For most fans, the 2011 boxing season will begin in earnest when top junior welterweights Timothy Bradley and Devon Alexander touch gloves to begin their title-unification bout Jan. 29 on HBO.
For hardcore followers of the sport, though, the new year begin with tonight’s season premieres of Friday Night Fights on ESPN2 and Solo Boxeo on Telefutura. Diehard fans don’t need major title bouts between elite boxers to be entertained. They just want to see competitive matchups or touted up-and-comers tested by tough opponents who come to win.
The first Friday Night Fights and Solo Boxeo shows of the year will give the hardcore fans what they want. On ESPN2, Russian junior welterweight prospect Ruslan Provodnikov (17-0, 11 knockouts) will face hardnosed Southern California standout Mauricio Herrera (15-1, 7 KOs) in a 10-round bout. Both fighters are aggressive, heavy handed and confident of victory. There’s no way the fight will disappoint.
In the co-featured bout, ultra-talented 2008 U.S. Olympian Demetrius Andrade (11-0, 9 KOs) takes a modest step-up in competition with Herrera’s hard-punching younger brother, Alberto Herrera (7-1-1, 5 KOs).
On Telefutura, promising middleweight prospect Brandon Gonzales (13-0, 10 KOs) takes on once-beaten Cuban southpaw Lester Gonzalez (11-1-1, 6 KOs).
The solid opponents of the undefeated young fighters will give fans an idea of just how good they are. And should one of the “opponents” spring an upset, an event that always gets hardcore fans buzzing, they will earn “prospect” status.
With that in mind and a brand new year in front of us, let’s take a look at the many prospects who promise to make names for themselves as they fight toward contender status in 2011.
I didn’t want to leave anyone out, so I made it a long list that includes the names of 70 fighters. Don’t worry, I divided the list into three categories: advanced, intermediate and novice, which will be posted in three parts on successive days.
The 17 fighters in the “advanced” group are prospects who are on the cusp of contender status. They are solid 10-round fighters who have defeated fellow prospects and fringe contenders. Some might even hold regional titles or have already fought in a couple of 12-round bouts.
The fighters in the “intermediate” group are eight-round fighters who are just beginning to step up to the 10-round level. They’ve cut their teeth on the usual journeymen suspects but have shown a degree of ring maturity and have definitely seen their last four- and six-round bouts.
The fighters in the “novice” group are still fighting in four- and six-round bouts. Despite the considerable talent many of them possess, they are very young and still in the beginning stages of their pro careers.
Please don’t ask me about British light heavyweight Nathan Cleverly or Mexican sensation Saul Alvarez. Both fighters are currently RING-rated contenders. Don’t ask about British welterweight Kell Brook, either. Yes, he’s undefeated and only 24 but he’s been fighting in 12-round bouts since mid-2008. I consider him and other solid 12-round fighters who aren’t ranked by THE RING to be fringe contenders.
One other note: Most of the young men on this list had lengthy amateur careers. I recognize those who had between 50 and 100 amateur bouts as having a “strong amateur background” in the strengths category of my analysis. Fighters who engaged in more than 100 bouts, especially those who won national titles, are credited with having an “extensive amateur background.” Those whose amateur credentials include major international competitions (such as the Olympics, World Amateur Championship and Pan-American Games) are recognized as having “international experience.”
LUIS CRUZ Weight class: featherweight/junior lightweight Age: 25 Record: 17-0 (14) The skinny: Since initially opening eyes with impressive showings on his promoter Miguel Cotto’s undercards in 2007 and 2008, Cruz has been busy and steadily improving. The rangy boxer-puncher from Puerto Rico fought four times in 2009 and five times in 2010, stopping all but one of his nine opponents. Strengths: Strong amateur background, height (5-foot-9/157cm) and reach (72 inches/183cm), sharp technique, KO power in both hands, body punching, accuracy, promoted by Cotto. Weaknesses: Occasionally forgets to put boxing before his punching prowess, neglects jab and leaves his chin out while pursuing the KO. What’s next? Cruz’s management is looking for a Top-10 featherweight or junior lightweight contender to face sometime in the first half of the year.
JAMES DeGALE Weight class: super middleweight Age: 24 Record: 9-0 (7) The skinny: British-superstar-in-the-making has less than 10 fights but already is taking part in scheduled 12-round bouts, in which his natural talent and experience from his decorated amateur career (he won gold at the 2008 Olympic Games) enabled the Londoner to defeat more-seasoned pro opposition. DeGale scored four knockouts over solid opponents in 2010, including a ninth-round stoppage of fringe contender Paul Smith on Dec. 11, which earned him the British title. Strengths: International amateur experience, confidence, fluid switch-hitting style, exceptional athletic ability, bright personality, promoted by Frank Warren. Weaknesses: Sometimes tries too hard to be flashy, neglects jab, leaves hands down, often attempts to avoid punches by bobbing and crouching in front of his opponents. (There’s no need for a boxer as tall and rangy as DeGale to try to imitate Pernell Whitaker’s famous defensive style.) What’s next? A defense of his British title in the first quarter of 2011, then a bid for the European title. Domestic showdown with fellow prospect and Commonwealth champ George Groves would be huge in the UK.
YORDANIS DESPAIGNE Weight class: light heavyweight Age: 30 Record: 8-0 (4) The skinny: Decorated Cuban amateur, who defected to the U.S. (Florida) at the advanced age of 28, earned respect among American hardcore fans by scoring lopsided 10-round unanimous decisions over veteran Richard Hall and undefeated Frank Paines on ESPN2 in 2010. Strengths: International amateur experience, maturity, physical strength, heavy hands, body punching, managed by Luis DeCubas Jr. Weaknesses: Age. At 30, he has to make his move now. What’s next? Scheduled to face fellow advanced prospect Ismayl Sillakh on March 4 on ESPN2. The winner of this fascinating matchup will be considered a legit contender in some corners of the boxing world.
DANNY GARCIA Weight class: junior welterweight Age: 22 Record: 19-0 (13) The skinny: Philadelphia wunderkind grew up in 2010. After struggling to a 10-round split decision over crafty Ashley Theophane in February and working hard to stop Mexican prospect Jorge Romero (TKO 9) in Mexico in May, Garcia wowed hometown fans with a brutal fourth-round KO of former title challenger Mike Arnaoutis in October. Strengths: Extensive amateur background, heavy hands, counter punching, confidence, patience, promoted by Golden Boy Promotions. Weaknesses: Slow feet, methodical at times, problems with lateral movement. What’s next? Headlines a Telefutura show on Feb. 4, probably in a 10-round bout. Second fight of the year might be a 12 rounder with a regional title up for grabs.
MIGUEL ANGEL GARCIA Weight class: featherweight Age: 23 Record: 24-0 (20) The skinny: Younger brother of former titleholder Robert Garcia isn’t as advanced as his brother (and co-trainer) was after 24 pro bouts but he might enjoy a longer career because of his patient counter-punching style, tight technique and considerable power. “Mikey” exhibited Top 10-contender form in dispatching spoiler Cornelius Lock (TKO 9) and former title challenger Olivier Lontchi (KO 5) late last year. Strengths: Strong amateur background, comes from a boxing family, patience, textbook technique, accuracy, counter punching, good power, trained by Eduardo and Robert Garcia, managed by Cameron Dunkin, promoted by Top Rank. Weaknesses: Lack of speed and fluidity, can be overly methodical at times. What’s next? Dunkin hopes to get Garcia on the undercard of the Miguel Cotto-Ricardo Mayorga pay-per-view show on March 12, possibly against a Top 10-rated contender with an alphabet title on the line.
GEROGE GROVES Weight class: super middleweight Age: 22 Record: 11-0 (9) The skinny: Former British amateur standout has shown flashes of brilliance and mediocrity so far in the pro ranks. The talented boxer stopped tough Ghanaian Charles Adamu in six rounds last April to earn the Commonwealth title, but he struggled to knockout Mexican journeyman Alfredo Contreras (TKO 6) in July before he capped 2010 with a hard-fought sixth-round TKO of undefeated (12-0) Kenny Anderson. Groves had to get up from a third-round knockdown and withstand a lot of punishment to stop the rugged Scottish pressure fighter and hold onto his regional title. Strengths: Strong amateur experience, sharp technique, hand speed, crisp jab, good footwork, feinting ability, patience, promoted by David Haye (Hayemaker Promotions) and Frank Maloney. Weaknesses: Has many defensive holes, including holding his left hand low and backing straight out with both hands down. Tends to lose his form when pressed hard by durable opponents. What’s next? Nothing scheduled yet. Groves will likely defend his Commonwealth title against solid domestic opposition as he works on correcting some of his defensive flaws, but British fans can’t wait for the day he faces amateur rival James DeGale (who he defeated in their one amateur meeting).
DANIEL JACOBS Weight class: middleweight Age: 23 Record: 21-1 (18) The Skinny: Talented New Yorker attempted to win his first major title against fellow undefeated prospect Dmitry Pirog last July and was cold cocked in the fifth round by the Russian in one of the highlight KOs of 2010. Pirog advanced to contender status while Jacobs, who scored an off-TV fifth-round TKO of Jesse Orta in December, remains a prospect, now once beaten but still one to watch. Strengths: Extensive amateur background, exceptional athleticism, speed, power, versatility, managed by Al Haymon, promoted by Golden Boy. Weaknesses: Suspect chin and focus. What’s next? Another off-TV rebuilding fight on the undercard of a March 5 Boxing After Dark show (headlined by Saul Alvarez).
MIKE JONES Weight class: welterweight Age: 27 Record: 23-0 (18) The skinny: Philadelphia standout had the look of a future titleholder midway through 2010, but the physically imposing boxer-puncher almost lost his last bout against Jesus Soto-Karass on the Manny Pacquiao-Antonio Margarito undercard. Jones, who punched himself out after nearly stopping the Mexican fringe contender in the second round, was lucky to get the close majority decision over his more-aggressive opponent. Strengths: Size, speed, power, sharp technique, maturity, co-promoted by Russell Peltz and Top Rank. Weaknesses: Difficulty making 147 pounds, sometimes fails to put his foot on the gas pedal (such as during his pedestrian 10-round decision over Henry Bruseles last February), sometimes he steps too hard (as he did against Karass). What’s next? A rematch with Karass on the undercard of the Fernando Montiel-Nonito Donaire fight Feb. 19 on HBO.
MARCUS JOHNSON Weight class: super middleweight Age: 25 Record: 20-0 (15) The skinny: Former amateur standout from Texas has to make up for lost time because of a promotional transition (from Don King to DiBella) in 2009 and a six-month drug suspension in 2010, but he appears poised to do so after out-pointing undefeated (25-0) Derek Edwards last April and stopping Kevin Engle after three rounds on ShoBox in November. Strengths: Strong amateur background, solid technique, aggressive crowd-pleasing style, physical strength, confidence, managed by Antonio Leonard, promoted by DiBella. Weaknesses: Past inactivity, sub-par opposition until recently. What’s next? DiBella is looking for another ShoBox date for Johnson in the first quarter of 2011.
TEON KENNEDY Weight class: junior featherweight/featherweight Age: 24 Record: 16-0-1 (7) The skinny: Philadelphia technician was developed brilliantly by promoter Peltz but there’s no telling what kind of psychological toll the fatal match with Francisco Rodriguez (TKO 10) in November of 2009 has taken on the young boxer. Kennedy struggled down the stretch of a 12-round bout against rugged Mexican journeyman Jose Beranza last May, his first fight after the Rodriguez bout, but looked sharp in stopping Alex Becerra after nine rounds in September. Strengths: Textbook form (hence his nickname “The Technician”), combination and counter punching, infighting ability, guts, promoted by Peltz. Weaknesses: Lacks world-class power, often stands and trades when he shouldn’t, not as slick as he could be. What’s next? Reportedly is in the running to be the next opponent for featherweight beltholder Juan Manuel Lopez, who is scheduled to defend his title on April 16 in Puerto Rico.
ERISLANDY LARA Weight class: junior middleweight Age: 27 Record: 14-0 (9) The skinny: Former captain of the legendary Cuban amateur boxing squad looked sharp besting fringe contenders Grady Brewer (TKO 10) and Danny Perez (UD 10) in early 2010 and then scored three consecutive first-round KOs over modest opposition after taking on Ronnie Shields as his head trainer. Many insiders believe the talented southpaw has the ability to contend with — and beat — top 154-pound contenders right now. Strengths: International amateur background, skill, speed and athleticism, patience, maturity, trained by Shields, managed by DeCubas Jr., promoted by Golden Boy. Weaknesses: Often content to merely contain his opponents if he doesn’t knock them out early, which makes for boring fights. What’s next? A scheduled 10-round bout against journeyman Delray Raines in a main event Jan. 14 on Telefutura.
DAVID LEMIEUX Weight class: middleweight Age: 22 Record: 25-0 (24) The skinny: Hard-punching Quebec prospect commanded the attention of hardcore fans worldwide with impressive early-rounds knockouts of rugged journeyman Walid Smichet (KO 2), former title challenger Elvin Ayala (KO 1) and Hector Camacho Jr. (KO 1) during a productive 2010. Strengths: Explosive power in both hands, poise, tight technique, compact counter left hook, hard straight right, high guard, good balance, solid footwork, accuracy, body punching, promoted by Yvon Michel. Weaknesses: None have been exposed so far, although he is occasionally over-zealous in his pursuit of the KO. What’s next? A WBC title elimination bout against Mexican fringe contender Marco Antonio Rubio sometime in early 2011. Michel says he would like to position Lemieux to challenge WBC beltholder (and RING champ) Sergio Martinez by the end of the year.
ELOY PEREZ Weight class: junior lightweight Age: 24 Record: 19-0-2 (5) The skinny: Underrated Northern Californian enjoyed a breakthrough 2010, out-pointing David Rodela in a 10-round barnburner in January before signing with Golden Boy and winning three more bouts, including an impressive stoppage of tough journeyman Derrick Campos (KO 5) and a majority decision over difficult stylist Dominic Salcido on Telefutura cards. Strengths: Strong amateur background, old-school boxing foundation, counter punching, footwork, versatility, managed by Kathy Garcia, promoted by Golden Boy. Weaknesses: Lack of KO power. What’s next? Nothing scheduled, but will likely land on a Telefutura card sometime in the first quarter of 2011.
SHAWN PORTER Weight class: welterweight/junior middleweight Age: 23 Record: 17-0 (13) The skinny: Former U.S. amateur standout from Ohio struggled to out-point towering southpaw spoiler Russell Jordan at the start of 2010 but rebounded with two knockout victories before dropping from junior middleweight to welterweight and scoring impressive victories over once-beaten prospect Ray Robinson (UD 10) and rugged Hector Munoz (TKO 9) on ShoBox. Strengths: Extensive amateur background, athleticism, good speed, heavy hands, explosive combination punching, confidence, promoted by Prize Fight Boxing. Weaknesses: Occasional lapses in concentration, trouble with lateral movement, sometimes paws with jab. What’s next? A welterweight 10 rounder against Adrian Mora (20-1-1) on Feb. 18 on ESPN2.
EDWIN RODRIGUEZ Weight class: super middleweight Age: 25 Record: 17-0 (13) The skinny: Massachusetts-based former amateur standout lived up to the potential of his considerable talent in 2010, scoring four stoppage victories over solid opponents, including a Showtime-televised ninth-round TKO of James McGirt Jr. (22-1-1) in November. The aggressive Dominican-American boxer-puncher possesses a crowd-pleasing style, hence his nickname “La Bomba.” Strengths: Strong amateur background, good technique, head movement, combination and body punching, solid footwork, heavy hands, promoted by DiBella. Weaknesses: Sometimes mixes it up more than he should. What’s next? Takes on Aaron Pryor Jr. (15-2) in a 10-round main event Jan. 14 on ESPN2.
ISMAYL SILLAKH Weight class: light heavyweight Age: 25 Record: 14-0 (12) The skinny: Former amateur star from Ukraine exceeded expectations by blasting battle-tested veteran Daniel Judah in two rounds on the televised undercard of the Bernard Hopkins-Roy Jones Jr. PPV on April 3. The rangy Southern California-based boxer-puncher dazzled observers with his fluid jab, accurate combination punching and devastating body attack. Strengths: International amateur experience, height and reach, speed, power, maturity, confidence, sharp jab, combination punching, managed by Ivaylo Gotzev. Weaknesses: Has yet to show any in the pro ranks, could use more exposure on U.S. television. What’s next? Scheduled to face fellow advanced prospect Yordanis Despaigne on March 4 on ESPN2. The winner of this fascinating matchup will be considered by some to be a legit contender.
ANTWONE SMITH Weight class: welterweight Age: 23 Record: 19-2-1 (11) The skinny: Skilled Miami native suffered major setback when he foolishly fought while ill and was stopped in the ninth round by veteran Lanardo Tyner on ShoBox last July. However, one loss should not erase the impressive showings Smith had during a three-year, 14-bout unbeaten streak. Victories over undefeated Norberto Gonzalez (UD 8), fringe contender Richard Gutierrez (UD 10) and fellow prospect Henry Crawford (TKO 9) in 2009 proved he’s special. The loss to Tyner simply proved he’s human and can have a bad night. Strengths: Crafty style, economical combination and counter punching, infighting ability, guts, promoted by DiBella. Weaknesses: Overconfidenc, immaturity (didn’t tell his promoter or management that he had been violently ill the week of the Tyner fight). What’s next? A stay-busy fight on the Rodriguez-Pryor undercard Jan. 14.
Part two of this three-part article will examine the top intermediate-level prospects.