When ‘The Next’ wasn’t
It is easy to fall into the trap of comparing a rising athlete to a legend or even recently established great; this was recently done to an excess by the ESPN boxing crew (most notably Mark Krieger and Tim Bradley) with IBF junior bantamweight titlist Jerwin Ancajas. To do so is a fallacy because icons walk a special path and their uniqueness is what makes them great. This is why I was particularly annoyed with the ESPN crew incessantly pushing a narrative linking eight-division champion Manny Pacquiao and his countryman Ancajas, last Saturday. It is unnecessary hyperbole and pressure; even if Ancajas were to achieve half as much as Pacquiao, he would be a respected world champion. So I am going the other direction, pointing out cases in which comparisons were made that fell short because of unreasonably high expectations.
Some of these boxers had fine careers, making good money, getting title shots and television appearances. They only suffered by comparison, really. Reasons for a fighter’s lack of progression can be nebulous but, in every case, a key ingredient that could have been the ticket for that boxer to become great was unused or overlooked. I have my list of boxers that I thought were headed toward stardom, as I am sure you do, but limited myself to pugilists within the last two-and-a-half decades. These 10 individuals have achieved varying degrees of fame and success, with some even gaining recognition as titleholders.
Francisco Bojado – Marketed by Showtime as everything from the next Roberto Duran to a Hispanic Sugar Ray Leonard given his combination, of danger and a winning smile. Yes, we got that carried away but “Panchito” entered the ring with that kind of charisma and he had an amateur background (168-15, with 85 stoppages) to assume there was a payoff at the end. With his aggressive style, killer instinct, swarthy good looks and cold, black eyes, this former Olympian seemingly had everything. The youngster was matched tough but stopped his first nine opponents, including 34-8-1 former title challenger Mauro Lucero. Bojado lost his 10th fight to good but not outstanding Juan Rubio and even THE RING Magazine said this 9-0 fighter’s loss deserved “Upset of the Year,” for 2002. Because of Bojado’s bravura, he was quickly forgiven and pushed back on TV, scoring seven wins and avenging his loss. Then Bojado lost a split decision to former champion Jesse James Leija and, after a nearly three-year break from boxing failed to defeat another former champion, Steve Forbes. That pushed Bojado into retirement in 2007, from which he never emerged. This is probably a case of pressure burnout, from which expectations weighed on Bojado too much to overcome.
Harry Simon – Namibian phenom was an intuitive boxer, good enough to defeat Winky Wright in only his 17th pro bout, earning Simon comparisons to Ike Quartey and Azumah Nelson. A prodigious amateur, Simon reportedly had a 273-2 record and sported undeniable skills that elevated him to the No. 2 position behind Bernard Hopkins, at middleweight. Turned pro in South Africa, under the tutelage of Hall-of-Famer Brian Mitchell, and, like his road warrior trainer, won fights in England, Canada, Puerto Rico, Ireland, Kenya and Denmark. In fact, Simon is still undefeated sporting a 30-0 (22) record, but will probably never fight in Europe or America because of his actions outside the ring. In 2002, Simon was jailed for five years after killing three people (two adults and a baby) in an alcohol (blood samples taken from Simon vanished from Namibian Police vaults) and speed-induced car accident of his doing. I read but could not confirm that Simon had reportedly been involved in a prior car crash, which killed two other people. Simon is in his early forties now but reportedly still trains in London and Namibia and has not fought outside of Africa after his incarceration. Lack of maturity never hurt Simon, a former two-division titleholder, in the ring but it was lethal for others outside of it.
Jose Luis Lopez – His failures are not hard to figure out and prevented Lopez from becoming the bigger version of Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales insiders predicted. Lopez was simply not dedicated to boxing, pursuing outside interests (a fashion line of clothing, for instance) that left him more satisfied. It explains why Lopez lost to plainly inferior boxers, aimlessly sulking around the ring only throwing punches when he felt like it. If Lopez had been as dedicated to boxing as he was to partying, we would be talking about his paydays against Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad or Fernando Vargas. Lopez’s skill level only emerged when pressed by equals; otherwise, he became bored and cruised to wins at his leisure. In classic Lopez fashion, he knocked down iron-willed Ike Quartey twice but did little work in other rounds, drawing with the champion. Then the WBO welterweight beltholder, he crushed Yori Boy Campas and twice knocked down champion James Page but, again, only punched enough to lose a split decision. Motivation and focus were lacking to complement the ability (he had natural power and a granite chin) that lay within Lopez. Maybe if “Maestrito” took some kind of attention deficit disorder medicine like Ritalin instead of his preferred marijuana, the course of welterweight history would have been different.
David Tua – Early on comparisons to Rocky Marciano abounded because of Tua’s stature and brute power. The root cause for Tua’s lack of progression as a boxer does not seem that hard to evaluate. The “Tuaman” fell in love with his power, no longer training to throw three-punch combinations, which elevated him to an exalted status in the early-1990s. Tua followed a formula which did not work against opponents of higher skill levels. Take two steps, hook, take two steps, hook, take two steps, hook; repeat for nine rounds until a punch lands. When the big punch eventually landed, Tua did use the still-present finishing skills to eke out a fortunate victory. The plan worked against the Fres Oquendos, Hasim Rahmans (once), Oleg Maskaevs and faded Michael Moorers of the world but proved folly against the best. The prime example being undisputed heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, who easily sidestepped the Samoan’s crude charges, using Tua’s head for target practice for a jab and right hand. A smaller Chris Byrd also outboxed Tua, exposing him as a plodder with no plan B. I must admit my surprise that, for all his fanfare, Tua never got a second chance to fight for a world title.
Audley Harrison – The blame in this case resides with our cousins in England, who sold Harrison as the new Lennox Lewis, given his size and marketability as an Olympic gold medalist. Harrison was said to be even better than Lewis because he had a great personality and the gift of gab…Just be glad Fleet Street stopped short of Muhammad Ali comparisons. All was going well for Harrison; he even registered victories in America, trying to generate fans on both sides of the Atlantic. It was going great until Harrison’s 20th bout, when it all came undone against Danny Williams, whose lone calling card was a win over the ghost of Mike Tyson. Just as important as that split decision loss was the fact that Harrison’s TV contract with the BBC ended in England, leaving him without a microphone. Harrison signed with Al Haymon, but continued his dissapointing ways, promptly losing in his next outing against American also-ran Dominick Guinn. Harrison never regained his mystique, nor did he register a win over any heavyweight of import. In his final outing, Harrison meekly surrendered in a first round KO loss to Deontay Wilder, in 2013.
Adrien Broner – The media is not to be held entirely accountable for this one, as Broner was the one who consistently ran his mouth in an attempt to hitch his wagon to Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s shooting star. The difference between the two is Mayweather worked harder than anyone else, while Broner’s speed and reflexes got him by until running into world-class competition. Foreboding signs were there early, as Broner skirted jail time and had issues with weight, twice losing titles on the scales. Not only that, the belts Broner did win came when the titles were vacated and he was matched with mediocre foes lined up by Al Haymon. Broner continues to devolve to this day, both in and out of the ring, making more appearances in police blotters and in unhinged social media rants than boxing magazines. Despite a string of losses, Broner continues to get television dates, since the networks know fans will tune in to watch Broner play the heel in losses.
Jeff Lacy – With the chiseled physique of a greek warrior, amateur pedigree, blazing hand-speed and Florida roots many were calling Lacy the next Roy Jones Jr. He was big, strong, appealing and liked to bang! Heck, he even had the cool “Left Hook” nickname. The problem was that Lacy was too one-dimensional and lacked Jones’ ring IQ, when faced with someone who could escape his punches and punch back. Lacy only knew how to attack in a straight line, which Hall-of-Famer Joe Calzaghe exposed with frightening ease and accuracy, over 12 humiliatingly one-sided rounds. That one fight ruined Lacy, as it exposed his flaws for the world to see and take advantage. Still Lacy retained fans because he punched with ferocious power until the very end; even if the punches did not connect they looked dangerous. Lacy never did evolve from his one-dimensional attacks or brawling tendencies and was eventually knocked down and out by the Roy Jones to whom everyone had compared Lacy, as he rose the ranks. The match-up was billed as “Hook City,” when it would have been more appropriate to call it “Shot City” instead.
Almazbek Raiymkulov – Given Asiatic features and hailing from a former state in the Soviet Union, it is not surprising that Raiymkulov would be compared to Hall-of-Famer Kostya Tszyu. Those who did their homework saw he was more like Orzubek Nazarov but no matter. The wise promotional heads at Top Rank rebranded Almazbek as “Kid Diamond,” which was greeted with loud approval by ringside broadcasters and spell-checkers. A sturdy chin, solid punch and vast amateur experience (over 300 bouts that led him to the Olympics) made Raiymkulov a tough nut to crack, as Joel Casamayor discovered in their 12-round title eliminator draw. Many, if not most, thought Raiymkulov did enough to earn a win. Even though he drew, the showing on HBO elevated Raiymkulov for a short period. However in his following bout, Nate Campbell stopped Raiymkulov in the 10th round of a fight Campbell dominated from start to finish. The zip and intensity seemed to have disappeared from Raiymkulov’s punches afterward and, after a string of victories, he suffered a stoppage loss to future champion Antonio DeMarco in 2009. At least Raiymkulov had the intelligence of a Tszyu, in terms of knowing when to call it quits, returning home, where he found success as a respected businessman.
Jonathan Gonzalez – Heavy-handed Puerto Rican boxer was ironically compared with Mexican Fernando “Feroz” Vargas, because of an aggressive temperament and layer of baby fat that disguised his strength. Since he is Puerto Rican, Gonzalez was naturally compared to Felix Trinidad too and, given an early KO streak and finishing skills that stuck more. Like Trinidad, Gonzalez scored punishing, multi-knockdown stoppages, instead of one-punch, highlight-reel victories. People bought in, which lead to Gonzalez being an HBO co-main event beside Gennady Golovkin in only his 15th fight. As an amateur, Gonzalez won silver at the Pan American Games, qualified for the World Championships and 2008 Olympics but never won a major tourney, finishing with a 132-18 record. Gonzalez lacks the eye-catching hand speed you want but had an uncanny ability to land punches, despite said lack of speed. Even so, Gonzalez remains unbeaten to this day…The problem is he has not fought since 2014. Is 29 years old now, sports an undefeated 18-0-1 (14) record but has completely fallen off the boxing grid. Given his issues with lack of dedication in training, as well as weight, Gonzalez would probably return to the ring as a heavyweight.
Ricardo Williams Jr. – Had a complete set of tools, which had many comparing Williams to Shane Mosley or the African-American De La Hoya, given his amateur pedigree, even though Williams topped out with a silver medal at the Olympics. Received a $1.4 million signing bonus from Lou DiBella before being pushed on TV and featured on other media outlets immediately. It worked fine for his first eight bouts but then Williams’ lack of motivation was revealed when he lost to journeyman Juan Valenzuela in his HBO debut. A result validated when Williams lost a dull split decision to aging Manning Galloway two bouts later, sending Willams into seclusion. After seven years, Williams’ record stood at 11-2, and that loss record did not include those suffered against law enforcement. In 2005, Williams was convicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine, serving two-and-a-half years in jail. A muscularly bloated 27-year-old Williams returned to the ring, promising a new self, but had lost his reflexes and timing. His father best described his son’s downfall, “You ever try to tell a 19-year-old millionaire what to do?” In his last significant fight, Carson Jones knocked Williams down three times, stopping him in four rounds, sending the former Olympian into the ranks of a cautionary tale.