Gene Hill, a prospect?
By Tom Donelson
Last Friday, Mean Gene Hill beat Aaron Lyons and kept his undefeated record intact. Hill is now 12-0 with 10 knockouts. Problems with judging prospects, often we never know how good a fighter really is until he fights a tough opponent. One way to view fighters is to view through the lens of other sports. In baseball, there is a strict hierarchy that can be seen through its minor league system. Players go through different stages before hitting the majors and most professional players never make it out of the minor leagues system. Many players never make it through A or AA. Then there are those players who hit AAA but never can make the jump to majors, or to the show as they say.
Often I view boxers in similar ways. There are those boxers, who you know will make it as champion. Fighters like Sugar Ray Leonard, Muhammad Ali and Oscar De La Hoya had greatness written all over them. Others like Marvin Hagler and Larry Holmes began in the minor leagues equivalent of boxing before making the big time.
Then there are those fighters who never seem to make the jump from prospect to contenders. Dominick Guinn was one rated as potential American champion but over the past several years, his career have seen more down than up and never made the jump from prospect and contender to champion. Rob Calloway was always good fighter in the Midwest but more often than not, he never made the jump to top ten contenders in neither the Cruiserweights nor heavyweights. Guinn and Calloway are boxing equivalents of great AAA players who never made it as major leaguers.
Then there is Tye Fields. Nice guy with decent skills, Fields have always been protected throughout his career. Fields began his career in the Midwest where he built up his record and when he moved to Las Vegas, his promotion team continued to shield their fighter. When Fields faced Monte Barrett, he found his limits and got splattered in one round. Barrett exposed Fields and best you can say about Fields was that he reached the AA levels of boxing.
ESPN Teddy Atlas always talks about certain states where a fighter can build up his record. Atlas often blames the state weak commissions but another reason is that for many fighters, there is very little competition in their states they begin their career. A fighter who begins his career in Iowa or Minnesota faces less competition than a fighter who begins his career in Chicago, New York or Vegas. In the latter locations, a fighter not only faces better competition but they become sparring partners for contenders and champions.
Many fighters who begin their careers in states with weak commissions may build up their record but they never truly know how good they are until they fight better competition and this means they have to move out of state; their comfort zone.
Gene Hill is one of those fighters who much is not known about. He won his bout with Lyons easily but the fight left more questions than answers. How good really is Hill? Most recently, Memphis fighter Alonza Butler failed in his first big fights against Friday Ahunanya. For most of his career, Butler promotional team uses tactics similar Fields promotional team to build up Butler record. Butler showed serious deficiency and may have risen to his highest level. Butler may be forever trapped in boxing version of the minor leagues.
On the same card that saw Butler lose, saw another prospect Kevin Burnett survive a knockdown in the fight last seconds to win a decision. Burnett, like Hill, is still in boxing’s version of the minor leagues but the question that remains will either Burnett or Hill make the step to contender or they will merely be regional powers. Hill and Burnett may turn out like a Marvin Hagler or Larry Holmes going through boxing backyard venues to make it to the main show venues.