ShoBox: Four more aim to score tonight
When it comes to unearthing exciting new talent, no boxing series measures up to “ShoBox: The New Generation.” The Showtime mainstay has been masterful and successful, with over 70 current and former world champions making their first impressions on the platform. Their blueprint is simple: Match top young prospects against each other or put a prospect in against an established veteran, who will test their skills and mettle. Last week, Sergey Lipinets became the 73rd ShoBox alum to win a world title belt. Their roll call of champions presents a mix of styles like Ricky Hatton, Andre Ward, Deontay Wilder, Juan Manuel Lopez, Errol Spence Jr., Carl Froch and Guillermo Rigondeaux. Last year alone, eight ShoBox alums became world champions, while its matchmaking handed a first loss to over 150 prospects since 2001. ShoBox is a great barometer of talent and, on Friday’s quadrupleheader (10 p.m. ET/PT), four more boxers take the first step in a progression that could lead to a world title.
The foursome should be pleased with the Showtime exposure, since victory on the ShoBox platform is a solid predictor of future success. For the purposes of this article, I give an opinion and evaluation on all eight participants and if I see titles in their future. Listing them in current prospect order, we start with the B-side of the fights for now and work our way up to the heavier-hyped entrants.
Roque Zapata, 4-1-3 – I have seen two Zapata bouts on YouTube and am otherwise reliant on his BoxRec.com resume to fill in the blanks, which is not overly impressive, in terms of winning percentage. However give credit to Zapata for facing very good opposition. The Panamanian makes the grade for ShoBox because he bested three undefeated foes and his only loss was against quick-fisted Amonte Eberhardt by decision. Likes to come forward and pressure but Zapata does not have enough zip on his punches to hurt someone with one shot. Zapata is competent but lacks size at 5-foot-6 and, judging by his film, the hand speed to keep up with a talent like Charles Conwell.
Titleholder potential: 1%
Fred Latham, 9-0-2 (5) – American heavyweights, aside from notable exception WBC titlist Deontay Wilder, have not exactly set the boxing world ablaze. The 27-year-old Latham is small for the division, at 6-foot-2 and around 240 pounds, a much too heavily bulked-up cruiserweight, but, in his most recent outing, Latham fought to a respectable 10-round draw with much more experienced (and 52 pounds heavier!) Alonzo Butler. Likes to counterpunch or make his opponent come to him and is in his physical prime, displaying decent reflexes. Looks relaxed inside the ring, not a lot of unnecessary foot movement, and uses his jab more as a deterrent than weapon. Should not be overawed by the occasion, having sparred with Roy Jones Jr. regularly and he comes from boxing family with his father still training him.
Titleholder potential: 3 to 5%
Janer Gonzalez, 19-0-1 (15) – Like many Colombians, Gonzalez comes to America with an impressive knockout percentage, in the 70s. However, once Colombians exit their border, that percentage drops precipitously and, in Gonzalez’s one road win, in Mexico, he could not stop a 13-31-4 foe. I have not seen any film of Gonzalez (except for sparring footage) and his BoxRec.com resume is dotted with opponents who usually enter the ring against him of the back of multiple losses. A member of the Colombian national amateur team, claiming an impressive 291-29 record, but Gonzalez never took a top spot at an elite tourney. Hired Ruben Guerrero as his trainer last month and seems motivated, “I grew up watching all of my favorite boxers fighting in the U.S. and now it’s my turn. I was ready to give up on boxing when an opportunity just came my way. I had a long layoff (two years) but I needed it. It has made me more appreciative, more motivated. I’ve studied my opponent. I’m ready. My style will mold to his. I’ll get in his face and counterpunch. On November 10, boxing fans will see a Colombian warrior that came to America to become a legend.”
Titleholder potential: 5 to 8%
Junior Fa, 12-0 (7) – New Zealand native has potential, that Fa showed in the amateurs by twice besting current WBO heavyweight champion Joseph Parker. Has stopped seven of 12 opponents and, at 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds, sports good size for the division. However, that is not finely chiseled muscle and Fa would need to drop 20 pounds to be in optimal shape. The 27-year-old will come in with fresh confidence, recently completing a stint as sparring partner for IBF/WBA heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. Boxing since age 16, Fa won a bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games, in which his nimble feet showed well. Like most prospects, lacks upper body movement and coasts in some rounds. Likes to throw punches in spurts, otherwise showing a tendency to stiff arm more than snap a jab and his accuracy seems above average. Fa won’t do damage with one shot but varies his punch selection, throwing well from the front or back foot. Signed a three-year promotional contract with Lou DiBella this year, so Fa should get regular and televised work in America.
Titleholder potential: 20%
Yuandale Evans, 19-1 (14) – Cleveland product was an up-and-coming prospect but was viciously knocked out by future WBA 130-pound titlist Javier Fortuna five-and-a-half years ago. That sole defeat kept Evans away from the ring for three years. Has won three straight since returning, with the most impressive a wide 10-round decision over Aussie contender Billel Dib. Still has potential at 28 and “Money Shot” has premonitory instincts which complement his speed, solid power and reflexes that combined to score 14 stoppages in 19 wins. Evans began boxing at age 11, estimating his record at 147-13, a mainstay at national tourneys, making it to multiple PAL and Golden Gloves medal rounds. Sometimes explodes with punches out of a crouch, throwing a short right cross, instead of jabbing with the lead hand. Does a lot of jumping in, which leads to headbutts, but conversely stays on top of foes with pressure. Seen good champions up close, sparring with Guillermo Rigondeaux and Chris John. If Evans has totally refocused, he can overcome his bitter loss and this is a test that will tell exactly where Evans’ head is.
Titleholder potential: 30 to 35%
Luis Rosa, 23-0 (11) – Boxing is the focal point and family business of the Rosa clan. Luis is trained by father Luis Sr. and managed by his mother Marilyn. Is on the precipice of stamping himself a title contender, though his father discouraged Luis from boxing at first. Growing up around the sport, little Luis absorbed the gym via osmosis before ever stepping in a ring. At age 10, he was allowed to lace up the gloves for the first time and has yet to stop working on the craft, feeding his addiction by training six hours a day, over three training sessions. As an amateur, won gold at the 2007 National PAL Championships, also capturing silver medals at the Ringside World Championships and U.S. Nationals. Competed for Team USA, racking up an amateur record of 95-10. Sports a 23-0 record with 11 stoppages and, at 5-foot-5, with a 65-inch reach, Rosa is a compact and brawny junior featherweight hotrod. The hotrod comparison is apt, since his big engine and wheels make Rosa difficult to pin down. He employs a deceptive, come-forward style, using swift feet to maneuver laterally in and out of skirmishes, instead of advancing in straight lines. His father molded Rosa into a high-volume tactician, who finds a weakness and works on it incessantly until the opponent falters or makes more mistakes trying to counter Rosa’s tactics.
Titleholder potential: 45%
Charles Conwell, 5-0 (5) – 2016 U.S. Olympian and Cleveland native, Charles Conwell looks to keep that knockout streak intact in his hometown debut. In the amateurs, Conwell went 134-14, a National Golden Gloves Champion in 2015 and a 2016 U.S. Olympian, although losing in the first round of the Olympics in Rio De Janeiro. Conwell has been busy, since turning pro last year, having fought all five of his professional fights within the past seven months. Just turned 20 but, given Conwell’s pedigree, he has fought very weak foes in those five outings. Signed with Lou DiBella, who said, “I felt that Charles was the best fit for my company. He’s tremendously poised in the ring for his age. He has great amateur experience; he can punch. He can move; he’s multidimensional. He’s one of those rare talents.” That is not just hyperbole; watching Conwell, you can tell he has all the physical gifts, reflexes and muscle memory to rise to the top. However, like many young American prospects, Conwell’s dedication and focus might be something to worry about until he matures. Dedication does not seem to be a problem, as Conwell comes from a boxing family (his father trains him) and is a dedicated gym rat. Competed as a middleweight in amateurs but plans to cut weight with the aim of comfortably making welterweight or junior middleweight.
Titleholder potential: 40 to 45%
Radzhab Butaev, 7-0 (6) – Not every Eastern European amateur hotshot is a shoo-in for a world title, as recent cases like Ievgen Khytrov and Ismayl Sillah indicate. Butaev seems legit, compiling a 304-12 amateur record, but did suffer one defeat in the semi-pro World Series of Boxing competition to Cuban Luis Oliva. Surprised many, opting out of an opportunity to compete at the 2016 Olympics for Russia, electing to earn professional paydays, so, unlike other Eastern European stars, started a pro journey before his mid-20s. Butaev isn’t in a hurry, fighting seven times (all but one opponent had a winning record) since March of last year, but the 23-year-old is making a fast transition, in terms of activity and style. Began boxing age 10, though it did not consume Butaev, who earned two college degrees (law and physical sciences), and he has rarely lost rounds, much less fights. Lou DiBella thinks he hit the jackpot signing Butaev, doing everything short of giving him an old-school nickname like “Battling.” “Butaev has unlimited potential and I will work hard to build a path for him toward a world championship. His road to a world title will not be traditional; he is far more advanced than the average up-and-comer.” Hard to argue DiBella’s thinking; Butaev is a complete boxer-puncher, who can hit hard with either hand, finding unique ways to land his blows. He strikes at an instant, from any angle, and has shown killer instinct (six stoppages in seven fights) not toying with foes or looking to go rounds. Is charismatic in interviews, not hiding his ambition…though he states some, with a wry smile. “I demand that the world know my name and no opponent, no matter how great the challenge, will keep me from achieving my dreams.”
Titleholder potential: 50 to 55%