By: Oliver McManus
12 months can be a long time in the sport of boxing – it can see you go from the cusp of retirement to the brink of a world title and for these next boxers, they’ll be hoping that 2019 is the year for them because these are five fighters in need of a BIG 12 months.
Photo of Jay Harris and Kristian Touze
Andrew Selby – Flyweight
There was a time, not so long ago, that we thought we had seen the last of Andrew Selby when he announced “I’m not fighting anymore”, quite understandably this prompted confusion because for a long time he had been scheduled to fight for the European title – indeed a clash with Vincent Legrand was postponed back in June – and Selby was deemed, by many, far good a talent to be allowed to go to waste.
Last month, at last, there was some good news as Jamie Sanigar won the purse bids for his challenge to, Frenchman, Legrand and set a firm date for the Welshman’s return – October 27th at the Newport Centre. Since then there has been mixed signals about the fight with no official confirmation save for the European Boxing Union website who, incidentally, have assigned officials for the contest but the good news is that Selby is back in the gym with fire in his belly, once more.
Further to that, consider the former Team GB member has been mandated to fight Julio Cesar Martinez Aguilar in a world title eliminator with the winner set to face, WBC Champion, Cristofer Rosales – a man who Selby comfortably outpointed last May – and you start to see the makings of a sensational 2019 where, if all goes well, we could see the crowning of a new British world champion.
Anthony Yarde – Light Heavyweight
With one sharp intake of breath we get reminded that Yarde is the number 2 ranked challenger with the World Boxing Organization and, swiftly after, it is explained to us that he’s still not ready for a world title because he’s learning the trade.
Now there’s nothing wrong with either of those statements but the constant juxtaposition of the two leave me crying out for Yarde to have a monumental 2019 and this is nothing to do with Anthony Yarde, not at all, because he is a genuinely nice guy and rather this frustration is born out of a desire for him to do well and prove critics wrong – at least, attempt to prove them wrong.
Since fighting Nikola Sjekloca on December 9th, Yarde has seen his stock fall with the 27 year old facing, less than inspiring, Tony Averlant and Dariusz Sek in the meantime; that performance against Sjekloca was a top quality, high energy, explosive performance against a respectable opponent whilst against Averlant and Sek it is almost as though he’s dropped down to their level.
Next out on October 20th Yarde, now 16 and 0, will face the Argentine national champion Walter Gabriel Sequeira who steps up to the plate after, it is believed, Sean Monaghan priced himself out after initially accepting the fight – regardless, the whole boxing world wants to see Yarde get in the ring with an opponent will provide him with a solid test and there are plenty of British light-heavies that would be gunning for the fight.
Hopefully, for him and us, 2019 will see Anthony Yarde start to really make his mark on the 175lb scene.
Lawrence Okolie – Cruiserweight
British, Commonwealth, WBA Continental Champion with only 10 fights under his belt, things are going pretty well for Okolie from a belts point of view and you certainly can’t criticise Okolie for the guys he’s been willing to face – Isaac Chamberlain, Luke Watkins and Matty Askin in only his eighth, ninth and tenth fights.
That’s all fine and dandy but his much-hyped contests against Chamberlain and Askin, in particular, have failed to live up to the expectations as Okolie imposed a largely physical, holding game-plan much to the irritation of those watching.
Far be it from me to criticise a professional boxer unnecessarily but Okolie himself admits his performances were disappointing and, yes he got the win, but he’s in a situation where he needs to start letting his hands go and relaxing through the bout in order to become a big Box Office attraction.
With strong amateur pedigree, Okolie was always going to take a hastened route to the top but the cruiserweight sensation needs to go back to basics and work the jab to tee up openings that he can exploit in order to look every bit as good as we know he can be.
Plenty of domestic challengers are salivating at a potential fight with the Hackney-man and I like Okolie, I really like him, but time is a friend not an enemy and, having smashed his way through his first 10 fights, he can afford to be patient for 2019 in terms of names but the performances need to be big.
Okolie needs to be seen as adaptive and exciting otherwise people, having seen what they have, will be inclined to switch off – I’ve little doubt as to the quality and desire of the cruiserweight prospect so he should be able to take it in his stride!
Joseph Parker – Heavyweight
Returning to the ring on December 15th having been subjected to back-to-back losses against Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte, respectively, Joseph Parker is in danger of becoming the forgotten talent of heavyweight boxing.
Making history by becoming the first New Zealand heavyweight world champion, you’d be hard pressed to suggest that Parker looked impressive in the fight that saw him crowned WBO king – against Andy Ruiz – or indeed in his subsequent defences over Razvan Cojanu and Hughie Fury and, actually, that fight against Dillian Whyte is, arguably, the best we’ve seen Parker.
That sounds weird to say given that he was on the reverse side of a unanimous decision but when Parker really got into his rhythm he was able to control the tempo of the fight, force Whyte into hot water and he looked like a physically imposing roughhouse fighter as opposed to the technical man we’ve got used to seeing.
It raised questions of WHY haven’t we seen this fire and aggression from the Kiwi before and whilst I can’t answer that question, I look forward to seeing how it impacts the 26 year olds fight plans going forward.
Parker gets the benefit of being in a comparatively weak heavyweight pool of talent than in years previous with a distinct gulf in quality even ranging throughout the top 15 and that should, on paper, ensure that Parker gets back into the world title mix sooner rather than later and, certainly, there are relatively few challengers that you wouldn’t tip Duco’s main man to topple.
The rebuild starts on December 15th, the climb back to a world title shot continues into 2019.
Now this is the slightly left field option for this article because who said I was going for the obvious? Jay Harris is a fighter who has had a frustrating year thus far with the Commonwealth flyweight champion scheduled to defend his belt – won via unanimous decision over Thomas Essomba back in February 2017 – against Dexter Marques back the first quarter of the year before visa issues put that fight indefinitely on hold.
He would fight for the first time in nine months when he entered the ring at the Llandarcy Academy of Sport on August 11th and eased his way to a 60-55 points decision over Critisan Narvaez and with those rounds under his belt he quickly set about establishing a date to defend his coveted belt.
That fight, against Ross Murray, was scheduled for this month but pushed back ever so slightly to November 3rd at York Hall; Mo Prior, the man behind British Warriors, has taken the Welsh flyweight under his wing and is already on a mission to provide Harris with regular fight dates for, put simply, the 28 year old is a sumptuous talent.
With one on the winner of Ryan Farrag vs Sunny Edwards – that bout for the WBO European Super Flyweight strap – Harris has already been mandated for the British Super Flyweight belt as well as the EBU-EU title so there are plenty of opportunities available for the Swansea-man, and that’s without even considering the permutations of the CBC!
By no means is this an exhaustive list of fighters who require a big one next year nor, for that matter, is it the five fighters who need it the MOST but they are guys who, in my opinion, should be hoping to leave a mark over the course of the next 12 months.
For guys like Jay Harris it is through no fault of their own that they are in the frustrating situation that they are and, certainly, there are plenty other candidates for this article – Kell Brook, Amir Khan, Liam Walsh, Roman Gonzalez to name just a handful but keep an eye out on these five fellas as they look for a career-best 2019.