Former world champion Sugar Ray Leonard always has his eye on this era’s young boxing talent, and the Hall of Famer shared his thoughts with RingTV.com concerning unbeaten fighters Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, Adrien “The Problem” Broner, Danny Garcia, Brandon Rios and Gary Russell Jr.
A 22-year-old Mexican WBC junior middleweight titleholder, Alvarez (41-0-1, 30 knockouts), like Golden Boy Promotional stablemate Floyd Mayweather Jr., holder of the WBC and WBA welterweight and 154-pound belts, respectively, has targeted May 4 for his return at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, in addition to each undefeated boxer having said that he wants to fight on Sept. 14.
The dates fall on the two traditional Mexican holiday weekends — Cinco De Mayo and Mexican Independence Day, and with their big names, Alvarez and Mayweather stand a chance to bring unprecedented attention to themselves.
Having ended 2012 on a bang with his unanimous decision victory over three-division champion Miguel Cotto on Dec. 1, WBA “regular” 154-pound beltolder, Austin Trout (26-0, 14 KOs) wants to begin 2013 in similar fashion, his preference being a clash with Alvarez.
In the past, Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer said that he would work on negotiations for a matchup between WBC interim 147-pound beltholder Robert Guerrero and Mayweather, who has also been requested by Alvarez.
Indications are that Alvarez wants Mayweather in September.
“I like that kid, man. I know this kid. The red-haired Mexican. I mean, this kid was born to fight. I would love to see him fight more. And he’s calling out Mayweather? Really?” said Leonard.
“You know, I like the kid, but he still needs more experience. But he’s one to watch, man. He has such a tremendous fan following, and that’s a great sign.”
The holder of the WBC’s lightweight title, Broner (25-0, 21 KOs) will return to the ring on Feb. 16 against former beltholder Gavin Rees (37-1-1, 18 KOs), of Wales at Boardwalk Hall in in Atlantic City on HBO.
“I’ve been watching this kid, man, and this kid, man, he’s a talent. That kid has it. He’s one of those rare fighters that has the entire package,” said Leonard of Broner. “He’s defensive, he’s offensive, he’s powerful, he’s quick. He has everything. I just look forward to watching him grow.”
A 23-year-old from Cincinnati, Broner is coming off November’s eighth-round knockout that dethroned Antonio DeMarco in Atlantic City on HBO. A former WBO junior lightweight titletholder, Broner has won five straight by knockout and ended DeMarco’s streak of five consecutive wins, four of them by stoppage.
Reese is 10-0-1, with five knockouts since, himself, having been dethroned as junior welterweight titleholder via 12th-round stoppage by Andreas Kotelnik in March of 2008.
Rees, 32, earned consecutive victories over previously unbeaten fighters John Watson and Andy Murray by 11th-round knockout and unanimous decision in November of 2010 and June of last year, respectively.
After battling to a draw with Derry Mathews in October of last year, Rees scored two straight knockouts, the last in the ninth round over Mathews in July.
A 24-year-old Philadelphia junior welterweight who is of Puerto Rican descent, Garcia (25-0, 16 KOs) is coming off October’s fourth-round stoppage of Mexican four-division titlewinner Erik Morales in a rematch of his unanimous decision victory in March, and has lined up a Feb. 9 defense opposite ex-titleholder Zab Judah at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
In July, Garcia knocked out Amir Khan in the fourth round, adding Khan’s WBA belt while also retaining the division’s RING championship and WBC crown.
Judah was ringside for Garcia-Morales II, and will represent Garcia’s sixth consecutive bout against a current or former world titleholder following consecutive decisions over ex-beltholders Nate Campbell and Kendall Holt in April and October of last year, respectively.
“I think that he’s going to continue to surprise people,” said Leonard. “He surprised everyone with the knockout of Amir Khan. How much of a shocker was that? Of course, Erik Morales was kind of past his prime. But what I saw him do to Amir Khan was very, very impressive.”
A 26-year-old Oxnard, Calif., resident and former lightweight titleholder, Rios (31-0-1, 23 KOs) still is awaiting the word from manager Cameron Dunkin on the decision by Top Rank CEO Bob Arum, who has confirmed reports that a rematch of October’s bloody, Fight-of-The-Year-caliber clash between Rios and junior welterweight rival Mike Alvarado is in discussion for March on HBO.
Rios became the first man to beat (and stop) Alvarado (33-1, 23 KOs), doing so by seventh-round knockout at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
Rios failed to make the 135-pound lightweight limit for both fights against Murray and Abril. Rios lost his WBA crown at the scales against Murray, and could not regain it as a result of his weight issues against Abril.
But Rios, who was ringside for Marquez-Pacquiao IV, has since learned that Marquez is considering a fifth bout with Pacquiao for September.
“I saw his fight with Alvarado, and it was bloody. You’re talking about heart? You can’t give a fighter heart,” said Leonard. “You can’t give a fighter what Brandon Rios showed and displayed in that fight. You either have it, or you don’t, and most fighters don’t have it. But Brandon Rios definitely has that.”
Featherweight prospect Russell (21-0, 13 KOs) has scored three straight knockouts since his unanimous decision victory over hard-punching fellow left-hander Leonilo Miranda in 2011, which followed an equally one-sided rout of Eric Estrada two months earlier.
A 24-year-old resident of Capitol Heights, Md., Russell Jr. now claims that his issues with brittle hands are behind him as approaches his next fight on March 2 at The Apollo Theater in New York against an opponent to be determined.
Russell is targeting WBC 126-pound beltholder Daniel Ponce de Leon (44-4, 35 KOs), who is scheduled to defend against Puerto Rican prospect Jayson Velez (20-0, 15 KOs) in the main event of the March 2 card.
In addition to De Leon, Russell has an eye out for former WBO titleholder Juan Manuel Lopez (31-2, 28 KOs), who will return to the ring on Feb. 2 against Brazilian junior lightweight opponent Aldimar Silva Santos at Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez, in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, site of his first of two knockout losses to Orlando Salido.
Lopez will be back in action for the first time since March 10, when he was stopped in the 10th round by Salido in San Juan, a repeat of Salido’s eighth-round knockout victory in April of last year.
“I know Gary Russell, because back a few yaers ago, there was a lot of talk about this kid, Gary Russell. The fact that he’s from D.C., I became a fan really quick. J.D. Brown, who was a member of my camp back in the day, J.D. was actually the one who first told me about Gary Russell,” said Leonard.
“Everyone talks about how great of a fighter he is and his potential. That’s why I see incredible potential. This kid just has to fight more often. You’ve got to fight, man, if you want to get better, and if you want to get recognized and acknowledged. You’ve got to fight so that the fans can see you, and, at the same time, you become more experienced.”
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Photo by Chris Farina, Top Rank
Photo by Naoki Fukuda
Lem Satterfield can be reached at [email protected]