The best fighter in the world, Bernard Hopkins, turns 40 in January, and more than half of the pound-for-pound Top 10 is comprised of fighters 30 years of age and older.
Nonetheless, there are a handful of prospects out there who will eventually dominate the sport. All they need is experience and opportunity — and for some of those thirty somethings to start acting their age.
Here’s a look at 10 such U.S.-based fighters, listed in no particular order, who just might break out in 2005. The criteria? Nothing more than 10 fights of professional experience and relative anonymity.
YUSAF MACK super middleweight, Philadelphia, 17-0-2 (11 KOs) What’s been missing is not talent; Mack can skilfully box and punch and defend himself. It’s been extra effort. Mack, 24, needs to turn up the volume.
“You’ve seen him at 70 percent,” said Percy Custus, who trains and manages Mack. “He hasn’t been in the best of shape yet. He has five kids and a lot of distractions, and he doesn’t eat like he should.
“The fight he wants is Jeff Lacy. A couple more fights and he’s coming right at him. You’ll see how he gets up for Lacy [whom Mack fought in the amateurs].” In May, the 6ft 1ins Mack showed promise fighting to an eight-round draw vs Randy Griffin, who was 17-1. He also benefits from top-level sparring in Philly with the likes of Charles Brewer, Aaron Mitchell, and Steve Cunningham. The super middle class needs young talent. Look for Mack to help fill the void.
ALMAZBEK RAIYMKULOV lightweight, Las Vegas via Kyrgyzstan, 19-0 (11 KOs) To save countless typographical errors, he’s been renamed “Kid Diamond,” and the 27-year-old puncher sparkled underneath Barrera-Morales III, dropping and stopping useful former contender Lamar Murphy in five rounds.
Four years ago, Uzbekistan’s Mohammed Abdullaev, Ruslan Chagaev, and Kuvanych Toygonbayev invaded Las Vegas. All three have been somewhat successful (the first two have moved back to Europe), but the late-blooming Diamond might turn out to be better than all of them. Trained by Australia’s Steve Rowlands, he’s a vicious bodypuncher.
“He’s a very offensive-minded fighter,” said Bruce Trampler, matchmaker for Top Rank, which promotes Diamond. “He’s mature and strong and smart. Putting him in with Murphy was similar to when we put Miguel Cotto in with Cesar Bazan. I’d turn him loose right now with [lightweight titlists] Julio Diaz and Juan Diaz, but he needs a couple of fights.”
In his four most recent bouts, the 5ft 7ins Diamond, who has been compared to Kostya Tszyu, has faced opponents with a combined record of 60-16-1. He’s scored four KOs in a total of nine rounds. This is an advanced prospect.
PETER MANFREDO junior middleweight, Providence, Rhode Island, 21-0 (10 KOs) The fighters and their respective camps are sworn to secrecy, but it’s common knowledge on Bash Boulevard that Manfredo has made the finals of the prime-time NBC series The Contender, which premieres early in the new year. In the spring, he’ll meet Sergio Mora, 12-0 (3 KOs), in the championship match, to be broadcast live. Should Manfredo win, the career-boost will be both huge and unique. Manfredo, who is trained and managed by his father, Peter Manfredo Sr, is a well-schooled boxer with a commendable work ethic. He’s been criticised for featuring featherfists, but his punching power has improved.
“Peter reminds me of a Willie Pep type of boxer,” said Jimmy Burchfield, who promotes the 24-year-old. “He’s able to think, and a lot of fighters can’t. When he faced Sherwin Davis [who was 17-0], a lot of people said I shouldn’t have taken that fight. But he chopped him down, first the body, then the head.” In addition to Davis, Manfredo has stopped a faded Frankie Randall and outpointed Anthony Bonsante and prospect-buster Grady Brewer. But it’s his bout vs Mora that will shape his career.
PAUL WILLIAMS welterweight/junior middleweight, Augusta, Georgia, 25-0 (19 KOs) Williams hails from the home of The Masters golf tournament. But while Tiger Woods and Ernie Els don’t seem to mind that Phil Mickelson competes as a tall left-hander, potential opponents hold that against Williams. The lanky 23-year-old prospect struggles to secure fights, which is par for the course when you’re a talented southpaw.
“Paul is a quiet assassin to me,” said matchmaker Ron Katz, who has worked extensively with Williams. “He’s a left-handed version of Thomas Hearns.” Williams hasn’t yet faced world-class opposition, but his potential was displayed in May, when he shut out Ecuadorian welterweight Luis Hernandez, who was 11-0. One month later, Hernandez engaged highly touted welter prospect Chris Smith in a 10-round shootout that was quite competitive.
Williams, who is trained and managed by George Peterson, fires in combination and features a strong straight left. But it’s what happens when he gets hit that has impressed Katz.
“When he fought [Mexican veteran] Rodolfo Gomez in February, he got hit two or three really good shots in the second round,” Katz said. “He fought back like hell and destroyed him [KO4].
“Three or four more fights and I’d put him in with Kermit Cintron.”
MIKE ARNAOUTIS junior welterweight, Atlantic City via Greece, 11-0-2 (5 KOs) Before August, Arnaoutis was a slick but safety-first southpaw inching along on the Maryland clubshow circuit. But in his debut on “ShoBox”, he traded for 12 draining rounds with heavy-handed fellow prospect Juan Urango, 13-0. The best fight of the “ShoBox” season was scored a draw.
When the 25-year-old Arnaoutis followed with a first-round knockout of the usually durable and far more experienced Jesse Feliciano, the talent-laden 140-pound class added yet another potential star.
“It was pretty obvious Mike was a skilled boxer with really fast hands,” said USA Today boxing writer Dan Rafael, “but he didn’t show any power or desire to knock out his opponent, and I wasn’t too interested in seeing more of him. Then came the great Urango fight and the knockout of Feliciano. He’s showing a much more exciting style, and he’s one of the younger guys to really keep an eye on.”
Arnaoutis is trained by Bill Johnson and managed by Gina Iacovou.
KELLY PAVLIK middleweight, Las Vegas via Youngstown, Ohio, 23-0 (18 KOs) Jermain Taylor aside, where have all the young middleweights gone? Well, don’t look here because the 6ft 2ins Pavlik won’t be making 160 pounds for long.
Only 22, Pavlik has been moved quite slowly. His most recent win was perhaps his toughest test, and that came against veteran Ross Thompson, who had won two of his previous nine. Nonetheless, he’s a physical specimen — virtually no body fat — who flaunts fight-ending power.
“He’s had a lot of defensive lapses, as so many punchers do,” said Trampler.
“But on several occasions I’ve seen him drill a guy and I’ve said to myself that not too many fighters, regardless of weight class, could take a punch like that.”
Managed by Cameron Dunkin, trained by Jack Loew, and promoted by Top Rank, Pavlik will likely face a Top 10 contender before the end of ’05. Trampler compares him to Joe Calzaghe. Maybe he’ll turn out to be the fighter who succeeds the Welshman at the top of the super middleweight class.
STEVE CUNNINGHAM cruiserweight, Philadelphia, 16-0 (9 KOs) Already a Top 10 cruiser (it doesn’t take much), the 6ft 3ins Cunningham remains a secret because of minimal television exposure. Trained by Rich Giachetti and promoted by Don King, the 28-year-old boxer-puncher has proved his mettle; in May, he travelled to South Africa and outlasted former contender Sebastian Rothmann over 10 tough rounds.
“He showed he can win fights like that, and he did it on the road,” said Eric Bottjer, King’s matchmaker. “But the fight that impressed me was against Forrest Neal [in October]. Neal isn’t an easy guy to fight, and he was coming off a win over Kenny Lunkins, who was 16-0. Cunningham took him apart [KO4].” Cunningham is well-schooled and disciplined. King promotes most of the 190-pound titleholders, so look for the Philadelphian to secure a shot in ’05.
STEVE LUEVANO featherweight/junior lightweight, La Puente, California, 26-0 (12 KOs) Another Top Rank-promoted Hispanic prospect, Luevano, 23, is a technically sound southpaw. But he’s no bonebreaker, so he’ll be a hard sell in the action-packed lighter weight classes.
Luevano is managed by Cameron Dunkin and trained by Steve Rowlands.
“Steve is more advanced than Pavlik,” said Trampler. “He’s a pretty consistent fighter. He’s a clean-living kid who’s completely dedicated. He’s not a runner, but he’s not the most aggressive guy in the world. He does enough to win.”
Despite the fact that he’s already ranked in some alphabet Top 10s, Luevano hasn’t faced stiff competition. His best win, a 10th-round stoppage, came against Fred Neal, who was 17-2-2. Otherwise, it’s been a steady diet of trialhorses, albeit ones with winning records.
Be sure that in ’05, Luevano will be tested for the first time at the world-class level.
ROBERT GUERRERO featherweight, Gilroy, California, 13-0-1 (6 KOs) Even though he hails from the garlic capital of the world, Guerrero has been a breath of fresh air. Sharp defensive skills have earned the 5ft 10ins southpaw the nickname “The Ghost”, but he’s recently added muscle to his game. After winning on points in eight of his first nine bouts, Guerrero, 21, has stopped his five most recent victims, including former world champion Enrique Sanchez, who lasted eight rounds in June.
Guerrero is trained by John Bray and managed by Bob Santos.
The problem for the former amateur star (at age 16, Guerrero lost to Clarence Vinson in the 2000 Olympic Trials) has been activity.
“He’s finally grown into his manhood,” said Tom Brown, matchmaker for Goossen-Tutor Promotions, which guides The Ghost. “The key is keeping him healthy. He’s had elbow and hand problems. Every time we get rolling, we have to postpone the next fight. But if he’s injury-free in ’05, we’ll be looking at the Rocky Juarezes of the world.”
As we went to press, Guerrero was scheduled to face rugged Mexican Cesar Figueroa, 28-4-1 (20 KOs), on 9 December.
SHAMONE ALVAREZ welterweight, Atlantic City, 9-0 (7 KOs) Okay, so this 5ft 7ins southpaw falls one fight short of the criteria. Moreover, he’s compiled only 18 rounds of professional experience. But Alvarez’s first-round KO of smooth boxer Mohammed Kayongo in November earned him a spot.
A natural right-hander, Alvarez, 27, punches strongly with both hands, which can’t be said of most southpaws. Trained by Arnold Robbins, he’s overwhelmed six of his seven KO victims in the opening round. His style is simple: He seeks and destroys from the opening bell.
“At 8-0, you never know what you’re gonna get,” said Gordon Hall, executive producer of “ShoBox,” which broadcast Alvarez’s knockout of Kayongo. “We knew Alvarez had heavy hands, but like most 8-0 fighters, he hadn’t fought good competition. He was really a six-round fighter. But he turned out to be one of ShoBox’s nice surprises of 2004.
“It was a great introduction to a national audience, and it came against his toughest opponent to date.”