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The Top Ten Light-Middleweights of the Decade: 2010-2019

Matt McGrain

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154lbs had a fascinating decade. The first generation that came through with Saul Alvarez and Miguel Cotto soon made way for a younger generation made up of exciting young fighters like Jarrett Hurd and Julian Williams, in some cases, in real and visceral ways, trading leather over inches of real-estate in blood-teared boxing-rings. There is much head-to-head resolution in this list, sure sign of a healthy division.

It wasn’t all fun and games though. The light-middleweight decade was also marked with dreadful scoring and one or two straight-up robberies. Like every division I’ve looked at so far, it seems to run out of locked inclusions well before we hit the last berth, which is a cause for concern.

But we do get a fascinating gallery of characters and actors which includes two pound-for-pound contenders for the decade. 154lbs has surprised me during this review, and I hope it surprises you too.

Rankings are by Ring 2010-2012 and TBRB 2013-2019.

10 – Demetrius Andrade

Peak Ranking: 3 Record for the Decade: 20-0 Ranked For: 58% of the decade.

The saddest sight from this past 154lb decade was the steady descent of Demetrius Andrade down the light-middleweight rankings as he continued to win, win, win and win in the boxing ring. The reason? Alphabet politics, specifically the level of fighter Andrade has mixed with during his pitiful WBO title run. There was a time when even an alphabet belt could only enhance a fighter’s legacy.  No longer.

Andrade, out of Rhode Island, picked that title up in 2013 in a superb performance against Vanes Martirosyan in a fight that reeked of ambition. Both Andrade and Martirosyan were unbeaten, both legitimately skilled prospects with deep amateur pedigrees. Andrade won a superb fight that began with a bang but became a little too one-sided down the stretch to be branded classic; Andrade was bizarrely awarded a split in a fight he clearly dominated.

And that is his fistic peak. Three years later he dominated and stopped Willie Nelson, the then number nine contender, and that is what qualifies as Demetrius Andrade second best win.

Also speaking for him is his unbeaten decade and a quick, clean southpaw fighting style, but our number ten is a sign of the times. I’ve almost (but not quite) talked myself into replacing him with Tony Harrison.

09 – Miguel Cotto

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 7-4 Ranked For: 52% of the decade

Is Miguel Cotto being under-represented here at number nine? Arguably, but the following needs to be considered: Firstly, Cotto fought just eleven fights in this decade. Secondly, some of these were contested at middleweight, not light-middleweight. Third, of the 154lb contests he engaged in, he lost three; finally, he beat just one ranked contender, Yuri Foreman, in a strange, badly refereed contest where Cotto brought good pressure but unquestionably benefited from a serious injury to his opponent’s knee. This contrasts with his middleweight visit where he defeated some of the best fighters of the 160lb decade.

Cotto scrapes in at nine, then, based upon his defeat of Foreman and his exquisite performance in combat with a man unranked at 154lbs but who brought with him serious pedigree from the 147lb limit he stretched his 5’11 frame over, Antonio Margarito. Cotto’s first fight with Margarito was a thing of great infamy, and no more virtual ink need be spent on it here. The rematch at light-middleweight is what interests us.

Cotto was precise and sharp throughout; Margarito, reaching. Cotto’s sensational performance needs to be balanced against Margarito’s condition, questionable after his brutal dismantling at the hands of Manny Pacquiao but it also needs to be noted that it was Cotto, not Pacquiao, who scored the stoppage.

Cotto was unquestionably a better light-middleweight than he was a middleweight, but it is also unquestionable that he achieved more in absolute terms against elite opposition at 160lbs in the decade at hand. Nine, then, is where Cotto finds himself for 2010-2019 at this weight class.

08 – Austin Trout

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 10-5-1 Ranked For: 50% of the decade

Austin Trout had a fascinating decade, but he left the numerical trunk of his career back in the 00s and an ugly close to the decade marred his paper record. Trout was defeated by both Charlo brothers and Jarrett Hurd 2016 through 2018; the new generation feasted on him.

In fact, 2012 aside, Trout did not perform as well as some may assume. That year though, was a fine one. He kicked it off with a patient, waiting performance against Delvin Rodriguez, who was at that time hanging onto his number ten ranking by his fingertips. Trout deployed his tiring, distracting southpaw jab to its usual discombobulating affect and coasted to a wide points victory. Exceptional defensively against middling handspeed (and good against fast hands), Trout was a brave choice of opponent for Miguel Cotto, coming off a thrashing at the hands of Floyd Mayweather but certainly still elite.

Trout was brilliant that night. It is perhaps the defining example of how to avoid being pinned to the ropes by a pressure fighter, not just in this weight class but in any weight class for this decade. Every time Trout felt the ropes close in behind him, he made an exit by way of feint or punch and fleet footwork. He made Cotto look ordinary and he was deserving of his majority decision victory, despite a huge swathe of tight, swing rounds.

Then he ran into Canelo Alvarez. This fight is important. Despite Trout’s seeming surety that he had lost the fight clean, it was very close; what needs to be understood is that the WBC’s insistence upon open scoring made much of the last third of the fight moot and after Alvarez won the eleventh clear, the twelfth round a redundancy. Trout could only win by a knockout he was never going to score.  That he won the fight by a single point on my card is neither here nor there.

And that leaves me with a problem. Trout, a fine fighter, who turned in one of the finest performances of the light-middleweight decade, can sit no higher than eighth. Having won two meaningful fights in 2012 he went on to lose to every ranked man he ever faced; it is natural that no fewer than four of them rank above him here.

07 Jermell Charlo

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 23-1 Ranked For: 45% of the decade

Jermell Charlo, one of a pair of fighting brothers from Texas, also ran into Vanes Martirosyan, who served as an elite gatekeeper throughout the decade. A tension-drenched contest resulted with Charlo edging a fight that could have gone any one of three ways. Jermell hasn’t been blessed with the power of his twin brother, the inconveniently named Jermall (see below) but the quickness of his jab and decent accuracy make him a difficult opponent.

Adding a deceptively stinging hook gave him the feel of a completeness in his style and Jermell capitalized on the punch against a much-faded Austin Trout, dropping him twice to squeak home on the cards. With the division at his fingertips, the capable, defensively sound Tony Harrison came calling. To be clear, Jermell deserved the nod here for me, but the surprise loss he suffered on the cards did underline some of the problems in his execution. I saw no fewer than four of the twelve rounds close and difficult to call. Jermell perhaps deserved the benefit of the doubt here (and I personally gave it to him) boxing on the front foot and landing all but one of the hard, eye-catching shots in the fight – but he also failed, perhaps, to close the show in rounds where he had an edge but an arguable edge. He allowed Harrison to wait for him and failed to capitalize on the pressure he brought to bear. Jermell’s loss to Harrison was unfortunate but it was no robbery.

Jermell put the blot right in a rematch, surging in to attack where before he had waited, willing to get hit to land a superior, tighter offense. His pressure bore fruit; Harrison was stopped on his feet in the eleventh.

Charlo stands having learned a valuable lesson and ready to take a new decade on with precision aggression; he nevertheless did enough between 2010 and 2019 to stand here on merit.

06 – Jarrett Hurd

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 23-1- Ranked For: 25% of the decade

In a division festooned with classy boxers, Jarrett Hurd assumed the status of bogeyman. Huge at the weight, strong, iron-jawed, relentless with inconveniently deceptive footwork that re-introduces him to the space of even the most fleet-footed runner or stick-and-move artist, Hurd is death on a stick for a certain type of fighter.

That type: older, some tough rounds on him, a boxer. Step forwards Austin Trout. This fight is painful to watch as the ageing Trout, never stopped before, never stopped since, is pulled by his corner late in the fight. Hurd mauled and punched him into submission until he was little more than a crouch and some pit-a-pat offense in the sphere of influence belonging to a fighter who cannot be turned around by even serious punches.

Hurd stepped out of Trout’s ring and into Erislandy Lara’s, a different matter. Their fight was fascinating and brilliant, Hurd’s ceaseless hunting and adeptness in cutting off the ring against Lara’s guile and brilliant footwork. Then Lara quit on his stick-and-move strategy and stepped into Hurd’s pocket. The Cuban proceeded to outfight his much younger, bigger, stronger opponents for long stretches.

Power is power though. A visit to the canvas in the twelfth cost Lara the fight and made Hurd the breaker-in-general of 154lb boxers.

Hurd was ranked the world’s #1 light-middleweight post-Lara and it seemed, perhaps, a period of dominance might follow. Then Hurd ran into a fighter named Julian Williams.

05 – Julian Williams

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 27-1-1 Ranked For: 50% of the decade

Julian Williams suffered a disaster in his last fight, losing his strap and number one ranking to Jeison Rosario; but that loss occurred in January of 2020. Williams, whose career entered the Covid-19 lockdown in tatters, is unaffected here by that devastating loss.

He did suffer a loss between 2010 and 2019 at light-middleweight, to Jermall Charlo who also stopped him in five back in December of 2016; his rebuild was something rather special. He summited in the final year of the decade with a victory over number one contender, Jarret Hurd.  This was a superb thinking performance from a fighter who had learned his lessons well. He out-thought Hurd on the outside, making a seeming lie of Hurd’s clear reach and height advantages to out-jab him, then out-fought him on the inside, throwing out tides of short, snappy punches that had Hurd in such serious trouble in the second that it seemed, after dropping the number one contender, he might stop him. Hurd survived to drop a clear unanimous decision.

Hurd came to that fight based primarily upon his victory over Nathaniel Gallimore, ranked six, another taller, longer fighter. This was Hurd-lite for Williams, a dress rehearsal for that excellent performance. I was saddened to see Williams stopped early in 2020, his resurgence one of the finest lo-fi stories of the decade. As to whether he deserves the number five spot for that decade, that is debatable – although certainly, battering the fighter ranked number six helps.

04 – Jermall Charlo

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 24-0 Ranked For: 20% of the decade

Trout beats Cotto, Hurd beats Trout, Williams beats Hurd and finally Jermall Charlo beats Williams.  It’s helpful in interpreting the division, these matches, and there’s been refreshing traffic between the top ten light-middleweights of the decade. Jermall departed undefeated for the middleweight division before the decade was out but despite the temporal shortage, Jermall made his mark and ranks as a “best of the rest” #4, clear water between he and the number three, but a stretch between he and #5, also.

Jermall landed in earnest as late as September 2015, obliterating storied veteran Cornelius Bundrage in four rounds. Bundrage won not a minute of a round and was yoyoed throughout. It was easy.  Bundrage was shocked by Jermall’s offensive capabilities and you could see it, especially on the third knockdown. After stopping Wilky Campfort in similar short order, Jermall fought perhaps the most important fight of his career against Austin Trout. Trout had lost to both Alvarez and Lara in short order but had since rebuilt and was once more ranked the world’s number two light-middleweight.  Jermall edged him out in a close, absorbing contest, emerging as a fighter of economy and no little power, his jab a hurtful weapon, the speed on his straight right turning it into a slashing, hurtful punch. Trout didn’t go away and, in fact, made some very exciting adjustments to test Jermall to his fullest, but it was the younger man who emerged with the victory.

Jermall then scored what, in retrospect, would seem a sensational knockout over Julian Williams and stepped up to middleweight. This leave him not beyond reproach; he departed the division at the very moment it seemed ripe for his dominance and he began mixing with top contenders only a short time before; two keystones in his resume were men past their apex in the form of Trout and on the slide in the form of Bundrage. But it must be remembered, too, that Jermall got a lot done in a short time and that he looked, for the most part, superb in doing it. He spent most of the decade at the limit and left it without loss.

03 – Erislandy Lara

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 17-3-3 Ranked For: 83% of the decade

Erislandy Lara is still ranked among the ten best fighters in the light-middleweight division, sitting pretty at number six as of April 2020. Each of these divisions has kicked up a survivor, a fighter who hangs onto his ranking by hook or by jab and who becomes a key operator for that decade. Lara is that man at 154lbs.

To be honest though, I was a little disappointed putting him under the microscope. This is a man who rarely matched ranked contenders; in fact, Lara could be comfortably placed a little lower judged purely on quality scalps. Lara’s third best win is over Yuri Foreman.

But his longevity counts for plenty here and is illustrated by the fact that the first and best big win of his career came back in 2013, a twelve round decision awarded to him over Austin Trout. Lara exposed Trout’s limitations. If you can outland him in a given round, he will lose; if you are fast, he will struggle defensively; if you are patient, he will crack, which may have been the key to Lara’s wide decision victory.

Later, in 2016, Lara matched old foe Vanes Martirosyan, a name familiar from earlier entries. Lara had been on the bad end of a technical draw against Martirosyan in 2012 in a match he dominated but he took the unanimous decision in the rematch; he rolled straight out of that contest into a fight with Yuri Foreman over whom he scored a weird knockout in four (track it down).

And that is all. Is that enough for number three? It is not.

Untold are the interesting wrinkles. In 2012 he took the enormous, the terrifying, the rather past-it Paul Williams and timed, bullied, battered and countered the bigger, stronger, longer, ever game Williams to pieces – the judges, all of whom would be suspended from the sport in the wake of their actions, scored the fight for Williams. Lara is credited for a win over Williams for the purposes of this list.

In 2014, Lara was in an excruciatingly close fight with Saul Alvarez; I had the Mexican a winner 115-113 but the average media scorecard was 114-114. This was a fight that basically failed to settle the issue between the two and Alvarez passed on a rematch.

This is enough to close the distance on and then overhaul Jermall; Lara is the third most accomplished light-middleweight of the decade. He was also the most interesting.

2 – Saul Alvarez

Peak Ranking: Ch.  Record for the Decade: 24-1-1 Ranked For: 47% of the decade

Saul Alvarez followed a much-trodden path in his approach to his divisional summit: he walked the bones of former contenders like Carlos Baldomir, Lovemore Ndou, Kermit Cintron and a faded Shane Mosley. This is good practice for a well-funded prospect, and Saul Alvarez was always that.

But while the big bucks associated with his burgeoning fame was drawing in name fighters past their best, Alvarez was also breaking contenders in more interesting fights. Ryan Rhodes was ranked number four for their 2011 encounter while Alvarez was ranked number nine. Seeing the young Mexican learn and apply what he had seen during this fight was thrilling. He picks punches with more and more confidence as the fight nears its conclusion and indeed, he would seem to improve with every fight he had at 154lbs, eventually emerging up at 160lbs as complete a version of himself as could be imagined.

Rhodes succumbed in twelve and close victories over Austin Trout and Erislandy Lara would have made him the era’s outstanding light-middleweight.

Were it not for Floyd Mayweather.

Mayweather had made himself a force in the division before his retirement in the 00s and his re-emergence saw him inevitably clash with Alvarez in 2012. That Alvarez was so thoroughly beaten by Mayweather makes it extremely difficult to place him at number one here. This is especially hard on Alvarez because he was rendered number two up at middleweight, too – and for reasons directly opposite of those expressed here. The two differences are Mayweather’s total dominance over Alvarez and the fact that Alvarez managed fewer than half the decadal contenders that Golovkin did at middleweight.

In other words, Alvarez did not do quite enough in either division to be rendered number one, but for very different reasons in each case, which is a tough break. Had he remained at 154lbs, he would have done more than enough to justify the number one slot. As it is, he’s missed out by the narrowest of margins – the type of margin by which Floyd Mayweather might slip an oncoming jab.

1 – Floyd Mayweather

Peak Ranking: Ch.  Record for the Decade: 10-0 Ranked For: 34% of the decade

Floyd Mayweather rolled back into light-middleweight in May of 2012 and made Miguel Cotto, then rated divisional number one, look like a journeyman. Cotto was never anything less than brave and in round eight he looked his sensational self, but in the eleventh and twelfth, especially, it was clear that there was at least a full class between Mayweather and Cotto.

What most impressed about this was that Cotto was a fighter made in hell for an older fighter. Fast pressure, technically sure punching, a good engine and a withering body attack are the attributes you absolutely do not want to see named in the opposite corner when you are in your fourth decade. Mayweather, who had lost a step or two, found other ways to keep his more aggressive foe under control, first among them, peerless countering abilities. Cotto did as well as any Mayweather foe of recent memory but was, in the end, left well behind.

Arguably though, Saul Alvarez was the more dangerous challenge and for the purposes of naming the number one light-middleweight of the era is obviously the key combat. Younger and in his physical prime, Alvarez was also two weight-divisions bigger on fight night, coming to the ring a super-middleweight. Mayweather looked him over and proceeded to outbox him for ten of the following twelve rounds. It was a glorified spar; it was a fighter headed for the upper echelons of the pound-for-pound list reduced to the status of a training partner. Mayweather was landing trailing uppercuts and outlanded his opponent in all but one of the twelve rounds.

It was as vivid a demonstration of one fighter’s complete superiority over another as can be imagined over twelve and leaves no doubt as to which of the two is the superior fighter. However, a counterargument to Floyd’s holding the number one slot does present itself. As a rule, before agreeing a fighter’s final slot with myself, I look at said fighter’s third best victory under the conditions described (here, light-middleweight in a given decade). The answer to that question, for Mayweather is “Conor McGregor.” That is, Floyd’s third most impressive scalp here considered is an 0-1 MMA specialist. This is unimpressive.

Given that Shane Mosley hadn’t won a fight for more than three years when Alvarez faced him, it could be reasonably argued that Alvarez’s own #3 scalp is Ryan Rhodes and, more significantly, that what Ryan Rhodes was to Saul Alvarez, Saul Alvarez was to Floyd Mayweather. That was the gap that existed between the two in the ring.

So it’s Mayweather at number one for me, not locked given that Alvarez got better and Mayweather underwhelmed with volume of victories, but as the only man to beat two number one ranked contenders in the decade and more than that, made it all look rather easy, I’m satisfied he is the right choice.

Other divisions presented even tougher choices: Heavyweight, Cruiserweight, Light-Heavyweight, Super-Middleweight and Middleweight.

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Ten Heavyweight Prospects: 2021 Catchup

Matt McGrain

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I started this series in 2018, selecting ten fascinating heavyweight prospects and committing to follow them until such time as they were eliminated or entered the Transnational Boxing Rankings and this time, we have a few.

The series was updated in the summer of 2019 and this entry was delayed due to the most severe of circumstances, the COVID-19 pandemic that prevented not just boxing but so many other aspects of life. It’s nice to be able to catch up with these men once again in what was a twenty months as incident-filled as the preceding twelve.

THE COLOSSUS: ARSLANBEK MAKHMUDOV

FROM: Russia HEIGHT: 6’5.5 WEIGHT IN SHAPE: 250lbs AGE: 31 RECORD: 11-0 with 11 KOs

The enormous Arslanbek Makhmudov has been out just three times since the summer of 2019, slow going in more ways than one. Yes, inactivity is a consequence of a global pandemic that has hampered more than the prospects of exciting boxing prospects, but the selection of Makhmudov’s opposition has remained stubbornly unambitious.

That looked momentarily set to change in September of 2019 when Julian Fernandez, then 14-1, stepped into Makhmudov’s ring. While Fernandez has certainly never beaten meaningful opposition, he had been in with meaningful opposition, stopped in two by Tom Schwartz the year before. Makhmudov, who was a clean clear winner in his usual impressive style, nevertheless for the first time came off worse in the meaningless comparisons so often thrust upon heavyweight prospects, in that he took three rounds to do what it had taken the much more experienced Schwartz just two rounds to do.

More than this, the response of collective fighting news was disinterest. The fight was neither widely reported upon nor remarked upon and nothing is more discouraging to a promotions team than that. Perhaps in an attempt to increase coverage of their prospect, promoter Camille Estephan took the well-trodden path of digging up the bones of a once notorious contender and lobbing them at his charge. Samuel Peter was the victim and Makhmudov (pictured) disposed of him in seconds. Though the fight succeeded in generating column inches, it also did nothing for Makhmudov’s learning curve.

Doubly disappointing then was his first pandemic-opponent, Dillon Carman. Having boxed even fewer rounds than Makhmudov in 2019, Carman was also coming off two quick stoppage losses. Of course, he was butchered in the first. Since, Makhmudov’s team have been calling for Joe Joyce, Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury.  That is exciting and in the case of Joyce might even be serious, though Joyce’s people will have little problem sidestepping Makhmudov, who is a massive-punching problem nobody needs. Hopefully Estephan and his team will take note of the wide open space between a fighter like Carman and a fighter like Joyce and act upon it, fast.

SIX NINE: IVAN DYCHKO

FROM: Kazakhstan HEIGHT: 6’9 WEIGHT IN SHAPE: 245lbs AGE: 30 RECORD: 9-0 with 9 KOs

Ivan Dychko is in danger of becoming a cautionary tale.

Last time we discussed the towering Kazak he had failed in a seemingly serious campaign to replace the disgraced Jarrell Miller against Anthony Joshua based upon their amateur rivalry. Having missed the boat on that chance, grabbed so forcefully by Andy Ruiz, Dychko consoled himself by fighting someone named Nate Heaven.

Heaven, who retired in 2015 and has not won a meaningful fight since April of 2014, inexplicably unretired to absorb this beating, which he did, showing bravery all the while. Dychko looked organised and quick, heavy-handed and well-organised.

Since then: nothing.

Dychko has sparred with Wladimir Klitschko and Deontay Wilder, apparently without upset. He now seems to be hocking those wares to Tyson Fury. Meanwhile, he avoids the ring entirely. Dychko looks fabulous in training footage and is still spoken of highly by those who have worked with him, but that makes his inexplicable inactivity more, not less, frustrating. It should be remembered that Dychko spent eight months doing nothing before the pandemic hit and fought six rounds in twelve months before that. Dychko is a potentially splendid fighter going very much to waste.

THE QUIET ONE: DANIEL DUBOIS

FROM: Great Britain HEIGHT: 6’5 WEIGHT IN SHAPE: 239lbs AGE: 23 RECORD: 15-1 with 14 KOs

Great Britain continues to deliver on meaningful clashes between heavyweight prospects and the past eighteen months has delivered something of a blockbuster in the shape of Daniel Dubois versus Joe Joyce.

The reason the world is more likely to contain Dychko or Makhumudov than Joyce or Dubois could not be illustrated more keenly than it is by the fallout from this fight. Dubois has been routed by both social media and boxing reporters, very much along the lines of “did he quit?” and “was he exposed?”

But when two prospects meet, of course, some shortcomings and some failings are to be revealed.  By very definition, a prospect is not a finished article. It is true, also, that there was something depressing about Daniel’s apparent inability to defend a wounded eye that came to define his fight as he was jabbed into literal submission by a tougher, technically superior, much more experienced, older boxer. Worse was that he seemed so under-prepared for a potential change in the manner in which he might defend himself. His failings were not entirely his own.

Still, aged just twenty-three and with his heavy hands confirmed by fourteen knockouts, Dubois has plenty to rebuild with, most of all keeping in mind that his hands are just tools and his plans in the ring are mostly there to be disrupted. Watching him explain openly and honestly his decision to “take the knee” despite a clear understanding of the unfortunate cultural associations with our sport that has developed around any notion of surrender has been heartening and frankly impressed me.

Perhaps this a young man who actually will “learn from a defeat” rather than merely paying it lip service. It is that opportunity and where it might lead him that convinced me to leave him on this list, and we will drop in on him next February to see what has occurred.

THE BRUTE: SERGEY KUZMIN

FROM: Russia HEIGHT: 6’3.5 WEIGHT IN SHAPE: 245lbs AGE: 33 RECORD: 15-2 with 11 KOs

Last time we spoke of Sergey Kuzmin he was 15-0; this time he is 15-2. I’ll avoid platitudes such as “it’s a long road back for the thirty-three-year-old” on this occasion and just state Kuzmin will never be champion.

The scene for his downfall straddled the continents and boxing history as he was found wanting first in the immortal Madison Square Gardens, New York, and then Wembley, London. Tough to the last, Kuzmin was stopped by neither Michael Hunter, who he met in America, nor Martin Bakole, who he met in Great Britain. On each occasion though, he was thoroughly beaten.

His Waterloo came in the fifth against Hunter. Hunter, who had been making all the running, flashed Kuzmin in the fifth with an unexpected cannonball left. Generous onlookers may have found two rounds for the Russian but it was clear he did not belong in the ring with a fighter as good as Hunter. As if to prove it, he took a step down in his next contest against Bakole. Looking fleshy and tentative, Kuzmin dropped a clear and drab decision.

Boxing isn’t kind and it was possible to feel the world’s interest wane during the Bakole fight, or at least that part of the world that remained interested up until that point. Kuzmin tried to take control in the second round, got hit and seemed cowed. He has proved a disappointment; I predicted he would get as far as a legitimate heavyweight ranking. He did not get there, and it seems unlikely now he ever will. Either way, he passes from the realm of prospect to that of gatekeeper and will not figure on our prospect list this time next year.

THE AMERICAN: DARMANI ROCK

FROM: USA HEIGHT: 6’5 WEIGHT IN SHAPE: 240lbs AGE: 24 RECORD: 17-1 with 12 KOs

If I hoped for a ranking for Kuzmin, I was less convinced by Darmani Rock, whose promotional team seemed either to be very smart or very dumb in the glacial way they moved the youngster along.  Still just twenty-four they could even have continued to make him wait – instead, they took the plunge and the result was a disaster.

Michael Polite Coffie, a fascinating 6’5 southpaw, prides himself on his ability to learn and his military record both, although his time in service prevented him applying learning to boxing until he was rather late in life. Arguably though, he had already achieved more in his eleven professional fights than Rock had in his seventeen. It showed. Coffie, ripped where Rock was flabby, showed the supposedly more experienced man more looks in the first than Rock mustered in the three short rounds the fight lasted. In the third, Rock rattled out of the corner and fired with real aggression having been out-hit through the first two rounds. It was an exciting moment for our prospect-watch, one where we were to learn about a man we were interested in. Instead, Rock revealed a jaw that was anything but as Coffie cleaned him out before a minute of the round had elapsed.

Rock’s moment of truth came and went; Coffie is interesting. If he continues to fight and goes unbeaten, perhaps we will even sneak him in here this time next year. At 34 I think the former Marine will be a little too late to the game though.

MY FAVOURITE: FILIP HRGOVIC

FROM: Croatia HEIGHT: 6’6 WEIGHT IN SHAPE: 230lbs AGE: 26 RECORD: 12-0 with 10 KOs

“Technically proficient, quick of hand and thought, physically imposing and clearly in great shape,” I wrote of Filip Hrgovic in 2019, “[he] is confirmed as having everything he needs to be a champion in the heavyweight division except the important ones: chin and stamina. These still remain unconfirmed, although his adventures in the WSB suggest he owns a sturdy mandible at the very least.”

And that, pretty much, is where we still stand today. Hrgovic has been busy though, managing four outings, well above average for this list, it’s just that none of them really told us anything we don’t already know. He thrashed a molasses-like Mexican named Mario Heredia in August 2019, and turned in an impressive display. Using the left hand to open up opportunities for the right, Hrgovic scored with straights, bodyshots, narrowed it up to throw a short overhand on the inside, and most of all landed brutal uppercuts. Heredia was fearless but wilted under this attention. The brutally of those right hands escalated in the third and final round.

From here, Hrgovic went on to dispatch a wobbly Eric Molina in December, and also in three, before waiting out much of the pandemic and returning to the ring in September of 2020 against an ageing Greek with ten fights named Alexandre Kartozia, who offered even less resistance. In November he met the forty-year-old Rydell Booker and beat him up for an eye-watering five founds.

It’s not so much that his opposition is truly awful, more that you can’t shake the feeling that Arslanbek Makhmudov would have knocked them all over too – and in double quick time, too.  Either way, there is still an awful lot that is not known about Hrgovic that I would like to know before he fights for a title, which, to hear the fighter tell it, is imminent. Maybe Martin Bakole will tell us more. He has been chasing Hrgovic for a year now and seems convinced he can trouble him.

Either way, we won’t be hearing any more from Hrgovic in our prospect-watch; he breached the TBRB rankings in December of 2019.  He is a contender now, a prospect no more.

HAYMAKING: JOE JOYCE

FROM: Great Britain HEIGHT: 6’6 WEIGHT IN SHAPE: 255lbs AGE: 35 RECORD: 12-0 with 11 KOs

“From the supposed pick of the crop in Hrgovic to the man who beat him.”

Yes indeed; but Joe Joyce needn’t rest on the laurels in earned back in his World Boxing Series any more. He arguably owns the best win of any of the fighters on this list.

Nor was he the betting favourite when he met Daniel Dubois late last year in a match that for the boxing-loyal, fight-starved British public was something of an event. Joyce, a rarity in that he feels even bigger in the ring than his listed stats, spent ten rounds doing essentially the same thing, pushing out hard straight punches to allow metronomic scoring while occasionally getting hit with harder punches, as in the second, where Dubois seemed ready to clean him out. But Joyce is hard; the science to that remark, such as it is, is only in that it is an observable fact. While Dubois lashed him, Joyce calmly continued to deploy himself and by the eighth, although Dubois was in touch on the cards, there was a sense of inevitability about the Joyce victory, which came via TKO in the tenth round.

Joyce is probably a little better than I credited him for, though I always figured him the fighter on this list most in a hurry; that urgency will continue as David Haye’s prodigy has now turned thirty-five.  Britain is stuffed with heavyweights currently. Joyce is now third among them, an enviable spot, one that is now seeing him hunted by names.

He is also wonderfully positioned for a shot at a strap, and if he can keep it right, he might even be positioned for the many millions a fight with the emergent victor from any Tyson Fury-Anthony Joshua series.

Either way, Joyce will no longer be labelled a prospect the next time we come around. He will be replaced by a new man next year.

THE PUB BOUNCER: NATHAN GORMAN

FROM: Great Britain HEIGHT: 6’3 WEIGHT IN SHAPE: 250lbs AGE: 24 RECORD: 17-1 with 11 KOs

After the hurt that Joe Joyce put on him, it is forgotten that Daniel Dubois had previously won his own battle of the prospects, beating up Nathan Gorman in July of 2019.

“The Dubois fight is everything to Gorman,” I wrote in 2019. “There will be no unearned second coming should he lose, just a long and difficult slog back to where he is now followed by the real work…Gorman’s status next time we check in with him will be more dramatically affected by his next fight than every other man on this list.”

And so it was. Gorman was brave and he had certain but slight advantages that did nothing like enough to cover the distance in talent that lay between them. Cut in the second round, dropped in the third before being stopped in the fifth, he was clearly outmatched. Gorman will never be a legitimate contender to the world’s heavyweight champion.

That does not mean there isn’t money to be made and fights to be won. Gorman was back and winning late last year after a prolonged rest and goes again in March. Likeable and brave, Gorman remains on my watch list, for all that we won’t see him again on this list.

THE LITTLE GUY: OLEKSANDR USYK

FROM: Ukraine HEIGHT: 6’3 WEIGHT IN SHAPE: 220lbs AGE: 34 RECORD: 18-0 with 13 KOs

Oleksander Usyk is another fighter to be removed from our heavyweight prospect list, but for different reasons; Usyk made the TBRB top ten and as such is no longer eligible. Usyk is stalking belts, not status.

I’ve followed Usyk since before the beginning of his professional career and written about him for years. During all those years I’ve been clear about one thing: he will grab himself a heavyweight strap. In truth, everything truly meaningful is tied up with Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua so while I continue to stand by my ancient prediction, it is likely to come now only in the most unsatisfactory of fashions, perhaps upgraded from some ridiculous interim alphabet belt to “full champion” when Joshua or Fury refuses to match him but rather rematches the other for tens of millions.

My other prediction – that Usyk is serious trouble for Joshua and all but chanceless against Fury – may be undone on all fronts by the passage of time. Usyk is thirty-four and like the rest of us, is getting no younger.

During the time between lists, Usyk has beaten up journeyman Chazz Witherspoon for a seventh- round stoppage and out-pointed gatekeeper Dereck Chisora in an interesting fight seen by many as his first true test at the poundage. In many ways, Usyk did it the old-fashioned way, for all that he served his “apprenticeship” as an all-time great cruiserweight. The next eighteen months will tell us whether or not he can achieve major status at heavyweight.

AT THE SCHOOL OF MANNY STEWARD: VLAD SIRENKO

FROM: Ukraine HEIGHT: 6’3.5 WEIGHT IN SHAPE: 243lbs AGE: 26 RECORD: 15-0 with 13 KOs

Vlad Sirenko’s most recent opponent was a 7-8-1 Ukranian named Kostiantyn Dovbyshchenko who has now lost five of the last six but who nevertheless rattled Sirenko in Kiev last December.

On the face of it, this seems a disaster, but of all the fighters on this list, Sirenko is the one most deserving of time. Aged just twenty-six and with little to speak of in terms of an amateur career, Sirenko’s 15-0 is real; as are the numbers, so is his experience.

Despite this, when Dovbyshchenko opened an irritating cut on his right brow in the fifth round, Sirenko did not panic. He stuck to a tidy-handed, neat boxing style that got him across the line over ten and gifted him something the likes of Makhmudov and Hrgovic have yet to receive: a genuine test of his temperament.

Still, the scores were not wide and although Dovbyshchenko was a little better than his paper record allows – neat, tidy and mobile, and never stopped – Sirenko’s limitations were underlined. He can hit, but his power isn’t darkening; he is organised, but he often waits his turn – he is busy but cannot counter or punch well enough to truly discourage his opponent. In short, well-schooled quality on technical punching is what won him this fight. That is honourable, but it is not what should be separating him from journeymen. If he is unable to overwhelm or at least control such limited opposition with physical advantages, heavyweight waters will likely be too deep.

Still, he speaks so well about boxing that I want to believe he can learn about boxing. Sirenko, who is not shy at sharing his opinions, predicted Joyce’s victory over Dubois with calm certainty having previously sparred with both. It is only one example, but every time I hear him speak in excellent English, I am impressed with what he has to say. Connections to Manny Steward disciple James Ali Bashir and therefore to the Oleksandr Usyk camp are other reasons to be hopeful.

As is Sirenko’s abandonment of his South African base and relocation to Germany, under the auspices of Maxim Michailew who has so far preferred him to box in his native Ukraine. He has also made Sirenko one of the busier prospects on this list and that, too, bodes well for the future.

Sirenko though remains the most interesting prospect here listed, which is another way of saying he has the most to prove.

THIS TIME NEXT YEAR

It was strange re-reading former entries in this series before writing this one. That I would be writing another a year later seemed a given and if 2020/21 has taught us anything it is that nothing should be taken for granted. None of us could imagine an event so overwhelming as to make an absence of boxing seem meaningless, but it happened.

It hurt the prospect more than any other kind of fighter; even the true journeyman will tend to have other sources of income. For an elite prospect who has devoted himself to boxing, the end of the fight game was a disaster. That said, the fight fan may prosper; it could be that a sudden and unplanned break might press some reluctant promoters, managers and boxers into action.

Hopefully we will be back in around a year to find out why.

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Joseph Parker vs. Junior Fa Has Marinated into a Kiwi Blockbuster

Arne K. Lang

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The upcoming fight between Joseph Parker and Junior Fa at a 12,000-seat arena in Auckland is well-marinated. “Momentum is slowly building,” wrote New Zealand sports journalist Liam Napier way back in September of 2016. The promoters think the revenue from pay-per-view (it’s on DAZN in other countries including the U.S. and UK) may set a new benchmark for a fight in New Zealand between domestic rivals, breaking the record set in 2009 when heavyweights David Tua and Shane Cameron clashed in Hamilton.

There was a time when Joseph Parker was looked upon as the third-best heavyweight in the world behind only Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder. Back-to-back losses to Joshua and Dillian Whyte (and the return of Tyson Fury) knocked him down several pegs.

Parker (27-2, 21 KOs) has won three straight inside the distance since the setback to Whyte, but against soft opposition, namely Alexander Flores, Alex Leapai, and Shawndell Winters. This is the same Alexander Flores that would go on to get stopped in 45 seconds by Luis Ortiz. The veteran Leapai and the mysterious Winters were both 39 years old when Parker fought them.

Junior Fa (19-0, 10 KOs) has been inactive since November of 2019 when he won a lopsided 10-round decision over Devin Vargas. That bout was in Salt Lake City where Fa had something of a homefield advantage.

Parker vs. Fa was originally slated for Dec. 11, but Fa backed out because of a health issue, a blood disorder that made him sluggish and required surgery. The particular ailment — presumably it had a name — and the type of surgery performed were never revealed to the media. (Apparently New Zealand has very stringent health privacy laws.) However, the word is that Fa is completely recovered and fully fit to go 12 hard rounds if necessary.

Junior Fa is bigger than Joseph Parker, customarily carrying about 260 pounds on his six-foot-five frame, and although he’s less experienced at the pro level, he’s the older man by 27 months. Fa delayed the start of his pro career to start a family. During the hiatus, he worked for a company that manufactured doors and windows.

This will be their fifth meeting. They locked horns four times as amateurs and the series is tied at 2-2.

That’s part of the intrigue, to see who can break the deadlock. The ethnicity factor adds relish. Parker’s ancestry is Samoan, Fa’s is Tongan.

The two Polynesian groups have a lot in common – family members of Parker and Fa are actually members of the same South Auckland LDS church – but friendly relationships evaporate on the rugby field where the two nations have an intense rivalry that in some respects mirrors the fierce rivalry between India and Pakistan in cricket.

In the United States, Samoans and Tongans are identified with the sport of football. They are over-represented in the NFL by a very wide margin. The majority are linemen, but there are notable exceptions such as quarterback Tua Tagovailoa who started nine games last year as a rookie for the Miami Dolphins.

Tagovailoa, born in Hawaii to Samoan parents, will undoubtedly be rooting for Joseph Parker. To ratchet up his interest in the fight, we would suggest a side bet with Kalani Sitaki, the Tonga-born head football coach at BYU. Tua will be required to lay odds, not merely because Parker is a solid favorite but because he makes more money (although Sitaki is due for a big raise after guiding BYU to an 11-1 season).

Truth be told, it wouldn’t surprise us if this was a rather boring fight. Neither man has a big punch. A fair guess would be that this fight takes a similar tack to last weekend’s heavyweight fight between Otto Wallin and Dominic Breazeale with Parker, the more mobile fighter, playing the Wallin role.

However, Parker’s bout with Dillian Whyte was a very chippy fight in which Parker was on the deck twice but scored a knockdown of his own in the final round. Parker vs. Fa doesn’t have to be at the level to still be a very entertaining affair. And before one dismisses Fa’s chances, we would interject this note of caution: Underdogs, in case you haven’t noticed, have been on quite a roll lately.

This fight was in jeopardy of being postponed again. The authorities threatened to push it back if Covid restrictions were not loosened. Last week, all of New Zealand with the exception of Auckland was in Phase One. Auckland remained in Phase Two which prohibited gatherings of more than 100 people. But on Tuesday of this week (Monday in the U.S.), Auckland joined the rest of the country in Phase One. Facial coverings are still required on public transportation and everyone is encouraged to practice social distancing, but other mandates have been lifted. This event will potentially draw the largest attendance of any boxing show in the Covid-19 era although that may be quickly surpassed by the turnout for Canelo-Yildirim at the home of the Miami Dolphins where attendance will be capped at 20 percent of capacity.

If you plan to watch the Parker-Fa fight, set your alarm clocks. Owing to the time difference, the DAZN telecast will go at 1:30 a.m. ET which is 10:30 p.m. on Friday night for us westerners.

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HITS and MISSES: Oscar Valdez, Adrien Broner and More 

Kelsey McCarson

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HITS and MISSES: Oscar Valdez, Adrien Broner and More

Boxing was in full swing again over the weekend, so there was plenty of action to consume via all the various television networks and streaming platforms available today in the United States.

Most notably, the sport saw undefeated star Oscar Valdez establish himself as one of the top fighters in the sport against Miguel Berchelt on ESPN.

Plus, several established veterans made their presence known again on the PBC scene in 2021 with their first fights of the year on Showtime.

Here are the latest HITS and MISSES after another busy weekend covering the sport.

HIT: Valdez’s Epic Upset and Scary KO

People often tout Mexico vs. Puerto Rico as one of the best rivalries in boxing, and it is. But there have been plenty of great throwdowns featuring Mexico vs. Mexico, and so it was again on Saturday in Las Vegas.

Valdez, 30, was a former 126-pound titleholder who was moving up to challenge current 130-pound champion Berchelt. Heading into the fight, the bookies believed Berchelt, 29, would be too big and possess too much power for Valdez to overcome. Most boxing fans thought the same.

Boy, was everyone wrong about that.

Instead, Valdez showed he was clearly a step or two above Berchelt in terms of class, and that’s huge considering that Berchelt was considered one of the top fighters in a stacked division.

Valdez’s epic upset and scary knockout vs. Berchelt stole the show this weekend. It put Valdez on the map as a legit star and will attract bigger and better fights to the undefeated Mexican in the immediate future.

MISS: AB’s Return

Beleaguered boxing star Adrien Broner returned to action in the main event of a Showtime card on Saturday, one that seemed pretty much entirely dedicated to getting Broner back into the sport.

Broner, 31, picked up his first win in four years against Jovanie Santiago by unanimous decision. That the talented American was going to be handed the win by the judges so long as he stayed upright over the 12-round fight was a given. That’s just how boxing works.

But what was also a given was that Broner would probably alienate himself from boxing fans and media almost immediately upon getting his foot back in the door. His post-fight comments were atrocious and they illustrated the biggest problem for “The Problem” himself.

Look, Broner’s life is probably better with boxing in it, but the sport is definitely better off without him. It’s probably time for the powerbrokers in the sport to recognize that.

HIT: Fluke vs. Fury Debunked

Heavyweight contender Otto Wallin was the betting favorite against Dominic Breazeale on Saturday, but there were some in the sport who still wondered whether the Swedish boxer’s near-miss against Tyson Fury in 2019 was just a fluke.

Wallin might not have the same kind of wallop in his fists as ex-heavyweight titleholder Deontay Wilder, but the southpaw’s wide array of skills were on full display against Breazeale in a way that suggests he might box the American’s ears off over 12 rounds if given the chance.

Wallin has now won two straight fights after nearly pulling the upset over Fury. The lineal champ required 47 stitches after the outing, and the fight easily could have been stopped by the ringside doctor because of all the blood. Instead, Fury rallied for the heroic win and Wallin continued his career as a potential contender.

Wallin’s stoppage win over Travis Kaufmann in 2020 and his decision victory over Breazeale on Saturday in the co-main event of the Showtime card prove beyond doubt he’s one of the better heavyweights in boxing today.

Any notion that Wallin’s performance against Fury was just a fluke has now been completely debunked.

MISS: Fast-tracked Olympian Needs to Slow Down

Talented 26-year-old Josh Kelly lost his unbeaten record to David Avanesyan on Saturday in London.

Kelly had represented Great Britain at the 2016 Summer Olympics, and his fast hands and feet were shuffled quickly up the professional ranks to the point that he was challenging EBU European welterweight champion Avanesyan in the main event at Wembley Arena in London.

Kelly got off to a hot start, but the brash 147-pounder was eventually overwhelmed by the 32-year-old EBU champ’s constant pressure.

Avanesyan is a solid fighter, but he’s not elite compared to the world level. So, where some believed Kelly might be on his way to being something more than a British-level fighter, his handlers might have to rethink that after his loss to Avanesyan.

If anything, maybe Kelly was moved too quickly up the ladder. Fans and media love pro fighters to take the biggest and best challenges available to them as fast as humanly possible but most people in those same groups quickly scatter when that kind of approach blows up in a fighter’s face.

Kelly might still have a bright future, but he’ll need to slow his march up the rankings the second time around.

HIT: The Circle of (Irish Travelers) Life 

Once upon a time, Irish Traveler and boxing phenom Andy Lee was brought over from Ireland to be promoted to the American audience as a top prospect with world title aspirations. While it probably took Lee longer than his handlers had hoped to live up to the hype, he did eventually score two dramatic upsets in a row to capture a world middleweight title in 2015.

Today, Lee is guiding Irish Traveler and boxing phenom Paddy Donovan up the ranks, and his protege looks every bit the part of being Andy Lee 2.0.

Like Lee was over a decade ago, the lanky southpaw carries with him into the ring on fight night a promotable face and name to go along with it but also the kinds of punches that make all that other stuff matter.

In his own professional fighting career, Lee had famously moved to Detroit to train under the late Emanuel Steward at the legendary Kronk gym. While Lee will forever remain attached to the gym’s storied history, the fighter was candid in his 2018 autobiography about some of the things he felt Steward and others at Kronk hadn’t taught him heading into important fights.

In fact, Lee didn’t win his title belt until he left the United States to train under Adam Booth in England.

So, the circle of life is this: Lee has the chance now to give Donovan everything he had as well as all the stuff he had to learn later the hard way.

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