Speeding up the prospect process
For the most part, prospects, over the years, have started their pro careers in four-round fights, gradually working their way up to longer distances. That still happens today but a change in the way prospects are being moved seems to be happening across boxing.
A large amount of fighters making the jump to the pro game are being moved quickly; the process is being sped up. Four-round fights are often being skipped altogether and, in some cases, fighters are even debuting in fights up to eight or 10 rounds.
Perhaps nowadays many prospects have extensive experience fighting in pro-style contests without headgear in the amateurs, World Series of Boxing and AIBA Pro Boxing that make the transition to the pros much more seamless. Or it’s that many fighters from emerging countries are turning over at more advanced ages and need to be moved faster. Nonetheless, they’re ready to progress quickly and that’s the whole reason for the expedited process of their development. If the matchmakers and handlers didn’t believe the fighters were ready to be fighting longer distances early on, it wouldn’t happen on such a wide scale.
Along with the additional rounds are better and more experienced opponents than prospects would usually face so early in their careers. If a fighter has been regularly competing against top competition in the amateurs or pro-style fights like WSB and APB, they’ve been fighting regularly against opponents who are much better than those they’ll face early on as pros.
In places like the United States, Mexico, the United Kingdom and South America, young fighters still usually go the four-round route to start, whether or not they’re very accomplished amateurs. Foreign fighters who are accomplished amateurs and/or a bit older will be moved quicker but some still do a few four-round fights stateside. Younger fighters in these regions will tend to have more four-round fights to start their careers before stepping up, whereas a foreign import might do a few or none at all.
Elsewhere, four-round fights for good amateurs or accomplished fighters in other disciplines are becoming less frequent. Especially in Russia, many fighters are starting off in six-round fights and are fighting eight – or even 10 rounds – within three-to-five fights. The amateur system there and in former Soviet countries is so deep that even fighters who aren’t in the top tier of the national amateur scene are still good and experienced enough to do well as pros.
Just take a look at manager Egis Klimas’ stable and this new matchmaking philosophy is apparent. His line, “If you can’t fight today, you can’t fight tomorrow,” comes to mind when looking how his fighters are matched and moved. The same goes for Fight Promotions’ stable, which consists of Ievgen Khytrov, Sergey Derevyanchenko, Ivan Golub and others on a faster track.
In China, despite pro boxing still being in the developing stages, it’s very common for fighters – even inexperienced ones – to debut in six-round fights and then fight longer distances very early on. To take it to the extreme, Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Zhanabayev made his debut in a 10-round fight on Oct. 22 against Xing Xin Yang, who had 18 pro fights to his name with a 11-4-3 record at the time. Zhanabayev went all 10 rounds at a good pace and didn’t seem to have any stamina issues, so it’s hard to say if it were the wrong move to fight 10 rounds in his pro debut. He had over 300 amateur fights and is still 24 years old.
One difference with China is most of the fights have a different purpose than the usual scenarios. Usually promoters are building their fighters on a card and the purpose of the fight is to keep them active, get them some work and another win. What’s currently happening – and frequently – in China is promoters are putting on cards, which may have a few fighters they’re building, but the rest of the card will consist of fights without a clear A-side and B-side, often pitting fighters in the very early stages of their pro careers. In Top Rank Promotions’ “League of Fist” venture, it’s a boxing league and the Top 4 fighters from the season, in each division, go into a tournament to crown a winner. That’s building and identifying talent, as basically the cream will rise to the top. Now, League of Fist starts off fighters in four-round fights – and rightfully so, as a lot of them are very inexperienced – but the other promoters in China, who are putting on fights with more rounds early on in fighters’ careers, may have the same objective in mind, to identify talent and pursue the fighters who stand out.
Japan has always had a knack for fast-tracking fighters, even young ones. At the lighter weight classes, where there just is a lower number of active fighters around the world, talent has always been moved to world title shots quickly. Whether it’s Kazuto Ioka, Naoya Inoue or Kosei Tanaka recently, there seems to always be some young guns blazing through the pro ranks shortly after turning over. The top amateurs in Japan actually tend to stick around a lot longer, like 2012 Olympic gold medalist Ryota Murata or his teammate and bronze medalist Satoshi Shimizu, who just turned pro at 30 years old and was scheduled for eight rounds in his second pro bout. Murata is a hair’s breadth away from 31 years of age, has 12 fights, was scheduled for 10 rounds in his fourth pro fight, and his team’s goal is probably to get a world title shot in 2017.
Elsewhere, the same concept seems to be an increasing trend across boxing, no matter the origin. In the span of less than a year as a pro, Uzbekistan’s Qudratillo Abduqaxorov already racked up eight wins, with a 10-round fight scheduled for his fifth outing and going the full championship distance of 12 rounds in his eighth bout. He’s already scheduled for one more 10-rounder and two more 12-rounders, one against dangerous welterweight contender Charles Manyuchi. The Uzbek’s teammate and compatriot Azizbek Abdugofurov is 3-0 and was scheduled for 12 rounds in his third fight, with a 10-rounder and a 12 rounder already scheduled against fighters with well over 10 times as many fights. They’re fighting out in Malaysia and Singapore, of all places.
It’s clear that if a fighter’s team feels the combatant is ready for better competition and longer distance fights right away, then the handlers will waste no time. This seems to be happening very frequently nowadays but there were cases in the past of fighters deservedly being moved quickly to world title shots, like Oscar De La Hoya and Evander Holyfield, who won became titlists in 12 fights. Floyd Mayweather Jr. won a world title two years after he turned pro.
Nonetheless, the wave of fighters from former Soviet countries turning pro, especially in the USA, has changed the game to a certain degree. Prospects are being moved quicker almost everywhere. There are just a lot more fighters with deep and accomplished amateur backgrounds from other areas of the world turning pro now that, in the past, wouldn’t have.
Furthermore, the professionalization of the amateurs AIBA has implemented in the past five years means fighters are fighting a lot more like pros before they even turn pro. Promoters, managers and matchmakers around the globe seem to have taken note of that and aren’t bothering with nearly as many early, safe-learning fights.
Prospects being moved quickly seem to be part a trend that will only continue to become more common, especially as more fighters from 2016’s Olympic cycle turn pro and as more fighters gain more experience fighting in the now pro-style amateur system.
You can follow Rian Scalia on Twitter @rian5ca.