By: Oliver McManus
Picking prospects to watch for 2021 is a little more difficult than previous years with the pandemic continuing to throw all sorts of obstacles in the way of professional boxers. It pays to be aligned to a promoter with a lucrative broadcast deal, a fact that has been magnified under the lens of Coronavirus. With no-one quite knowing when ‘small hall’ boxing will return I’ve swerved from picking fighters from the star gilded, stables of VIP and Goodwin – to give just two examples of exceptional ‘small’ promoters with books of young prospects.
The final bit of admin – if you were picked in any of the 2018 / 19 / 20 installments you can’t get picked again!
Fabio Wardley – English heavyweight champion, 10-0, 9 KOs
Wardley really made some noise last year with two heavy stoppages putting him on the lips of pretty much every heavyweight aficionado. The raw Ipswich fighter has boasted headline-making power since his debut, though, and his KO of Scott Saward in November 2017 was the most brutal example of that. The 26-year-old has secured the lucrative backing of Dillian Whyte and Eddie Hearn so he can count on plenty of opportunities to crop up over the next twelve months.
He faces Eric Molina on March 6th with the British title surely in his sights for the year.
Michael McKinson – #6 with the WBO at welterweight, 19-0, 2 KOs
Welterweight is a packed division domestically with plenty of names at 147lbs looking to get in the mix. Michael McKinson has the backing of MTK Global and a nifty ranking with the WBO to back his quest for big fights in 2021. The 26-year-old has moved to 19-0 with little fuss and, perhaps, less fanfare than he’s deserved. Having built a solid catalogue of wins starting with the out-pointing of Sammy McNess in late 2018, McKinson has carried that momentum with him to record four further victories. Hopefully a big year for the fighter from Portsmouth.
Aqib Fiaz – super featherweight, 6-0
Aqib Fiaz made some noise when he signed with Matchroom Boxing on April 1st last year. The news was no April Fools for the, then, 20-year-old who had clearly caught Eddie Hearn’s eye in defeating Dean Jones just three weeks previously. There’s wonderful confidence from the youngster who looked every bit at home as the razzmatazz surrounded him for his first Matchroom outing in October (albeit at the second time of asking). Trained by Jamie Moore and Nigel Travis, Fiaz certainly has all the right people around him to become a star.
Ellie Scotney – featherweight, 1-0
Women’s boxing seemed to have been firmly thrust into the limelight during 2020 and that trend looks set to continue. The brightest name for the future is the fantastically talented Ellie Scotney who turned her back on a potential spot at the Olympics to pursue a professional career. As a person, she comes across effortlessly effervescent. Boxed fantastically against Bec Connolly in October to get her first win and will look to make it two on March 20th.
Willy Hutchinson – super middleweight, 13-0, 9 KOs
Having spent large swathes of his early career dancing at 175lbs whilst maintaining he could campaign at super-middleweight, Hutchinson put those doubts to bed last year and, hence, his spot on the list. There’s never been any doubt around just how talented the Scottish fighter is – even less around his feisty ability to piece together fight-finishing combinations. Now we know the 22-year-old can make the weight, and look good doing so, he’s set to contest the British title with Lennox Clarke at a date not yet confirmed.
Caoimhin Agyarko – middleweight, 8-0, 5 KOs
Caoimhin Agyarko is another fighter earning a reputation for some no-nonsense stoppages. The Belfast native added two to the collection in 2020 with front-footed breakdowns of Jez Smith and Robbie Chapman. And they really were breakdowns: Agyarko was consistently out-working the pair but pounced on a moment of weakness and really exploited it to the max. 24 years old and looking fabulous: as the quality of opponent steps up so, you suspect, will he.
… and that’s six! I’ll chuck in some honourable mentions for the three D’s – Dalton Smith, Donte Dixon and David Adeleye who have all passed the eye-test at this early stage in their career.
Smith sent out a real statement by stopping Nathan Bennett (9-1) in August and will look to send another on February 13th when he faces, former Commonwealth title challenger, Lee Appleyard (16-5-1). Get through that and titles will surely be next.
Adeleye continued to look and sound every bit a future threat in the heavyweight division as he amassed three stoppage victories in the space of four months. He’s 4-0 and ticking along nicely.
Donte Dixon, meanwhile, has been smoothness personified up to now in his pro career. He looked as though he was simply going through the motions in his first four contests before Angelo Dragone came and threw the sink at Dixon just before Christmas. Sheffield’s son weathered the storm to go 5-0 and set up a cracking 2021.