by Tyson Bruce
The following are some of the top prospects in professional boxing.
Some are already quickly becoming household names, while others have flown under the radar. In order to qualify on the list, the fighters had to be 25 or under and have less than 20 professional fights.
Felix Verdejo: lightweight
Record: 15-0-0-(11 KO’s)
Trainer: Ricky Marquez
Stable: Top Rank
Fighter he most resembles: Felix Trinidad
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Sometimes it’s incredibly easy to spot a young fighter with real talent.
The first time you witnessed Miguel Cotto drill someone with a left hook to the liver or Vasyl Lomachenko knock out a professional with 20-plus fights in his pro debut you just knew they were special.
One gets the same impression when watching twenty-one year old Puerto Rican Felix Verdejo do his thing.
Verdejo has excellent fundamentals, which are the product of an illustrious amateur career, including winning a gold medal at the Pan-American Games at just seventeen years of age. What make Verdejo a potential superstar, however, are the things that you can’t teach in the gym. Verdejo has the kind of explosive speed and power that only naturally great athletes possess, as evidenced by his one-punch annihilation of Sergio Villanueva last month.
Beyond his ring abilities, Verdejo also appears to have the most “cross-over” potential of the all the young prospects in boxing because of his dashing charisma and linkage to the lucrative Puerto Rican boxing market. Verdejo also has the kind of frame to some day be a player in the talent- rich welterweight division. Recently, the great Felix Trinidad dubbed Verdejo the future of Puerto Rican boxing, which is about as solid an endorsement as one can receive.
Julian “J-Rock” Williams: junior middleweight
Record: 17-0-1-(10 KO’s)
Stable: Al Haymon
Trainer: Stephen Edwards
Fighter he most resembles: Bernard Hopkins
The recent recipient of the 2014 Benny Briscoe Prospect of The Year (signifying the best prospect in Philadelphia) has an old school attitude and fighting style that has reminded many boxing insiders of young Bernard Hopkins.
Williams has flown under the radar in the talent rich junior middleweight division but he’s every bit the prospect that the Charlo twins are and perhaps even more.
Williams is a student of the game and this translates into his dynamic fighting style. While most young fighters tend to be quite one-dimensional, Williams has shown the unique ability to seamlessly transition from boxing on the outside to grinding on the inside. He also has the kind of veteran moves that you just don’t see from many fighters let alone 17-fight novices do in the ring—such as using his shoulders to create punching distance on the inside and shifting to create punching angles.
Williams isn’t being coddled with soft opposition, having already fought the likes of Freddy Hernandez, Michael Medina and Hugo Centeno Jr. Fighting real opponents this early on will benefit him tremendously in the future. His solid height and reach (5′-11”/72.5”) indicate that he’ll likely be a middleweight or even a super middleweight at some point. In a couple years time, they might be calling this Philly product the most avoided 154-pound fighter in boxing.
Anthony Joshua: heavyweight
Record: 9-0-0-(9 KO’s)
Stable: Matchroom Sport
Trainer: Tony Sims
Fighter he most resembles: Riddick Bowe
If scientists were tasked the with assignment of designing the perfect modern heavyweight it would probably look exactly like the 6-6”-250 pound Anthony Joshua.
Joshua does not have a traditional boxing background in that he didn’t start boxing as a young boy but rather in his late teens as a way to straighten out his life. He certainly made up for lost time—winning a silver medal at the world championships and a gold medal at the Olympics just a few short years later.
Joshua’s progression as a professional has been downright scary, as he literally appears to improve by leaps and bounds from just one fight to the next. Joshua is blowing out fighters like Hector Avila who went nine tough rounds with Dereck Chisora in less than a round.
Joshua’s superior athleticism allows him to have the coordination to fight with a style that just isn’t possible for most heavyweights his size. Although he has brutal power, it’s hand speed and diversity of punches that is the most impressive and lethal. Time will tell whether Joshua has the stamina and chin required of most great heavyweights. Without too much hyperbole, Joshua might very well be the most famous boxer in the world in the next five years.
Amir Imam: junior welterweight
Record: 14-0-0-(12 KO’s)
Trainer: Stacy McKinley
Stable: Don King
Fight He Most Resembles: Thomas Hearns
Albany, New York
Amir “Young Master” Imam is another top prospect that is flying under the radar, because his promoter Don King just isn’t getting him the number of fights and exposure that his talent merits.
Imam was an outstanding amateur and if not for the dominant Errol Spence Jr. he very likely would have been America’s representative at the London Olympics. At nearly six feet tall, Imam is a physical specimen for the 140-pound weight class. Imam reminds me of a young Thomas Hearns because instead on using his size to box a safety first fight, he uses his height and reach to create maximum leverage for his lethal punching power.
Imam got some much needed television exposure when he made his debut on Shobox and eviscerated the 16-1 Jeremy Bryan with one devastating right cross. It’s a YouTube must watch. He repeated the feat when he blew the undefeated Jared Robison right out of the ring earlier this year. However, it was his performance against the vastly more experienced former Cuban amateur star Yordenis Ugas that really put Imam on notice. When Ugas had Imam in a bit of trouble in the early going, Imam responded by switching tactics and out-boxing the Cuban from the outside. One got the impression he was growing as a fighter right before our eyes.
Sadly, Imam has yet to fight since, and his immense potential could go stagnant because so many other promotional outfits are reluctant to deal with notoriously shifty King.
Errol Spence Jr.: welterweight
Record: 15-0-0-(12 KO’s)
Stable: Al Haymon
Trainer: Derrick James
Fight He most Resembles: Donald Curry
The thing that immediately stands out about for former American Olympian Spence is his amazing poise both inside and outside the ring.
Spence has a boxing style that could best be described as methodical. Spence uses a probing southpaw jab, compact combinations and a withering body assault to gradually break his opponents down. While most prospects go wild in an attempt to impress audiences with knockouts, Spence has shown the unique ability to stay within himself. Combine that with the fact that when polled, his Olympic teammates voted him the hardest working fighter on the squad.
Spence got a great deal of press early in his career because of rumors that he knocked out Adrien Broner in sparring and got temporarily asked to leave the gym after giving Floyd Mayweather all that he could handle in sparring. Spence, ever the gentleman, had politely denied these reports.
Regardless, it’s certainly added a layer of mystique to his profile. With the notoriously powerful advisor Al Haymon basically in sole possession of the welterweight division the sky appears to be the limit for the young Spence.