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Three Hot Prospects Poised for a Breakout Year in 2019

Matt Andrzejewski

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2019 hot prospects

THREE PUNCH COMBO — Last year Devin Haney and Teofimo Lopez had breakout performances that opened the eyes of many in the sport. They went from being considered promising prospects to potential superstars.

So which prospects in 2019 could have the breakout type years that Haney and Lopez enjoyed in 2018? Here are three names to keep an eye on.

Shohjahon Ergashev

Ergashev (pictured) is a 27-year-old, 140-pound prospect who currently holds a record of 15-0 with 14 knockouts. Sometimes glossy records are not what they seem, but that does not appear to be the case for Ergashev.

Ergashev hails from Uzbekistan and is a former member of the Uzbekistan national team having reportedly racked up over 200 wins as an amateur. He was also a four time Uzbekistan National Champion and holds an amateur win against 2016 Olympic silver medalist Shakhram Giyasov.

After Ergashev won his first six professional fights, all by knockout and all in Russia, he signed with Salita Promotions with the plan of eventually coming to the United States. Ergashev made his US debut three fights later with a second round stoppage of journeyman Marquis Hawthorne on the Jacobs-Arias undercard in New York. But it was Ergashev’s next fight on January of 2018 that opened plenty of eyes.

Ergashev was matched against Sonny Frederickson on a ShoBox card at the Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, NY. Fredrickson entered the ring with an undefeated record of 18-0 and was himself considered a solid prospect. Most ring prognosticators considered this to be a 50/50 fight. However, Ergashev dazzled that night, putting on a display showcasing both his exceptional boxing skills and punching power in stopping Fredrickson in the third round.

Ergashev would continue to be active in 2018 winning four more times with three of those wins coming by knockout. But many of these fights were not televised so he has been flying a bit under the radar.

An aggressive southpaw by nature with very fast hands, Ergashev possesses legitimate one-punch knockout power in both fists. His footwork is exceptional and he is a master of using his feet to set up angles to land pinpoint power shots on his opponents. His potential is off the charts and 2019 may be the year where Ergashev’s career heads to that next stratosphere.

Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov

Continuing with the theme of power punching aggressive southpaws from Eastern Europe, there is Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov who currently holds a record of 13-0 with 10 knockouts. Fighting out of Russia, Rakhimov fights in the 130-pound division and is coming off a strong 2018 that has him positioned to make a big move in 2019.

Rakhimov was a decorated amateur in his native Tajikistan and turned pro December of 2015.  He has fought strictly in Russia since turning pro and has not received the fanfare of many other top prospects. At age 24, he has been on somewhat of a fast track and has been getting better and better each time he has set foot in the ring.

After starting his career 11-0, Rakhimov took a leap up in class in his 12th pro fight when he faced Malcolm Klassen. A former IBF world super featherweight champion, Klassen came into the contest having won six of his last seven fights with the only loss coming by close decision to undefeated prospect Mikhail Alexeev. In what was supposed to be a test, Rakhimov dominated Klassen from the opening bell, putting the former champion down twice before stopping him in the eighth round.

Next time out, Rakhimov took an even bigger step up in class in facing former world title challenger Robinson Castellanos. Many considered this fight to be a toss-up. And it certainly appeared to be so on paper with Castellanos considered by many to still be a top 130-pound contender having come off a close technical decision loss to then undefeated 130 pound champion Jezreel Corrales. But Rakhimov absolutely destroyed Castellanos, putting him down four times before the bout was waived off in round two.

As stated, Rakhimov is an aggressive power punching southpaw. He likes to press forward working behind a stiff right jab and look to set up angles using some subtle advanced footwork to set up his power shots. Rakhimov is a committed body puncher and looks to bring his opposition’s hands down to set up openings upstairs. And the power is real in both hands. Defensively, he once had some issues but has considerably tightened things up of late. Showing a lot of improvement in 2018 with still more upside in his game, Rakhimov is a name to watch and one that may break into that next level in 2019.

Ruben Villa

While Ergashev and Rakhimov are aggressive power punchers, 15-0 featherweight prospect Ruben Villa is the opposite. A skilled technician, Villa, another southpaw, already is off to a strong start in 2019 and bigger things may soon be on the horizon.

As an amateur, Villa, 21, racked up over 150 wins as well as a pair of National Golden Gloves championships. Of note, as an amateur he scored two wins over 2016 U.S. Olympic silver medalist Shakur Stevenson.

Signed to a co-promotional deal with Banner Promotions and Thompson Boxing, Villa has been very active since turning pro in July of 2016. After finishing the second half of 2016 with three fights, Villa fought six times in 2017 and five more times in 2018.

Villa already has one fight in the books in 2019 with a dominant eight round decision win against Ruben Cervera. Cervera entered the contest with a 10-0 record with nine of those wins coming by knockout and many thought he posed a threat to Villa. But Villa handled the step up in class brilliantly, showcasing his superior boxing technique in what was his U.S. television debut (the bout was broadcast on Showtime’s ShoBox series).

Villa may not be a “sexy” pick to be a breakout star due to his slick southpaw style as well as lack of punching power but his skillset is impressive. I don’t make comparisons often but what I do see in Villa is a cross between Guillermo Rigondeaux and Paul Spadafora.

Like Rigondeaux, Villa is hard to hit clean. Also like Rigondeaux, Villa can be patient and wait for his opportunities. He is quick to pick up on his opponents weaknesses and patiently waits for moments to exploit those weaknesses while not putting himself in danger of being countered.

But like Spadafora and unlike Rigondeaux, Villa will have his moments where he becomes more aggressive. He will stand in front of his opponents baiting them to throw first. When they do, Villa is slick enough to generally avoid being hit clean in the pocket and then quickly unloads with precision combinations. It’s a risky tactic that not many in the sport have perfected but Villa has shown an ability to pull it off with his athleticism, hand speed and defensive prowess.

Villa is probably not going to score highlight reel knockouts but he can dazzle with his boxing ability. Only 21, there is still plenty of room to grow and as 2019 progresses I suspect we see a few more performances from Villa like the one that opened the year.

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Chris Arreola is Back!

Ted Sares

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Chris Arreola

Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola is an emotional and very likable guy. Over the course of his career, there have been ups and downs providing the grist for a compelling story if one were inclined to write it. He’ll kiss a beaten opponent (Joey Abell) or cry if beaten (Vitali Klitschko) and his language during a post-fight interview is, well it’s special.

After his corner stopped the fight following the 10th round with Klitschko, and with tears streaming down his cheeks, he thanked the fans (as is his wont) and later, while being interviewed in the ring, said  “F–k that, I’m coming back.”

It was his first loss after 26 straight wins out of the professional gate. For that “terrible” indiscretion, he was punished by the selectively politically correct World Boxing Council. WBC president José Sulaimán proposed a six months ban for vulgar language and the ban was approved by the WBC Board of Governors.

Arreola, who rarely uses filters, was brutally candid again after his first round KO over Erik Molina in 2012. The Nightmare cut loose on Don King, Molina’s promoter, calling him a “f—ing a–hole and a racist,” causing Showtime’s Jim Gray to  terminate the post-fight interview forthwith. “Honestly Don King called me a wetback, and other Mexicans,” Arreola told Fightnews.com. “That’s a strong word. It’s like me dropping N bombs. You don’t say things like that.”

No ban this time.

Arreola’s weight varies but when he is fit and ready (and under 250), he is a very dangerous heavyweight, especially in the early rounds. Once he has his opponent hurt, there are few boxers who can close as well as this Southern California Mexican American tough guy who was an accomplished amateur fighter and knows his way around the ring.

His level of opposition has been stiff. In fact, his five losses have been to fighters who have held world titles at one time or another. Bermane Stiverne had Chris’s number and beat him twice—the second time by way of a nasty knockout. However, he has a number of solid wins over the likes of Malcom Tann, Chazz Witherspoon, Travis Walker, Jameel McCline, Brian Minto, Curtis Harper –yes, that Curtis Harper who gave Chris all he could handle — and many others who came in with fine records. His first round blowout of once promising Seth Mitchell was quintessential Arreola. Mitchell retired after the fight.

In July 2016, The Nightmare was stopped by Deontay Wilder in yet another title bid but he did not disgrace himself. He then took off for over two years to assess whether he wanted to continue. Boxing fans pretty much forgot about him. Few took notice when he came back to stop the very stoppable Maurenzo Smith on the Wilder-Fury undercard on Dec. 1 of last year.

Fast Forward

Last weekend, on the undercard of the huge Errol Spence Jr. vs. Mikey Garcia PPV fight in Dallas, “The Nightmare” was matched against unbeaten but unheralded Jean Pierre Augustin (17-0-1).

Chris, now 38, came in at a svelte 237 pounds and looked fit and ready to go. The weary look on Augustin’s face during the announcement said it all. True to form, Arreola was in blowout mode and stopped the Haitian who simply was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Arreola wobbled Augustin with a brutally hard jab that connected flush to his face in the third round. After more heavy shots, a bloodied Augustin went down and upon getting up, was battered until the referee halted matters. Chris closed things like he had done on so many other occasions and in front of millions of fans tuning in around the world.

With a female interviewer, the elated “Nightmare” was polite during the post-fight ceremonies and, holding his daughter, signaled that he is BACK! That’s good news for boxing fans because when Chris Arreola is fit and focused, he is entertaining and very competitive.

With a current record of 38-5-1 with 2 ND (the “no-contests” resulting from Chris‘s apparent affinity for non-medicinal marijuana), a fight with someone like Adam Kownacki would be a boxing fan’s dream.

Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and Strongman competitors and plans to compete in at least three events in 2019. He is a lifetime member of Ring 10, and a member of Ring 4 and its Boxing Hall of Fame. He also is an Auxiliary Member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA).

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Nobody Wants to Fight Dillian Whyte

Kelsey McCarson

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Dillian Whyte

Dillian Whyte is one of the most dangerous fighters in the world. The 30-year-old is a former British heavyweight titleholder, a former kickboxing prodigy and an undefeated mixed martial artist. Overall, Whyte’s professional fighting record is a sterling 46-2. He’s 25-1 as a boxer, 20-1 as a K1 kickboxer and 1-0 as an MMA fighter.

So while the battle rages on between various television networks and streaming platforms over securing the top talent in the heavyweight division, one that includes Tyson Fury signing a multi-fight deal with ESPN and Deontay Wilder reportedly mulling over his future with PBC, perhaps something just as important right now is that the single most dangerous and deserved heavyweight contender in the world remains without a dance partner for his next fight.

Never mind Whyte being the No. 1 ranked contender by the World Boxing Council. That sanctioning body instead deemed Dominic Breazeale the mandatory challenger to Wilder’s WBC title after the potential rematch between Wilder and Fury fell by the wayside.

Here’s all that needs to be said about that grift. Breazeale only had to defeat Eric Molina to get his mandatory title shot while the WBC wanted Whyte to face Cuban southpaw Luis Ortiz, one of the top heavyweights in the sport.

And nobody seems to care that Whyte gave unified heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua the toughest test of his career (this side of Wladimir Klitschko anyway), when the two squared off in 2015 for the British and Commonwealth titles. Despite the obvious talent gap between the two fighters, Whyte gave the young Joshua just about all the former Olympic champion could handle in a seven-round war.

To hear Whyte tell the story, promoter Eddie Hearn must have intentionally lowballed Whyte for the proposed 2019 rematch in order to ensure Joshua could invade America on June 1 against the likely less dangerous Jarrell Miller. That makes sense for Joshua from a monetary perspective, but it doesn’t do the same in terms of true competitiveness.

According to various reports, Whyte is currently considering a multi-fight deal to appear on ESPN, a move that would give the British battler a path to facing Fury who some consider the lineal heavyweight champion. Fury recently signed a multi-fight deal to be co-promoted by Bob Arum for appearances on the U.S.-based television network ESPN. It’s the move that shelved a potential Wilder rematch and also opened up a huge can of worms in regards to what kinds of fights Fury might actually be able to secure. Currently, the Top Rank-promoted stable of heavyweights is best characterized by fighters who don’t really move the needle in regards to title challenges, fighters like Oscar Rivas, Bryant Jennings and Kubrat Pulev.

Overall, though, the main problem about the heavyweight landscape is that there are three heavyweights who all have a claim to being heavyweight champion. IBF, WBA and WBO champion Joshua is promoted by Hearn and exclusive to DAZN. WBC champ Wilder is attached to the PBC whose television partnerships include Showtime and Fox. Fury is set to embark on his own ESPN crusade. Long story short, these guys probably aren’t fighting each other anytime soon.

Worse is that while all three men are in desperate need of viable opponents, none have seemed all that interested in tussling with Whyte.

It’s no wonder. As good as Whyte has been over the course of his 7-year professional boxing career, the scariest thing about the fighter is that he always seems to be getting better. In his last two fights, Whyte outfought talented former titleholder Joseph Parker and knocked out gritty UK heavyweight Dereck Chisora. In defeating Parker, Whyte was facing someone absolutely in need of a win to maintain his status among heavyweight contenders. In beating Chisora, Whyte was in tough against an opponent he had only defeated by split-decision two years prior. Both wins illustrate just how far Whyte has come as a professional prizefighter.

As it stands, Whyte is the clear top contender among all heavyweights, especially among those who have not yet been granted a shot at a world title. He’s ranked No. 4 behind Joshua, Fury and Wilder by The Ring magazine and the same by the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.

The only question that remains is which title claimant will prove the toughest holdout. Whyte’s ultimate choice, in whether to stick with promoter Hearn on DAZN, link up with Arum and ESPN or continue playing the WBC shell game, will probably end up being tied to which path gets him the title shot that he so desperately craves first.

And it absolutely should happen. It’s one thing to crave title opportunities and another to have earned them. Whyte’s done both now, and it’s time for boxing fans and the media to take notice. Better yet, it’s time for Joshua, Fury and Wilder to pit themselves against their most dangerous competition. Since they’re not facing each other, Whyte become the next logical choice for any or all of them.

Because Dillian Whyte is one of the best heavyweight boxers in the world, and he’s done enough by now to warrant the chance to prove it.

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The Hauser Report: St. Patrick’s Day at Madison Square Garden

Thomas Hauser

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Conlan

Boxing’s three “major leagues” showed their respective wares this past weekend. On Friday night, DAZN presented a nine-bout card in conjunction with Matchroom USA. On Saturday, Fox and Premier Boxing champions teamed up for the Errol Spence vs. Mikey Garcia pay-per-view event. Then, on Sunday, ESPN and Top Rank had their turn in the form of a St. Patrick’s Day card at Madison Square Garden headed by Belfast native and former Olympian Michael Conlan.

The star of the show was St. Patrick, the fifth-century saint widely credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland. In his honor, there were three Irishmen on the card: Conlan, flyweight Paddy Barnes, and welterweight Lee Reeves. That said; there was a Hispanic flavor to the proceedings. The sixteen combatants included Eduardo Torres, Victor Rosas, Juan Tapia, Ricardo Maldonado, Adriano Ramirez, Oscar Mojica, Joseph Adorno, John Bauza, Luis Collazo, Ruben Garcia Hernandez, and two Vargases (Josue and Samuel).

Irish-Americans have a record of supporting Irish fighters, particularly on St. Patrick’s Day. This was no exception. The announced crowd of 3,712 arrived early. During the final pre-fight press conference, Top Rank president Todd duBoef had paid homage to the fans, although he did voice the view that, on St. Patrick’s Day, “Their cognitive behavior is manipulated by the beer.”

On fight night, the in-arena music was chosen accordingly. What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor? was played twice over the Hulu Theater sound system.

There was also green lighting.

Lee Reeves (2-0, 2 KOs) of Limerick, Ireland, opened the show with a four-round decision over Edward Torres.

In the third bout of the evening, Vladimir Nikitin (2-0, 0 KOs) won a majority decision over Juan Tapia. Nikitin defeated Conlan in the quarter-finals at the 2016 Olympics. Presumably, they’ll fight again at a time of maximum opportunity for Conlan.

Flyweight Paddy Barnes (5-1, 1 KO) of Belfast was a teammate of Conlan’s at the 2016 Olympics but lost in the first round to Spain’s Samuel Carmona. On St. Patrick’s Day, Barnes was matched against Oscar Mojica (11-5-1), who had one career knockout and had gone 3-5-1 in his previous nine outings.

Mojica broke Barnes’s nose in round one and knocked him down with a body shot in the second stanza (although to the mystification of those in the press section, referee Danny Schiavone waved off the knockdown). It was a spirited outing in which both men were too easy to hit for their own good. Barnes rallied nicely in the second half of the bout and arguably did enough to win the decision. But two of the three judges thought otherwise, leading to a 58-56, 58-56, 56-58 verdict in Mojica’s favor.

In the next-to-last fight of the evening, Luis Collazo (38-7, 20 KOs) took on Samuel Vargas (30-4-2, 14 KOs).

Collazo now 37 years old, reigned briefly as WBA welterweight champion twelve years ago. Since then, he had cobbled together twelve victories (an average of one per year) against six losses in eighteen fights. Vargas had one win in his previous three outings and has never been able to get the “W” against a name opponent.

It was a phone booth fight, which worked to Collazo’s advantage because Luis’s legs aren’t what they once were. The decision could have gone either way. Two judges scored the bout 96-94; one for Collazo and the other for Vargas. Frank Lombardi turned in a wide-of-the-mark 98-92 scorecard in Collazo’s favor.

Then it was time for the main event.

Conlan (10-0, 6 KOs) is best known to boxing fans for having given the finger (two middle fingers, actually) to the judges after coming out on the short end of a decision in the second round of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. His skill set is better suited to the amateur than professional ranks. But his Irish heritage is a significant marketing plus. And Top Rank specializes in both savvy matchmaking and building narratives.

This was the third consecutive year that Conlan, now a featherweight, celebrated St. Patrick’s Day weekend by fighting at Madison Square Garden. His ringwalk was marked by Irish-themed pageantry. And Ruben Garcia Hernandez, his opponent, was tailor-made for him.

Conlon controlled the fight with his jab. Nothing much else happened. “Mick” emerged victorious 100-90 on all three judges’ scorecards. And the fans went home happy because their man won.

*     *     *

The sad news that New York Mets pitching great Tom Seaver is suffering from dementia and will retire from public life is a reminder that all people from all walks of life are susceptible to the condition, not just fighters.

Seaver was on the list of A+ athletes who rose to prominence in the 1960s when advances in television were redefining the sports experience. Muhammad Ali was at the top of that list. Years ago, sportswriter Dick Schaap told me about an evening he spent with Ali and Seaver.

“In 1969, the year the Mets won their first World Series,”Schaap reminisced, “I spent the last few days of the regular season with the team in Chicago. Ali was living there at the time. I was writing a book with Tom Seaver, and the three of us went out to dinner together. We met at a restaurant called The Red Carpet. I made the introductions. And of course, this was the year that Tom Seaver was Mr. Baseball, maybe even Mr. America. Ali and Tom got along fine. They really hit it off together. And after about half an hour, Ali in all seriousness turned to Seaver and said, ‘You know, you’re a nice fellow. Which paper do you write for?’”

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Protect Yourself at All Times – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

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