Filling the Void: The Search for Boxing’s Next Superstar


By Tyson Bruce

According to boxing fans the sport is always one generation away from death. Many fans and historians of the sport never believed the sport could endure after the legend that was Muhammad Ali—an iconic figure that transcended sport in a way no other athlete ever has and probably ever will. He also had the social upheaval and chaos of the 1960’s to help raise his profile as more than just an athlete.

But then along came Sugar Ray Leonard whose bright smile, warming back-story and celebrity charm fit perfectly with the conformity and social milieus of the Reagan 80’s.

The 90’s, a more dark and brooding decade that gave birth to grunge and gangster rap, had its star in Mike Tyson. His menacing personality and volatile temper put rear ends in seats and eyes on television screens like no other boxer in his time.

Oscar De La Hoya, the Latin equivalent of Sugar Ray Leonard, was the polar opposite of Tyson. De La Hoya looked like a movie star and drew an unparalleled amount of female fans to the sweet science. He also became the first Mexican American sportsman to crossover into the mainstream of our culture. In that respect his role in the sport was groundbreaking.

The current leaders are Manny Pacquaio and Floyd Mayweather. Pacquaio is a star in the same way that Roberto Duran and Julio Caesar Chavez were stars—by tapping into the hearts and minds of their impoverished countrymen. Pacquaio is like Elvis in the Philippines. Mayweather is boxings first superstar in the reality TV/internet generation. Larry Merchant once called his life and personality a walking reality TV program—and in many ways he is more famous for being a TV character than he is a boxer.

Both fighters have combined to destroy almost every prominent fighter of their generation. However, its not fighting each other that has boxing fans declaring the sports imminent demise. But we’ve seen time and time again that someone always comes along to fill the void. Below are four fighters that are emerging contenders with the potential to become boxing’s next premier fighter:

Terence Crawford:
Age: 26
Lightweight
24-0-0-(17 KO’s)
Best Wins: Yuriorkis Gamboa (ko-9), Rick Burns (W-12), Breidis Prescott (W-10).

Why:

In one word: talent. Crawford has the kind of complete skill-set that is rare in today’s boxing times. He took an ultra-physically talented guy like Gamboa and calmly dissected him. When Crawford had Gamboa under control he did what a fighter is supposed to do and closed the show. He’s able to switch from southpaw to orthodox seamlessly, making it extremely difficult for his opponents to prepare to fight him. He possesses a dominating jab from either stance, never neglects going to the body, and has knockout power in both hands. In other words, when it comes to the talent and skills portion of the equation he’s got it.

Why Not:

Crawford proved that he is a local attraction by drawing nearly 11,000 fans in Omaha, but it’s difficult to imagine someone as quiet and calm as Crawford ever becoming a mainstream crossover success. Just consider the lengths Mayweather has gone to get noticed by the mainstream media. I just don’t see Crawford chucking around money or getting in brawls at Fat Burger to market himself. More likely Crawford will become a dominant champion and local star, which is as much as anyone can ask for.

Keith Thurman
Age: 25
Record: 23-0-0-(21 KO’s)
Welterweight
Best Wins: Jesus Soto-Karass (KO-9), Diego Chaves (KO-10), Carlos Quintana (KO-4).

Why:

The fighter they call “One-Time” is not yet a marquee attraction but he has massive “crossover” potential. Just go on YouTube and watch some of his interviews, the kid is a complete show stealer. Thurman can pull off being loud and boisterous without coming across as offensive but also knows when to dial it down a notch and be more thoughtful. What really makes Thurman a potential crossover superstar is his explosive fighting style. Although he is relatively untested at the upper echelon of the game, it’s almost impossible not to be impressed by Thurman’s explosive knockout power and developing boxing skills.

Why Not:

Thurman is a victim of the current state of boxing politics. The boxing business doesn’t have the most imaginative thinkers and Thurman lacks the built-in ethnic fan base that a lot of Latino fighters have and he doesn’t come from a city where boxing is popular. That’s the two most common promotional strategies out the window right there. In order to make Thurman a real star it would take a great deal of ingenuity and money—two commodities that are in short supply. Like Gennady Golovkin, his profile does not match his talent and top fighters are already avoiding the dangerous Thurman in droves. Getting the marquee names to tangle with him could be his biggest hurdle to crossover superstardom.

Deontay Wilder

Age: 28
Heavyweight
Record: 31-0-0-(31 KO’s)
Best Wins: Malik Scott (KO-1), Audley Harrison (KO-1), Sergei Liakhovich (KO-1)

Why:

The American boxing public has been starving for a new heavyweight to bring the
title back home. The lack of talented heavyweights is one of the major reasons why so many fans have turned their backs on boxing. Wilder fits the mold of what the average sports fan demands of a heavyweight champ: he’s big, menacing and has a violent fighting style. At nearly six foot seven he is a modern sized super heavyweight with an impressive athletic background. If Wilder’s talent can meet expectations then he will be a very rich and famous man indeed.

Why not:

It’s very rare that being matched against complete stiffs develops a world-class talent, which is what all thirty-one of Wilder’s opponents have been. Also, how many other talented athletes have tried to pickup boxing late only to be exposed when they starting fighting real opposition? We all remember Michael Grant and Derrick Jefferson. There are just so many unanswered questions about Wilder. Combine that with the fact the heavyweight division is utterly deprived of talented fighters and it makes one very skeptical that boxing’s next savior will weigh over 200 pounds.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez
Age: 23
Light Middleweight
Record: 43-1-1-(31 KO’s)
Best Wins: Alfredo Angulo (KO-10), Austin Trout (W-12), Shane Mosley (W-12).

Why:

At just twenty-three years of age Canelo is still a developing talent. By taking on high-risk, low-reward type fighters like Austin Trout and Erislandy Lara, Alvarez is proving to the boxing world that he has the ambition of a great champion. Despite losing to Mayweather, Alvarez has one of the best followings in all of boxing. In Mexico Alvarez is a full-blown celebrity because of exotic looks and boyish charm. Canelo also has the goods in the ring, possessing an excellent range of skills, two-handed punching power and he is one of the most dynamic combination punchers in all of boxing.

Why Not:

It’s possible that Mayweather already exposed Canelo’s limitations. Canelo has virtually unlimited marketing potential but if he fails to prove that he can win on the highest level it’s basically useless. Many experts also remain skeptical that without an x-factor like blurring hand speed or true one-punch knockout power whether its realistic for Canelo to ever rise to the level of a Pacquiao or a Mayweather.

Prospects to keep an eye on: Julian Williams (154), Anthony Joshua (heavyweight), Felix Verdejo (135).

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