Prospects: Five times I was right and five times I was wrong over five years
Nothing excites like burgeoning talent, nor is anything as depressing in sports as unmet expectations. There is a reason Nostradamus is famous; foretelling the future is impossible in a sport as volatile, unpredictable and full of Machiavellian intrigue as boxing. So, much like an insider stock market tip, I get an especially fulfilling sense of satisfaction when a boxer in whom I held faith makes good. The opposite is, of course, true when the fighter I shouted out as the next great thing hits a wall. Particularly at the onset of a career, there is reputational risk in openly backing a boxer or proclaiming him as the truth, especially since a boxer is subject to human foibles, which a writer cannot be aware of unless he has grown up with or spends extraordinary amounts of time with his subject at the gym. Not to mention that managerial machinations, on which entire career paths can hinge because of inactivity or inability to get big fights or sanctioning body rankings, can play as much of a role in a boxer’s trajectory as talent.
With those thoughts in mind, I ventured back for a balanced look at 10 boxers I touted as future champions and, beyond that, potential stars who could cast the yoke of alphabet titlist aside to become a singular force such as a Manny Pacquiao, Gennady Golovkin or Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. I chose five who delivered on their potential and five who did not meet lofty levels I foresaw. This is not to say they were failures. Given the toughness of the sport, reaching the top is reserved for the few, even in this era of multiple champions and expanded weight classes. Importantly, every word was written before any of these boxers fought for a world title and since the inception of UCNLive. For every boxer, I pulled a pertinent quote from myself, which varies from spot-on to spotty.
The Fab Five
1. Anthony Joshua – I said of Joshua three years ago, “The Olympic gold medalist has the size (6-foot-6, 235 pounds) plus pedigree and impresses with mature responses during interviews that remind of Wladimir Klitschko’s even keel approach to the sport. England may have found its perfect heavyweight in Anthony Joshua, a boxer who could combine the boxing ability of Lennox Lewis with the affability of beloved Frank Bruno. Joshua has only been boxing for six years, starting late at age 18 but is not intimated by that and reportedly did very well, when invited to spar Wladimir Klitschko a couple months ago. At 25, has plenty of time to improve and his promoters are readying him to swoop in and reclaim British dominance, once Wladimir Klitschko retires.” It turns out Joshua did not wait for Klitschko to retire but probably retired him!
2. Oleksandr Usyk – In 2014, I said of Usyk, “A scary SOB in the ring, stopping all six of his pro foes in ruthless fashion. Usyk is a two-time Olympian for Ukraine, returning home with the gold in 2012 and was quickly signed by the Klitschkos’ promotional team. Record of 335-15 in amateurs speaks to his abilities and there are brute force and aggression behind those numbers that is hard to measure but certain to gain him American fans. Goes to body and head in the same determined fashion and, because punches come from southpaw stance, they lend the added impact of incalculability. Already scheduled for a 12-round fight but so far, no one been able to take Usyk past nine rounds. At 27, is in near physical prime and should be a force for years to come.” Usyk has not delivered yet in terms of pure excitement, often starting slow before enveloping foes with debilitating onslaughts late, but he is the best cruiserweight in the world, having yet to be tested in a meaningful way.
3. Gervonta Davis – In my 2015 yearly preview, I wrote of Davis, “Baltimore’s Gervonta Davis is blessed with speed that is translating in fight-stopping power and everything is amplified to higher degree, given it is delivered from a southpaw stance. Made a name for himself in sparring circles, giving as good as he got against Adrien Broner and shared the ring with Floyd Mayweather Jr. in his camp on multiple occasions. Still only 21 years old, he has knocked out 13 of 14 foes, including former champion Cristobal Cruz, who is renowned for his toughness. Signed up with Al Haymon last year as well, so a path to the title is laid for two-fisted puncher to achieve his dreams, if Davis continues to work hard (commend him for going back to high school to get a regular diploma) and accept lessons, as has been his tendency to date.” In his last two fights, Davis has elevated himself from opening act to worldwide headliner, stamping his dominance by traveling to England and knocking out Liam Walsh to retain his WBO title. Will probably headline a Showtime or HBO main event this year and may even get a shot at superstar Vasyl Lomachenko.
4. Jermell Charlo – Some thought his brother Jermall was the more well-rounded of the duo and, while both became world titleholders, I found Jermell more scintillating in a 2014 preview. “Texan has great mix of athleticism and ingrained boxing intuition, only developed by taking up boxing before his teens. Charlo grew up in a boxing family (his father was a pro), boxing by age nine, ending his amateur stint with a 56-8 record and representing America in international bouts. Charlo sports two-fisted power, using both to punch opponents into inaction with creative combinations. Described his style to writer Jon Reynoso, “Whenever I’m the ring, I always make sure that my fans are enjoying it and being entertained by me. My style is more about technique but I still go in like a bull when I want. I keep things different, so my opponents don’t know what to expect for the remaining rounds.” Aspired to become a pastor early in life but if Charlo develops into the fighter many think he can be, his opponents won’t have a prayer.
5. Kosei Tanaka – Not enough attention is paid to the thriving and exciting boxing scene in Asia, so was glad to shout out a talented young Japanese boxer like Tanaka in 2014. “Over the last four years, Japan has really pushed talented young boxers like Naoya Inoue, Kazuto Ioka and Tomoki Kameda (with varying degrees of success) into world title shots or put them in bouts where they looked overmatched, judging purely by numbers. Tanaka is next in that lineage; in his fourth fight, Tanaka bested fellow unbeaten prospect Ryuji Hara (then 17-0) to earn a spot in the WBA and WBC’s Top 10 rankings. Is only 19 and sports solid amateur credentials, reaching the medal rounds in several international youth tournaments. YouTube footage reveals a stirring combination of speed and power, darting in behind a blindingly strong jab to deliver accurate and well-timed hooks. Tanaka may get a title shot in December of 2015 and, if he does, my pick for (Wanheng) Menayothin to retain his title will not pan out.” At age 21, in only nine fights no less, Tanaka has already won world titles in two divisions and has not dodged a tough champion or challenger in the process!
The Five Flubs
1. Thomas Williams Jr. – When looking at the makeup of a boxer, I give a lot of weight to their growing up in the sport. I believe it is a big blessing but not all are able to call upon that edge when they run into trouble against more experienced foes. “The son of a journeyman heavyweight, Williams was raised in the sport and understands that the strong-willed succeed. Saw what it takes to become a champion, sparring with ill-fated Paul Williams, and no one doubts his physical tools or all-around skill set. Possesses the type of ring calm that only comes from growing up in a gym, understanding when to push advantages or withdraw to find new angles of attack. In an aging division, Williams represents the shot of youth it needs and has the type of power and presence to press the best now. The way Williams stopped usually durable Enrique Ornelas was impressive, showing power and accuracy behind a stiff jab and quality defensive reflexes while not allowing Ornelas any offensive opening. More aggressive and straight ahead than a majority of southpaws, Williams wants to test the aging Gabriel Campillo with his power.” Turns out Campillo, who was behind on the cards, stopped Williams and may have destroyed his confidence, since Williams went on to lose two more bouts when stepping up against top-level foes.
2. Karl Dargan – Another boxer who grew up within the sport but, looking back on this choice, it may have been a case of boxing burnout and not a lack of world-class talent. “Once you get Dargan inside a boxing ring, there is precious little not to enjoy or appreciate. It is unusual – outside of the heavyweight division – to call a 29-year-old boxer who has thrived in and survived the famed Philly gym wars a prospect, especially since Dargan has been in the gym since age seven, growing up as a person and boxer under the tutelage of his uncle and respected boxing trainer Naazim Richardson. Yet, in a sense, Dargan is leaving too much of himself in the gym, sparring champions instead of preparing himself for big fights. At 5-foot-9, with a 69-inch reach, he possesses the perfect frame for a lightweight who emphasizes speed of hand and foot with a defensive elusiveness lost on many boxers of this generation. While Dargan cannot claim to be a knockout puncher, he has respectable power in both hands and keeps foes off balance by picking spots to put full leverage into a punch. Not a total counterpuncher, Dargan will walk opponents into a punch, as much as counter a miss. Intelligence is Dargan’s hallmark, though he has yet to make his mark with a win over a recognizable opponent or former champion.” Dargan lost lopsidedly in his first fight in 2015, to a competent but not extraordinary Tony Luis, and has yet to resurface at any level.
3. Ievgen Khytrov – Maybe I was over-influenced by the spate of Eastern European talent that was rising through the ranks at the time and establishing themselves as future champions. In my 2014 preview, I wrote, “The 27-year-old Ukrainian boxer-puncher beat fellow prospect Ryota Murata (Japan’s 2012 Olympic gold winner) head-to-head in amateurs, cementing my decision. A versatile boxer, Khytrov has stopped 11 of 12 foes, as a professional, and never looked fazed by anything thrown at him inside the ring. Vast amateur background, boxing since age seven (his estimated amateur resume is 450-50), gives Khytrov a solid base from which to attack at angles or, because of a mature body, can cut off the ring and storm up the middle in full attack mode. Is being compared with Golovkin but he still lacks Golovkin’s patience and accuracy. Questions about his stamina have been answered by scoring a couple of eighth round stoppages, aided by Khytrov finding holes in his opposition, as the fights evolved. Poland’s Kamil Szeremeta, American prospect Hugo Centeno Jr., Arif Magomedov, Tureano Johnson and Dominic Wade were also considered but Khytrov’s intangibles drew me to him.” I don’t want to pour dirt on his career after only one loss, but Khytrov looked lost when faced with the power of previously unknown Immanuwel Aleem, who knocked Khytrov down twice in a dominant, six-round stoppage. At 28, Khytrov can still rebound but it seems he is as likely to fall to power as to win by his own power shots.
4. Sadam Ali – Being unique, whether of heritage or skill set, has attracted my attention in the past and may sometimes blind me to limitations of a subject. “Born in Brooklyn, Ali is a proud, first-generation American raised by Yemeni-immigrant parents with four sisters and a brother. Spurred into action by the visage of Naseem Hamed, Ali excelled at the Bed-Stuy Boxing Club, earning the gym two prestigious New York City Golden Gloves titles. He found success on the national level as well, winning a Junior Olympics medal, one National PAL and two National Golden Gloves titles before claiming a bronze medal at the World Amateur Championships. A trait Sadam Ali shares with Naseem Hamed is unshakable self-belief. When faced with contract offers from promoters he deemed unsuitable, Ali rejected them instead of “settling” in his first act as a professional boxer. Ali decided to remain a free agent and build up a respectable record, appearing as a special attraction on cards from Main Events and other area promoters, who hoped to eventually sign him.” Has rebounded with two victories after losing by TKO to Jessie Vargas but was not able to use his vast amateur experience or instincts to extricate himself from perilous situations as I envisioned. This is critical, as Ali is not blessed with great speed or power.
5. Dmitry Chudinov – Thankfully, I did give myself some leeway with Chudinov, three years ago, pointing out his temperamental nature in terms of looking fantastic or average inside the ropes. “Erratic Russian can be brilliant or pedestrian, often in the same fight but has indisputable skills and ring intellect, when properly focused. Made a name for himself sparring Mexican toughmen Alfredo Angulo and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. on equal terms, which is not a surprise, given his excellent amateur background and stocky physical dimensions. Came of age in 2014, besting fellow young gun Patrick Nielsen and veteran Mehdi Bouadla but needs to fight more often, entering his best athletic period at age 28. As far as weaknesses, ideally would be a bit faster in hand speed department and rarely focuses on defense, allowing himself to be drawn into needless battles, given his amateur credentials and sense of distance.” After writing this, Chudinov was stopped in the 12th round by Chris Eubank Jr. in a tough fight that looks to have ruined him mentally, as Chudinov has yet to step up against another tough foe, despite fighting – and winning – six times.