), Austin Trout (rangy New Mexico southpaw had a successful year, going 4-0 including two road games in Panama an Canada).
Middleweight: Danny Jacobs (18-0, 15 KOs)
One of the top prospects of 2008 evolved into a solid 10-round fighter through tough fights in 2009. Jacobs, an athletic specimen with fluid speed, solid power and sharp technique, easily imposed his talent on lesser fighters during his busy 2008. The former amateur standout from Brooklyn scored 11 knockouts in 12 bouts last year, nine of which occurred in the first two rounds, but he didn‘t learn much.
By upping the level of his competition in 2009, the middleweight’s management reminded him that he’s probably better off as a speedy, mobile boxer who picks his shots from the outside than a seek-and-destroy volume puncher when he‘s in against solid opposition. The 22-year-old boxer fought five times in 2009 and grew dramatically from the last three bouts of the year, competitive outings with seasoned fighters Michael Walker (UD 8), George Walton (TKO 8), and Ishe Smith (UD 10).
Honorable mention: Matt Korobov (Russian 2008 Olympian dominated seven opponents in 2009 with his southpaw pressure and quick-fisted combination punching), Fernando Guerrero (former amateur standout now a popular Maryland-area pro went 5-0 in 2009, thrilling his fans with his aggressive brand of boxing), Edwin Rodriguez (undefeated new England-area amateur star steadily improved while going 5-0 in 2009), Craig McEwan (undefeated former Scottish amateur star fought five times against solid opposition in 2009), David Lemieux (21-year-old Canadian KO artist is 20-0 with 20 KOs), Andy Lee (talented Irish southpaw went 4-0 in 2009, positioning himself to regain the momentum he lost with first loss back in 2008), Dmitry Chudinov (rugged former Russian amateur standout exhibits as much guts as he does skill in his entertaining fights).