North American Boxers to Watch
By: Oliver McManus
With every passing week there’s another half dozen fighters making their debut that appear worth keeping an eye on. Fighters in North America are greeted with a plurality of promoters, managers and networks all promising to make them a future star of the sport. With that being said, here are Boxing Insider’s shortlist of North American fighters we believe will crack the jackpot.
Jaron Ennis – Welterweight
The man of the moment following his brutal beatdown over Bakhtiyar Eyubov on January 10th: Ennis has been raising eyebrows for a considerable period of time. Eyebrows raised not least for his ever flamboyant shorts. The Philadelphia welterweight has racked up 25 wins since turning professional in 2016 and has only gone the distance on two occasions. He has boxed at a canter in his recent performances but has still looked frighteningly destructive. Against Demian Fernandez, last year, Ennis twisted into each punch with vim and vigour and blitzed the Argentine into submission. It’s going to be hard to match him productively until the big titles come a-knocking; kudos to anyone capable of withstanding his pressure performances.
Edgar Berlanga – Middleweight
It’s hard to ignore any fighter with 13 wins and 13 first round knockouts and that’s exactly what Berlanga boasts. The middleweight from New York has swept aside all opposition he’s faced since a professional debut in April 2016. Three of his opponents have been debutants and the majority of the rest best typified as “win-some, lose-some” fighters so it’s hard to gauge a ceiling for Berlanga as of yet. The Andre Rozier fighter, with strong Puerto Rican roots, has ensured not to hang about and has been consistently destructive in his pursuit of a knockout. Over the course of 2020 he should face some more recognisable names where we’ll be able to measure just HOW good he is. Spoiler alert: he’ll probably still knock them out.
Otha Jones III – Lightweight
Talented Toledo lightweight Otha Jones III is on a mini crusade to bring boxing swinging back into the bright lights of Ohio. The 19 year old inked a deal with Matchroom USA last year and went 4-0 for the calendar year. A United Kingdom debut saw him stop Michael Horabin inside two minutes; Horabin is a fighter who rarely gets stopped. The softly spoken and self aware fighter has been keen to get his name out in the media at an early stage of his career: his performances match the buzz surrounding his name. He’s not been shy, either, about his goals and previously stated a desire to be 11-0 before 2020 is out.
Jared Anderson – Heavyweight
Venture into the not too distant past and it seemed as though the United States of America were capable of churning out heavyweight hopefuls at a baker’s dozen a week. Many of them would fizzle out but expectation remained; sadly not even that can be said for the last decade. Jared Anderson, alongside talents like Sonny Conto, look set to redress that issue. Anderson has been dubbed “America’s next great heavyweight” and he’s showing glimpses of that promise since turning professional. 2-0 and with plenty of work to do, the two-time national amateur champion is another Ohioan bringing some sparkle to the State.
Simon Kean – Heavyweight
Canadian heavyweight Simon Kean is a bit of a pet project of mine: I’ve had a keen interest in his career for a number of years. He makes this list by way of being in entertaining fights despite having a ceiling noticeably lower than most entrants. That is of no disrespect because Kean has been at the forefront of a rejuvenated boxing scene in Canada – he has helped bring a bit of glamour back to the national heavyweight division. The sole defeat of his career is to, the capable, Dillon Carman but he’s pieced together three KO wins since. The 31 year is the WBC Silver International champion so expect him to figure in some minor-ranking fights and a name, possibly, for Daniel Dubois?
Charles Conwell – Super Welterweight
Tragedy struck the sport last year with the tragic loss of a number of fighters. The most widely covered death was that of Patrick Day; Charles Conwell was his opponent that night and has been open about his struggles since. The dignity with Conwell has carried himself is a testament to the type of man he is; a man in the sport for the right reasons. The 22 year old competed in the Rio Olympics but lost in the first round – his professional career has gone far smoother. Last year the super welterweight claimed the USBA title with a comfortable win over Courtney Pennington. In his eleven pro fights he has garnered attention for his assured approach in the ring and amiable personality outside of it.
Cody Crowley – Super Welterweight
Ontario resident Cody Crowley has slowly but surely been climbing up the peripheral rankings. Now at 18-0, you’d have to cast your mind back to the undercard of Terence Crawford vs Yuriorkis Gamboa (June 2014) for his professional debut. The 26 year old’s approach to his development seems to have been wise; there will always be lessons to learn for any 20 year old making their debut. Crowley has been sure to step up at the right time, knowing it was on his side, and has adapted to each step up with real comfort. Last year he defended the CPBC National title on two occasions and should fight for bigger titles this year.
Ruben Villa – Featherweight
WBO International belt holder Ruben Villa made his professional debut shortly after his 19th birthday. The Californian entered the pro ranks, in 2016, with credible amateur pedigree: a two time Golden Gloves champion and a 166-17 record. Villa has been guided by Banner Promotions and Thompson Boxing who have seen him progress to 17-0 and continually busy. His television debut will be on January 31st when he headlines on Showtime against Alexei Collado. Villa is a smooth southpaw who fought for the International belt twice last year winning both with a style that sees him tick through the motions and widen the gap as rounds progress.
David Kaminsky – Welterweight
Israeli-born David Kaminsky is another teenager looking to make a splash with big backing. Bob Arum and the cohort at Top Rank have invested into the welterweight with grand ambitions for the 19 year old. As an amateur he took silver at the US Youth National Championships, competing at 165lbs but saw success across a number of weight divisions. Having settled at 154 for the foreseeable future, Kaminsky has quickly caught the eye of onlookers. In his latest fight, against Travis Jerig, he caught his opponent flush in the face with a crisp left hand to stop the contest immediately.
Saleto Henderson – Flyweight
The lightest of our fighters to watch, Saleto Henderson is worth keeping an eye on in a flyweight scene gradually receiving more awareness. Henderson will be a bit of a slow-burner, I suspect, with time aplenty to round out his ability. The 20 year old has moved to 7-0 with ease, albeit against untested opponents, and looks a little raw from what footage there is. In December he went ten rounds, at the first scheduled opportunity, against Jesus Soler to win an NABF Junior belt. Given how young he is there is plenty of time for the early promise to be matured in the ring into a polished final product. He’ll need to stay busy, which can be hard at flyweight, but seven fights in a year shows he has every commitment to learning on the job.
Boxing Insider’s Boxing Beffudlements – Oldest Boxers of All Time
By: Oliver McManus
Hear at Boxing Insider we have committed ourselves to finding the unique angles of boxing history. In this series of Boxing Beffudlements we have already covered the heaviest and tallest boxers of all time but this week we cast our eye on some of the oldest fighters in history.
I’ll start proceedings by venturing a fairly obvious suggestion – Bernard Hopkins. Naturally when you think of the sport’s elder statesman the mind will drift towards the two-weight world champion. The smoothest thing out of Philadelphia since the eponymous cream cheese, Hopkins debuted in 1988, at the age of 23, infamously losing a majority decision over four rounds.
The Executioner took knockbacks in his stride. He was, afterall, raised in the offbeat social obscurity that were the ‘Raymond Rosen’ housing projects of Philadelphia. At 30 years of age he laid claim to the first world title of his career – the IBF middleweight belt – with a seventh round knockout over Segundo Mercado. 20 consecutive defenses, in which he unified and became undisputed, saw Hopkins become “the man” for nearly ten years. Victories over Oscar de la Hoya and Felix Trinidad were particular highlights.
Hopkins was far from done, we all know his story. He was not like his former foe Roy Jones Jr, however, continuing to carve out a “legacy” against nobodies. Indeed Hopkins avenged his 1993 defeat some 17 years later with a unanimous decision. Before retirement in 2016, Hopkins would have two more stints as world champion. Firstly in 2011 when he defeated Jean Pascal, at the second time of asking, having overcome an early storm from his Canadian opponent. That made history, in itself, though his reign would last a mere 14 rounds.
12 months on from losing the WBC, Ring and Lineal titles to Chad Dawson he would fight for the IBF belt against Tavorious Cloud. A unanimous decision ensured Hopkins broke his own record as the oldest champion in history. Aged 49 he would unify against Beibut Shumenov before being pasted by Sergey Kovalev for 12 rounds and sent lurching out of the ring by Joe Smith. A fighter of true calibre, going out on his sword, and refusing to settle for mediocrity. Bernard Hopkins chased greatness at every opportunity, it’s safe to say he achieved it.
The oldest world champion of all time, then, in Bernard Hopkins and he took that mantle from an equally infamous figure in George Foreman. Yet another icon of the sport, Foreman regained a version of the heavyweight world titles when he was 46. He’ll have to settle for a mere footnote in this feature, however, for he’s positively youthful in comparison to some of these next guys.
Gilberto Jacobs is a perfect example of fighting beyond your years with the South Carolina native boasting a career spanning some 30 years. He does, however, average just one fight every 40 months, however, with a record of 3-6. Debuting in 1989, already getting on at 34, he was knocked out within three rounds by, fellow debutant, Phil D’Amelio. Four months later and Jacobs made amends with a first round KO over Nick Tolomeo to level his record at 1-1.
And that was that, so it seemed. For six years, anyway, when Jacobs emerged from obscurity for two more bouts. Both lasted less than a round with the 40 year old getting dispatched comfortably by Jim Mullen and Jerry Moran. That definitely was the end of the story. Except, evidently, the lure of the ring drew Jacobs back some fifteen years later. In 2010 and at the age of 56, the light heavyweight recorded his first win in 21 years thanks to a majority decision over Pete Yates.
Three fights in the next eight years would see a return to his position of cannon fodder. As archaic as that warfare reference, no-one wanted to get beaten by Jacobs and no-one wanted to boast about beating him, either. On March 30th of this year, however, the 64 year old became the oldest fighter ever to record a victory in professional boxing. Jamil Shrine Temple – a venue that describes itself “as American as apple pie” – played host to the round that shattered records. Carlos Umanzor, dubiously licensed by the South Carolina Athletic Commision, found himself knocked out within a round to place Jacobs, forty-one years the older fighter, in the record books.
64 years and 105 days. I think it’s probably time for Gilberto to start settling into retirement.
Bizarrely, though, this doesn’t even allow Jacobs to dine-out on the honour of being the oldest boxer ever. You see, proudly in possession of that plaque is a certain Jack Lucious . His last fight came on April 6th last year in Houston when Juice entered the ring aged 64 years and 246 days.
Having turned professional in 1984 there was a degree of the ordinary to Lucious’ career, building up a record of 3-4-1 by fighting local Houston boxers at anywhere between 157 and 170lbs. A relative journeyman in the making. The background of Lucious was anything but ordinary, however.
His mother was killed, when Jack was five, by his father – later ruled an act of self-defence – and when he was eleven he had packed up and left home. Joining the army as a teenager, he was honourably discharged before taking up boxing, harbouring ambitions of representing the ‘States at the Olympics.
The eighth fight of his career, in 1986, came against, unbeaten in five, Charles Hollis. The contest ended in the seventh with Lucious suffering a broken leg. Just a temporary hitch with a swift return to the ring in the works. Alas it would be 32 years until the squared circle was graced with the presence of Juice, again.
21 years in jail following a case of “purse-snatching” would have been enough for anyone to give it all up. Jack proved to be quite the opposite, viewing his time inside – for a crime he professes his innocence – as merely “a two decade training camp”. Yail Eligo, a one veteran at the time, was his opponent at the Arabia Shrine, Houston. Ironically Lucious had proclaimed Eligo to be “too old” before the fight but, despite the desire for a victorious narrative, the contest lasted all of 141 seconds – Juice found himself, suitably, getting pulped.
And, finally, an honourable mention to Martin Rovcanin – everybody’s second favourite Serbian heavyweight (narrowly behind Boban Filipovic). The 48 year old resident of Belgrade has been fighting infrequently since 2013 to amass a record of 6-0. Mouthwatering victories over Nedeljko Cvorovic and Dragan Bajak have cemented his place in my heart as a true titan of Baltic heavyweight folklore.
Who, though, is your favourite fighter to have fought long after the rules of time suggest?
Boxing Insider’s Boxing Befuddlements: The Tallest Boxers of All Time
By: Oliver McManus
Last week we kicked off a new series for Boxing Insider by looking at the heaviest professional boxers of all time. In the second edition of Boxing Befuddlements we’ll be looking at the tallest boxers of all time.
As with the heaviest fighters there is an obvious starting point for the category in Nikolay Valuev. We profiled his rise to world glory as part of that heavyweight feature so won’t repeat the same information but the Russian giant goes down in history as the tallest and heaviest world champion of all time. Standing at a mighty 7ft (213cm), Valuev’s height is not as a result of genetic dominance, his parents were both a mere 5ft 5inches (167cm) but rather the gigantism, enhanced by acromegaly, he was born with.
Since his retirement in 2009 Valuev has become an ambassador for the Russian national sport of bandy, as well as as member of the State Duma, in case you were wondering what he was up to.
Of course being the tallest champion of all time doesn’t immediately mark you out as THE tallest, full stop. If it did this would be a very short article.
Taishan Dong gives Valuev a very close run for his money, equalling the Russian’s height at 7ft. Initially a basketballer in his home country of China, Dong first foray into combat sports was actually through kickboxing. In 2013 he floored, former UFC fighter, Bob Sapp in an exhibition contest.
Nicknamed ‘The Great Wall’ he quickly adopted the forename Taishan due to his gargantuan stature bringing comparisons with the Shandong mountain of the same name. He moved to America in 2014 and made his debut in July of that year, a 2nd round stoppage of Alex Rozman. Offered a contract with Top Rank, he opted to sign with Golden Boy and gained a cult notoriety before his career stalled at the beginning of 2016. Three years on and he still hasn’t been back in the boxing ring, leaving his record at 6-0.
For a few weeks he was contracted to the WWE roster but that came to a swift end in December last year and the mystery continues.
Before we progress onto who exactly the tallest boxer is – yes, we will keep you waiting – it seems kind of inevitable that these giants are all going to come from the heavyweight division, such is the nature of boxing, so let’s dip into the lower weights and see who’s got something to shout about.
Cast your eyes over to Canada and the name Tony Pep might ring a few bells in the cacophonous chambers of your mind. A professional between 1982 and 2008 (although he only had six of his 53 fights after 2000), Pep was a world challenger, and Commonwealth champion, at super featherweight.
At 6ft 1.5inches (187cm) Pep would have stood head and shoulders, quite literally, over Miguel Berchelt, the current super featherweight world champion. Whilst it’s true the Canadian drifted in weight divisions – as high as 143lbs – the majority of his success was found in the super featherweight division. He also had the pleasure of sharing the ring with Floyd Mayweather and Ricky Hatton so he’s seen his fair share of sights.
The streets of Coachella, California, are the home of a literal giant among men. At 21 years of age it’s questionable as to whether Sebastian Fundora technically qualifies as a man – states laws in America being infinitely more varied than in the United Kingdom – but given his height and physique I won’t be the one to argue it.
The Towering Inferno , as he’s known, has been a professional since he was 18, ticking over in 2016. Since then he’s notched up an unbeaten record of 12-0. Fundoa fought largely Mexico at the beginning of his career but, via a solitary bouts in Uruguay and Argentina, is back making a name for himself in the States. Genuinely talented, as well, he isn’t being placed in the ‘novelty tall man’ drawer. I think it’s safe to say he’s putting the ‘fun’ in Fundora.
That’s the end of our small detour through the twists and turns of ‘The Tall City’ – which is, actually, what they call Midland, Texas – and it’s time for the grand reveal. Officially coming in as the tallest professional boxer of all time, even appearing in the Guinness Book of World Records, is Gogea Mitu.
Born as Dumitru Stefansecu and trading as “the Giant of Marsani”, Mitu was a Romanian heavyweight in the 1930s. There is plenty of conflicting information out there on the internet about him but official records show he was born a just two weeks before World War One broke out. He was the oldest of 11 children, his mother just 16 when she gave birth to him.
Towering over the small village he was from, Mitu was 7ft 4inches (224cm) tall and was offered a job as a literal “greatest showman” in the Prague ‘circus of human rarities’. It was there that he met Umberto Lancia who would teach him how to box. A debut came in Bucharest, June 1935, in which he swept aside Saverio Grizzo – himself 6ft 7.5inches (202cm) – within a round. Four months later he would do the same to Dimitru Pavelescu.
In the summer of 1936, just as his career was starting in earnest, he was travelling back from Istanbul when he caught a cold. After a few days of stagnant conditions, he was taken to the local hospital. Whilst there he would contract poisoning and pass away on June 22nd.
A tragic tale but one that all “tall boxers” will eternally live in the shadow of. Mitu, quite literally, raised the heights and makes the modern day behemoth seem positively miniature in comparison.
Canada’s Greatest Boxers Of All-Time
By: Patrick Mascoe
Anytime you create a list like this you are really just asking for an argument. So let me apologize right now. Judging fighters from different eras is extremely difficult and highly subjective. For example, I have only seen two of the fighters on this list fight in the ring. The others fought well before I was ever conceived and are known, not from what I have witnessed but from what I have read regarding the history of boxing. It can also be argued that most of Canada’s greatest boxers are not even Canadian. So, for the purpose of this list, the definition of a Canadian boxer is anyone who was born in Canada or moved to Canada at a young age and has called Canada home. This means one of two things: Canada as a nation has not produced a lot of home grown talent or Canada is a land of opportunity for those who wish to pursue a career in boxing. Let’s go with the second option.
If you are a Canadian reading this list, you will notice one glaring omission. George Chuvalo, who is easily Canada’s most famous boxer, was not necessarily one of our greatest boxers. Chuvalo twice challenged for the heavyweight title but lost both times by decision. In 93 professional fights, Chuvalo was never knocked down and that includes fighting the likes of Muhammad Ali (twice), George Forman, Joe Frazier, Cleveland Williams, Jimmy Ellis, and Buster Mathis. What keeps George Chuvalo off this list, and makes him an honourable mention, is that unlike all the other fighters on this list, he was never inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. However, any man who went fifteen rounds with Muhammad Ali and then bragged, “When it was all over, he was the guy who went to the hospital because he was pissing blood. Me? I went dancing with my wife” deserves to be mentioned when talking about Canadian boxers.
Without further ado, here is my countdown of Canada’s 5 greatest boxers of all-time:
5. Arturo Gatti (1972- 2009): Arturo Gatti was born in Cassino, Italy, but moved to Montreal as a child and eventually competed as a member of Canada’s National Boxing Team before deciding to turn pro. Gatti was known as a blood and guts fighter who possessed power in both hands. He was also extremely resilient and absorbed incredible amounts of punishment before coming back and winning fights he had no right to win. To say that he had a fan-friendly style is an understatement. Gatti was not great in the traditional sense. He did not have Pernell Whittaker’s defence. He did not have Ali’s speed. Nor did he have Mayweather’s technical skill. What he had was a warrior’s spirit and an entertaining style that made fans love him. He was a fearless all-action fighter. He held the IBF Jr. Lightweight Title from 1995-1998 and the WBC Super Lightweight Title from 2004-2005. He retired with a record of 40-9. Gatti was involved in the Ring’s “Fight of the Year” on four different occasions. Arturo Gatti may very well have been the most exciting fighter of his generation.
4. Jimmy McLarnin (1907 – 2004): McLarnin was born in Ireland and moved to Canada at the age of three. He took up boxing at the age of ten. Three years later he caught the eye of a former professional boxer named Charles Foster who believed McLarnin would one day be a world champion. McLarnin started his professional career fighting in Vancouver but was dissatisfied by the low pay and decided to pursue his craft in the United States. His youthful appearance was a hindrance, so he had to lie about his age. However, once in the ring there was no mistaking his power. It was for that reason he was known as the “Baby-faced Assassin.”
In 1928, he had a title shot against world lightweight champion, Sammy Mandell, but lost the fight by decision. Despite the fact that he beat Mandell twice in the following two years, as well as knocking out Benny Leonard, one of the greatest fighters of all-time, he was made to wait five years before getting another shot at the title. This time, when his opportunity came, he made the most of it by knocking out Young Corbett III in the first round to win the world welterweight title. He would lose his title to Barney Ross, then win it back again in a rematch, only to lose it again in their third match. Unlike many boxers of that era, McLarnin decided to retire while still at the top of his game. In his final two fights, he defeated hall of famers Tony Canzoneri and Lou Ambers. Despite many generous offers, McLarnin refused to come out of retirement. He certainly didn’t need the money as he had invested wisely and was a very wealthy man.
3. Tommy Burns (1881 – 1955): Tommy Burns is the only Canadian-born boxer to ever hold the world heavyweight title. He was born in Hanover, Ontario in 1881. Burns was an extremely small heavyweight, standing only 5 ft. 7 in. tall and weighing 175 pounds. In 1906, Burns was a 2 to 1 underdog when he faced heavyweight champion Marvin Hart. Not only did Burns win the heavyweight title, he went on to defend it eleven times.
Tommy Burns was a man well ahead of his time. Historically, his legacy should be far greater than it is. He is known as the boxer who was defeated by Jack Johnson, who became the first fighter of African descent to win the heavyweight title. As much as history recognizes Johnson’s feat, Burns also deserves a great deal of credit, as he was the first white boxer willing to put the heavyweight title on the line against a fighter of colour. At a time when boxing was almost completely divisive and no white fighter wanted anything to do with Jack Johnson, Tommy Burns had fought half a dozen bouts versus black boxers. He hired and worked out with black sparring partners, and was married for a time to a black woman. He claimed that he would defend his title against all comers and that no one was barred. “I propose to be the champion of the world. If I am not the best man in the heavyweight division then I don’t want the title.” Without this attitude of inclusion, Jack Johnson might not have been given the chance to make history. Johnson said as much in 1909, when he addressed an audience in Vancouver, saying that Burns deserved credit for being the only white heavyweight fighter willing to give a black man a chance to fight for the title.
Although Tommy Burns retired from boxing a wealthy man, he lost everything in the Stock Market Crash of 1929. He ended his career taking jobs as an insurance salesman and security guard. He died at the age of 73 of a heart attack.
2. Samuel Langford (1883 – 1956): According to ESPN, Sam Langford was the “Greatest Fighter Nobody Knows.” Born in Weymouth Falls, Nova Scotia, Canada, Langford started his pro career fighting out of Boston. This explains why he was known as the Boston Bonecrusher, the Boston Terror, and the infamous Boston Tar Baby. Despite standing only 5 ft. 7 ½ in., Langford fought from lightweight to heavyweight. Even though he always gave up either height or weight, he only lost 29 times out of an alleged 300 professional fights. The legendary, Jack Dempsey, once described Samual Langford as the greatest fighter we ever had.
One year after turning professional, Langford defeated World Lightweight Champion Joe Gans in a 15-round non-title fight. On April 26th, 1906 Langford fought future World Heavyweight Champion Jack Johnson. Langford gave up 30 pounds to Johnson and lost a 15-round decision. Apparently, Langford showed enough skill in that first fight to make sure that there would never be a rematch. Throughout his career, Johnson repeatedly refused to fight Langford, even though he was considered by many to be Johnson’s most dangerous challenger. Battling Jim Johnson, a man Langford had beaten nine times and had never lost to, was given a title shot against Jack Johnson, while Langford was left waiting. Langford never did get a rematch against Jack Johnson. When Jack Johnson, the baddest man on the planet, avoids you like the plague, then you know you possess greatness.
1. Lennox Lewis (1965 – Present): Lewis was born in London, England and moved to Canada at the age of 12. He represented Canada at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, winning a gold medal. He defeated Riddick Bowe in the final. After winning his first 22 professional fights, he was once again slated to fight Bowe, this time for his WBC Heavyweight Title. Rather than face Lewis, Bowe vacated the title and Lewis was declared the new champion. After defending his title three times, he suffered an upset loss to Oliver McCall. On February 7th 1997, Lewis got his revenge by stopping McCall in the fifth round and regaining the WBC Title.
On March 13th, 1999, Lewis faced WBA and IBF Heavyweight Champion Evander Holyfield. Lewis clearly won the match, out landing Holyfield 348 to 130, but somehow the match was declared a draw. A rematch was immediately ordered and this time the judges saw what everyone else in attendance saw – a clear unanimous decision victory for Lewis. He defended his titles three more times before again being upset by an underdog named Hasim Rahman. He fought Rahman again in an immediate rematch and won back his titles by way of 5th round knockout. He fought twice more after that, knocking out International Boxing Hall of Fame fighters Mike Tyson in 8 rounds and Vitali Klitschko in 6 rounds. Lennox Lewis retired with a 41-2-1 record and rebounded to defeat the only two men to ever beat him. Lewis, along with Ingemar Johansson and Rocky Marciano, are the only world heavyweight champions to retire with victories over every man they ever faced as a professional.
Five UK Based Fighters Who Need a Big 2019
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.
British Prospects to Watch
By: Oliver McManus
With so many young prospects coming through the ranks in British boxing it’s hard to come up with new categories for these articles so I’m not even going to try – here are just five of the most eye-catching prospects in British boxing as it stands –
Photo of Tey Lynn Jones
‘Sniper the Boss’ seems to be, to me at least, the forgotten man from Frank Warren’s stable of fighters and I mean that in the nicest way possible because for someone of his talent he’s getting very little in way of opportunities from his promoter.
Campaigning at super middleweight, the 25 year old looked like kicking on when he won, Warren’s trademark, WBO European title in November of last year but since then his progress has stagnated with just a single six rounder to his name this year.
None of that is Richards’ fault who, earlier this year, told me he wanted a shot at the English title by the end of 2018 and you’d suggest, certainly, on his talent that he is a man more than deserving of such a fight.
Incredibly mature in the ring with a strong, established jab and fantastic amateur pedigree, Richards is a commanding presence at the centre of the canvas, working the angles, cutting of the ring with ease and packing a ferocious left hand.
Having sparred with the likes of George Groves and Lerrone Richards there can be no doubting his class in the ring and, hopefully, it’s only a matter of time before we see him getting the opportunities he deserves.
Possibly the classiest man both inside and outside of the ring, Umar Sadiq has already attracted a huge fan base thanks to his impressive performances and innovative use of social media.
It sounds like something so simple but ‘Top Boxer’, as he’s known, really has mastered Twitter and YouTube in order to connect with his fans – myself, included – and whilst I’ve wanted to interview him for quite some time, I’ve not managed to do so yet, his manner in everyday life makes it, near, impossible to not want him to do well.
That’s all by the by, however, what really matters is his ability in the ring and having come from a strong amateur background he already looks at ease, moving through the motions quickly, and stamping his authority over his three opponents thus far.
Back in June Umar looked at his most complete, yet, with a masterful control of the fight tempo, insightful shot select before unfurling a vicious left hook into the body of Kamil Al Temimi to send the Polish fighter crumpling to the canvas with consummate ease.
Arguably the most terrifying thing about Sadiq is that he’s not even looked out of breath upon the conclusion of his three professional fights – I know they’ve only been four and six rounders, thus far, but it bodes well for the big bouts.
Targeting a clash with “Chihuahua” Darryll Williams, Sadiq looks likely to face Zak Chelli next in October but his rise to the top is surely going to be as quick as it will be stylish and sophisticated.
Explosivity personified, Dan Azeez is part of Britain’s burgeoning light-heavyweight scene looking to force their way into title contention and with the Southern Area belt currently vacant then your money would be firmly on Azeez to be the next champ.
Backed by the big boys at MTK Global, Azeez dropped his first three opponents a total of six times to instantly raise the eyebrows of many a fan and fighting with such fierce regularity – September 21st will be his fifth fight in just over six months – ensures that his development is constant, he’s always learning, there is no standstill for Dan Azeez.
And that last fight, on July 13th, against Adam Jones was a fight where you could see Dan thinking on the job, having to adapt, you could see all his training coming to the fore because, as much as I wanted to see a fourth knockout on the trot, Jones was awkward and forced Dan to go one step further than his comfort zone and, ultimately, it’ll pay off in the long run.
Stepping up to six rounds in his next outing, I’m torn between whether I want to see more of that vicious punch power – which we all know Dan possesses in spades – or if I want to see him in with those opponents that are going to be awkward, aren’t really going to come to fight because as boring as that sounds and as bad it would be, these fights are going to test Dan but my money says, regardless of opponent, he will always find an avenue to launch that knockout shot because he is just constantly thinking, he’s a smart boxer and I, for one, cannot wait to see him knocking on the door for those titles.
Tey Lynn Jones
Southern Area middleweight champion Tey Lynn Jones makes this “prospect” list despite already being quite established in the domestic scene because, to be honest, he has just got bags and bags of potential.
In claiming the Southern Area crown against MH Legg earlier in the year he looked destructive, dropping Legg in the first round and easing his way to the win – Legg retired after the seventh – but his first defence, against Darren Codona was, by reports, not entirely convincing.
Now I don’t mean that to sound horrible, you’re allowed off nights, and having first seen Tey back in February 2017 it would be impossible to deny just how far he’s come in that, relatively, short space of time.
‘Teysty’ is no longer rushing his shots, he’s taking his time and remaining patient but, in equal measure, he’s not afraid to go for the stoppage when there’s blood in the water and he’s always looking to exploit his opponents weakness – I think that’s, for me, one of the most tell-tale signs that the 24 year old has learnt SO MUCH since his loss to Nicky Jenman in March last year.
He’s gone away, worked his nut off, thought “okay, how can I get better?” and is now reaping the rewards so hat’s off to him and for as long as he stays in these title fights then he’ll always be pushing himself to get better and there’s some real good opportunities out there for the Essex man to push his name up the rankings.
Chris Billam Smith
Now Chris Billam Smith is a man I have been excited about for a long time and I know Barry McGuigan shares that excitement so the young cruiserweight must be doing something right!
I’ve said it before but the Bournemouth man has a style that makes you want to watch him, his fast footwork makes him hard to hit but his long, lanky – in a nice way – stature means you’re seemingly never out of his reach and when he starts to get into his rhythm he packs one hell of a right hook.
A fighter who prominently targets the body of an opponent, Billam Smith has mastered the art of teeing up the shot with sharp combinations to the head before dropping down and slamming home that right hand into the ribcage of his opposite man.
Last time out the 28 year kid faced Michal Plesnik and was convincing on his way to securing a shut-out points victory over eight rounds, setting him up nicely for title challenges and I like that every time you see him out in the ring you see his boxing maturity, he doesn’t rush shots to try to force the stoppage but is patient in working the angles and that is a characteristic that, more often than not, brings success.
They call him the gentleman but, trust me, there’s nothing chivalrous about him when he’s in the ring!y
I trailed this piece on Twitter by asking what these guys had in common and whilst I’m sure they’ll probably have quite a lot in common, the main factor is that they’re just ridiculously good fighters so make sure you keep an eye on them before the whole bandwagon rolls in.
British Boxers to Watch
By: Oliver McManus
Boxing in Britain is burgeoning at the present moment with no less than eight world champions ranging from featherweight all the way up to Anthony Joshua’s two heavyweight straps – but it’s not all about those at the top, there’s a plethora of young talent looking to make their mark in the ring so with that in mind let’s take a look at some of the most exciting prospects in British boxing.
The first talent goes by the name of Chris Billam Smith, a former English Amateur heavyweight champion, fighting in the cruiserweight division; with Lawrence Okolie and Isaac Chamberlain having the spotlight shone on their rivalry, Billam Smith is flying under the radar in the hotly-contested weight class.
Born in Bournemouth, the orthodox fighter turned professional fighter back in September under the management of Cyclone Promotions and has since move to a 4 and 0 record with all wins coming by way of knockout – for further comparison he fought Russ Henshaw in his debut bout, an opponent who Okolie and Chamberlain faced in their fourth and fifth fights respectively.
Known as The Gentleman , there’s nothing chivalrous about the manner in which he’s dispatched those that dare to get in the ring with the youngster already showcasing a full range of skills that are destined to take him far – a prolific body puncher, his right hand hook is ferocious to say least and enough to send anyone crumpling to the canvas.
It’s a boxing cliché that “styles make fights” but Billam Smith has one of the most appealing styles on the domestic scene across all weight divisions with fast footwork and a long lanky stature making him hard to hit yet easy to avoid.
An intriguing fight that could find itself in the works for 2018 is Billam Smith against Wadi Camacho for the Southern Area Cruiserweight title – a real domestic dust-up that would give the young cruiserweight a real platform to progress and given that he’s already stated he wants to be challenging for an English or Commonwealth title by the end of next year, it’s clear to see he’ll be rising the ranks rather quickly.
Daniel Dubois – Heavyweight
Daniel ‘Dynamite’ Dubois is only 20 years old but since turning professional with Frank Warren back in April he’s established himself as one of the most exciting prospects in all of heavyweight boxing; David Allen, Sam Sexton and Gary Cornish are all reported to have turned down fights with the 6ft 5inch Englishman.
Packing a powerful right hand jab, his former amateur coach Richie Woodhall has tipped the youngster to reach the Top 15 by the end of next year and Dubois himself states that he’s on a mission to claim “all the belts”.
The level of opposition he’s faced has drawn criticism from some areas of the boxing fraternity but for a 5-0 fighter with little amateur experience, it’s hard to pour scorn on the quality of opponent or, indeed, the manner in which Dubois has dispatched with them.
AJ Carter was the last man to step into the ring with the Greenwich-born fighter and felt the power of Dubois immediately with a thunderous right hand sending Carter to the canvas in a fight which secured Dubois the Southern Area Heavyweight Championship.
An underrated asset to Triple D is his footwork which, admittedly, isn’t lightning fast but moreover tactical in order to evade getting hit from his opposing foe – let’s not forget he’s only 20 and has got plenty of years ahead to improve on these already honed attributes.
Reported to have dropped Anthony Joshua in sparring, Frank Warren’s protégé fights Dorian Darch on the 9th December and is slated to battle for the English Heavyweight title in the early stages of next year – from there, anything is possible.
Chantelle Cameron – Women’s Lightweight
Wham Bam Chan, the 26 year old is the pick of British female boxers coming through the ranks although with Katie Taylor (admittedly Irish), Nicola Adams and Ashley Brace all rising rapidly it’s becoming a bit of a crowded scene.
From five fights since turning professional in May, Cameron has knocked out four opponents with the only fight going the distance being her debut against Karina Kopinska – a devastating display of her rapid, concussive punching style with a work-rate that, gym-mate, Josh Taylor admits pushes him to the limit during training.
Another boxer promoted by Blain McGuigan, the Northamptonshire fighter has already established herself as someone able to sell tickets as well as draw TV audiences thanks to her humble nature and easy-on-the-eye performances.
Having already ascended to the top of the lightweight division her last fight was for the IBO World Title where she became the first woman to stop Viviane Obenauf – something Katie Taylor failed to do.
Always smiling there’s a chilling coolness about Cameron as she looks to continually impose herself on her opposing corner, making sure to take to the centre of the ring with an array of commanding jabs and strong right hands to the body keeping her in control at all times.
2018 promises to be Chantelle Cameron’s year with challenges for major world titles sure to come and potentially a unification grudge match with Katie Taylor – if anyone still has their doubts about women’s boxing then Chantelle Cameron is the woman to change attitudes.
Lucas Ballingall – Super Featherweight
Probably the least heard of fighter to be featured, Lucas Ballingall has made his name boxing in and around the South of England with many suggesting he’s got the skills to challenge at the top – domestically, at least.
Despite the plaudits coming his way from die-hard boxing fans the 21 year old has yet to make his television debut – not that needs to be a barometer of quality – but has moved to an 8-0 record since turning pro in 2015 with this year being one where he’s sort to push on, three wins from three fights in 2017 suggest his career is headed in the right direction.
Whilst none of his opponents have been household names by any means none of them have been walkovers with all being considered durable, tough, gritty, journeyman who come to fight not to pick up a pay-check and rollover.
Pretty Boy, as he’s known, leads with the right but has a penchant for dropping down in stature and firing away two or three left handers to the ribs in order to fatigue the opponent – his latest fight, in November, was a textbook display of out-and-out aggression, keeping the fighter on the ropes, pummelling shots to head and body in order to win by a 2nd round knockout.
The eye catching work from the Portsmouth super featherweight is often the simple stuff that he manages to make look like an art-form, the way he throws the jab and bounces his way around the ring is purely beautiful to watch and has already garnered him an army of fans back in Pompey.
The super featherweight division has several young fighters coming through with Zelfa Barret and Leon Woodstock all joining Ballingall as British boxers on the ascendancy but with Barret and Woodstock all signed up to high-profile promotional deals, Ballingall is having to go about this the hard way – keep an eye out as he progresses through the rank across the next calendar year.
Josh Kelly – Welterweight
Perhaps the pick of Eddie Hearn’s “NXTGEN” products, Josh Kelly is a distinguished amateur fighter having competed at the Rio Olympics as well as bringing home a Bronze medal from the 2015 European Games for the Great British amateur team.
Turning his attention to the paid ranks at the turn of the year, PBK (Pretty Boy Kelly) made his professional debut and since then has fought four times with four increasingly impressive victories coming his way.
Such is the esteem that he’s held in, there’s been no mucking about in terms of opponents with them all having a winning record and, to all intents and purposes, being no pushovers; his next fight on the 13th December sees him take a step up against Jean Michel Hamilcaro, a former IBF International title holder, who’s floating around the Top 125.
The inventor of the ‘albatross punch’, Kelly does not box by the book with him often standing statuesque in the middle of the ring, baiting the opponent, before ducking and weaving with his hands down by his side in a display of sheer outlandish audacity.
When he gets those hands into play, however, he packs magic in them; against Tom Whitfield in June, he dropped his man to the canvas with EIGHT consecutive left hand power shots to the body. As an opponent it’s hard to prepare for facing Pretty Boy because you simply have no idea what he’s going to throw at you.
From Sunderland, the 23 year old has been the motivation behind Eddie Hearn’s desire to bring boxing back more regularly to the North-East of England and if Kelly can keep the eye-catching, headline-grabbing performances coming than it won’t be long before he’s headlining in his own backyard.
There’s been talk of title shots in 2018, with no specification as to which title, but the most likely route is for Kelly to battle it out domestically in order to solidify his standing before pushing onto loftier heights towards the back end of the year moving into 2019.
So there you have it, five of the most exciting British boxers to keep an eye on in 2018 and beyond – the list could have seen 10, 15, 20 names make the cut – giving reason to be more than a little positive about the state of boxing in Britain with so many young talents coming through, who knows, this time next year we could be looking at five more world champions.