Thursday, June 01, 2023  |



The sweet 16: Boxing’s best prospects

Fighters Network

ESPN2’s first ‘Friday Night Fights’ of the new year promises to be an explosive one as Friday’s show from Primm, Nevada is headlined by dazzling featherweight Yuriorkis Gamboa, one of the hottest prospects in the sport.

Gamboa, who takes on experienced fringe contender Roger Gonzalez, is not the only up-and-comer who is expected to emerge this year. The former Cuban amateur standout is one of 16 young boxers who are ready to make their mark in ’09.

Hold on a minute, you say. Didn’t this story, entitled “Nine who will shine in ’09”, already run last week?

No. That article featured a group of young fighters who are ready to pick up the torch from the sport’s current stars right now.

This group is different. These young guns still need to prove themselves, but they appear ready, or almost ready, to do so.

Most of these fighters have been considered “ones to watch” for more than a year. Their experience – whether from the amount of professional bouts they have or from their extensive amateur backgrounds – is too much to continue considering them mere prospects. However, they have yet to defeat the kind of opposition that would brand them as bona fide contenders.

None are currently ranked in THE RING’s divisional ratings, but that status could change for many of these talented fighters within the first quarter of this year.

One of the great aspects of boxing is that a fighter can immediately go from being an “up-and-comer” to a top contender or title holder with one fight.

Five fighters on the “Nine who will shine in ’09” list – Juan Manuel Lopez, Andre Berto, Timothy Bradley, Edwin Valero, and Jorge Linares – did just that.

How many from this list will do the same? We’ll find out soon.

Here they are in alphabetic order:

DEVON ALEXANDER – Junior Welterweight
Record: 17-0 (10)
Style/Specialty: Slick southpaw with power
Next fight: Unscheduled
The skinny: An extensive amateur career that included numerous Under-19 national titles enabled the 21-year-old St. Louis native to quickly progress through the pro ranks. The Kevin Cunningham-trained prodigy was savvy enough to handle former titleholder DeMarcus Corley in only his 14th pro bout.
The plan: Promoter Don King will either have Alexander sit on his No. 1 WBC ranking until beltholder Timothy Bradley is forced to make a mandatory defense or roll the dice against the WBC’s No. 2 contender Junior Witter in a box-off for an “interim” title.

MIKE ALVARADO – Junior Welterweight
Record: 24-0 (17)
Style/Specialty: Strong-willed physical boxer
Next fight: Unscheduled
The skinny: The 28-year-old Denver native came of age last year, fighting five times, beating prospects (Jesus Rodriguez and Michel Rosales), tough veterans (Manuel Garnica and Miguel Huerta), and former lightweight titleholder Cesar Bazan.
The plan: Alvarado’s promoter, Top Rank, will continue to keep him busy, but matchmaker Bruce Trampler says the former high school wrestling standout is ready to fight for a title so the company will look for opportunities as early as the first quarter of ’09.

ALFREDO ANGULO – Junior Middleweight
Record: 14-0 (11)
Style/Specialty: Hardnosed pressure fighter
Next fight: Ricardo Mayorga, Feb. 14th on HBO
The skinny: The 2004 Mexican Olympian’s amateur background and Spartan work ethic have him looking like a top contender after only 14 pro bouts. The 26-year-old Southern California resident burst onto the U.S. boxing scene last year with a quickie stoppage of super middleweight Ricardo Cortes (KO 1), a thriller with 147-pound fringe contender Richar Gutierrez (TKO 5), and a brutal beating of rugged 154 pounder Andrey Tsurkan (TKO 10).
The plan: Promoter Gary Shaw believes that former champ Mayorga is the perfect opponent for Angulo to further raise his profile and prove that he’s ready to advance to a title challenge.

“I want to see his defense improve first,” Shaw said. “I know Angulo can punch, but I want to see him avoid a punch, and doing so against Mayorga, who can still whack, would be a good idea. If he can dispose of Mayorga it will speak volumes about his potential.”

Shaw said he wants to maneuver Angulo into a title shot in the later part of the year. In the meantime, the promoter would like to make the most exciting matchups with Angulo possible and he named James Kirkland and Deandre Latimore as the type of opponents he’s looking for.

CHRIS ARREOLA – Heavyweight
Record: 26-0 (23)
Style/Specialty: Two-fisted brawler with underrated skills
Next fight: Unscheduled
The skinny: Over the past two years, the 26-year-old Southern Californian has separated himself from other promising U.S. heavyweights by smashing down fellow prospects Damian Wills (TKO 7), Malcolm Tann (TKO 8), Chazz Witherspoon (DQ 3) and Travis Walker (TKO 3). How sharp he looked in doing so depended on how hard he trained and subsequently how much he weighed going into the fights. Under 240 pounds Arreola has the look of a future star. Over 240 pounds he looks like a glorified club fighter.
The future: There was talk of a possible title shot against dual beltholder Wladimir Klitschko in the early part of this year, but those discussions did not go beyond “initial conversations”, according to Arreola’s promoter Dan Goossen. That’s probably for the best as Arreola does not appear ready for such a step up in competition. With his entertaining style, affable personality, and growing local fanbase, Goossen believes he can build the Mexican-American heavyweight into a bona fide attraction by the end of the year.

TAVORIS CLOUD – Light Heavyweight
Record: 19-0 (18)
Style/Specialty: Powerful pressure-fighting technician
Next fight: Unscheduled
The skinny: The 26-year-old Tallassee native gained attention in 2007 by easily handling spoiler Jose Luis Herrera (TKO 5) and served notice to light heavyweight contenders last year by brutally grinding down ultra-tough former titleholder Julio Gonzalez (TKO 10).
The plan: Former promoter 8 Count Productions did a good job of keeping Cloud busy and developing in ’06 and ’07. Now all the no-nonsense Southerner needs to do is sit on his No. 1 IBF ranking until beltholder Chad Dawson defends against him or relinquishes the trinket (as he has before) for Cloud and the next highest available IBF contender to fight for.

Record: 19-1 (13)
Style/Specialty: Aggressive southpaw boxer-puncher
Next fight: Almazbek Raiymkulov (Kid Diamond), Feb. 7th on Showtime
The skinny: The 23-year-old Tijuana native made an impressive U.S. television debut by out-boxing and out-working game fellow prospect Nick Casal to a thrilling 10-round decision win on ShoBox in ’07. Last year he furthered his reputation as lightweight dark horse with a five-round blowout of then-undefeated Juan Castaneda and a 10-round split-decision over skilled Puerto Rican vet Jose Reyes.
The future: Promoter Gary Shaw is confident that DeMarco’s ready for the division’s best fighters and he thinks the entertaining lefty will prove it against Kid Diamond.

“My guy is underrated and overlooked but a win over Kid Diamond, who is highly ranked and has a sterling record, will change that,” Shaw said. “DeMarco’s graduated from ShoBox to a Showtime Championship Boxing co-feature. A win over Kid Diamond and he can headline Championship Boxing.”

Record: 19-1 (12)
Style/Specialty: Calculating boxer-counter puncher
Next fight: Unscheduled
The skinny: The 27-year-old Californian looked like the goods out of the 2004 Olympics, even drawing comparisons to a young Oscar De La Hoya, but he seemed to lose his way after a close, hard-fought split-decision loss to Daniel Jimenez in 2006. After going 9-0 but fighting with zero pizzazz, Escobedo exploded back into fight fan consciousness with a come-from-behind stoppage of undefeated prospect Dominic Salcido (TKO 6) last September.
The plan: Promoter Golden Boy Promotions is looking for a seasoned former titleholder to further test Escobedo’s mettle. Jesus Chavez and Carlos Hernandez are among the veterans matchmaker Eric Gomez is hoping to match Escobedo with in the first quarter or first half of ’09.

“Vicente is my personal project,” Gomez said. “I had him on a roll until he had his setback. I knew we had to step it up to rekindle that fire and we did with Salcido. His problem was mental. He was stuck in a rut and fighting down to his competition. So I’m looking at high-level fighters for him this year. By the end of the year he should be fighting in a title eliminator or even for a world title.”

YURIORKIS GAMBOA – Featherweight
Record: 12-0 (10),
Style/Specialty: Explosive boxer-puncher with excellent speed
Next fight: Jan. 9, vs. Roger Gonzalez on ESPN2
The skinny: The 27-year-old Cuban’s decorated amateur career, the pinnacle of which was a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics, makes him far more advanced than his 12 pro bouts would suggest. His amateur pedigree and exceptional athletic gifts enable him to take on and crush much more experienced pros. He fought an opponent with more than 50 pro bouts in his third fight. Last year he looked like a featherweight version of the prime Mike Tyson in decapitating Johnnie Edward and Al Seegar on ESPN2, but he looked vulnerable when he hit the deck en route to out-pointing tough Daniel Jimenez and stopping undefeated Marcos Ramirez (KO 2) in HBO showcases.
The plan: Gamboa’s wayward promoter Ahmet Oner of Arena Box is so confident in his fighter that he’s considering an “interim” WBC title bout with Brooklyn’s 20-1 Elio Rojas some time in the first quarter of the year even though the Cuban still has to get past the skilled and experienced Gonzalez.

DEANDDRE LATIMORE – Junior Middleweight
Record: 19-1 (16)
Style/Specialty: Aggressive southpaw boxer-puncher
Next fight: Unscheduled
The skinny: After taking an ill-advised fight against experienced spoiler Ian Gardner in January of ’07 and losing by third-round stoppage, the 23-year-old St. Louis native added veteran trainer Ken Adams to his team, relocated to Las Vegas to train and rang off eight consecutive victories including a decision over undefeated Durrell Richardson and thrilling stoppage of fringe contender Sechew Powell (TKO 7) that was televised on ESPN2.
The plan: Promoters, Rumble Time Promotions and DiBella Entertainment, have lobbied the IBF, which ranks Latimore No. 5, to match him with their No. 4 contender Cory Spinks in an all-St. Louis showdown for the belt that was recently vacated by Verno Phillips. Unless the IBF’s No. 3 contender James Kirkland, who was unavailable late last year, is interested in facing one of the Missouri lefties, Rumble Time’s Steven Smith says he’s confident that a deal can be made with Don King (Spinks’ promoter) to stage a title fight between the two sometime in March.

“It’s very close to getting done,” Smith said of the Spinks-Latimore fight. “It’s been difficult because there hasn’t been a lot of TV interest. Spinks has his reputation (for being a boring fighter) and Deandre is still an unknown Midwestern fighter, so it’s a tough sell. But after Deandre beats Spinks the world will know he’s arrived. He can box and he can punch. Period. He could always crack like a light heavyweight but now, under Ken Adams, he’s boxing, and we’ll put him in with anybody. Fighters are running from James Kirkland? Well, we look forward to fighting James Kirkland.”

RAUL MARTINEZ – Junior Bantamweight
Record: 24-0 (14)
Style/Specialty: Aggressive boxer-puncher
Next fight: January 24th, opponent TBA (on Margarito-Mosley undercard)
The skinny: The 26-year-old San Antonio native and former amateur standout was moved well by former promoter Main Events and continued his development under new promoter Top Rank, which put him in with tough journeymen and veterans- Alex Baba (W 8), Benjamin Garcia (W 10) and Isidro Garcia (W 10) – who gave him quality rounds last year before he reminded fans of how explosive he can be with a first-round KO of unbeaten (26-0-2) Victor Proa.
The plan: Matchmaker Bruce Trampler says Martinez is ready to fight for a world title and lucky for “The Cobra” Top Rank promotes beltholder Fernando Montiel, contender Jorge Arce (who fights unified titlist Vic Darchinyan in February) and Nonito Donaire, who recently threw his hat into the 115-pound division.

Record: 22-0 (14)
Style/Specialty: Deadly accurate stick-and-mover
Next fight: Feb. 7th, Billy Lyell (on Darchinyan-Arce undercard)
The skinny: The 22-year-old Southern California-based Armenian was moved slowly for the first four years of his pro career despite an excellent amateur background that included a birth on the U.S. 2004 Olympic team because of his youth. A strong foundation was built by former trainer Freddie Roach and promoter Top Rank’s careful matchmaking, but Martirosyan has flourished under new trainer Ronnie Shields and looked like the goods in blasting out Michi Munoz and Charles Howe last year (both in the first round). He also got in quality rounds with former title challenger Angel Hernandez (W 10) and unbeaten Michael Medina (W 10).
The plan: Although Martirosyan’s improved drastically and is boxing with more confidence than ever, Bruce Trampler is not ready to pull the title trigger with the young man; at least not until later in the year.

“He’s still maturing, physically,” Trampler said. “Everything will work itself out by the end of the year and then we’ll see. He’s not far off from being ready but he’s not there yet. He still needs a little more experience.”

VICTOR ORTIZ – Junior Welterweight
Record: 23-1-1 (19)
Style/Specialty: Heavy-handed southpaw stalker
Next fight: March 7th, opponent TBA, on HBO
The skinny: The 21-year-old Southern Californian lost some time at the start of last year as he switched management teams and promoters but was impressive enough in his three fights of ’08 – stoppages of Dairo Esalas (KO 5), Roberto Arrieta (TKO 5) and Jeffrey Resto (TKO 2) – to earn Prospect of the Year honors from, and TheRing-Online’s fan poll hosted by Yahoo! Sports. The Kansas native first served notice to the division with his one-punch first-round blowout of rugged former titleholder in November of ’07.
The plan: Ortiz’s promoter, Golden Boy Promotions, believe the young man, who turns 22 at the end of January, is almost ready to challenge for a title but still needs a little seasoning in the form of quality rounds.

“We want to put him in tough but definitely a notch below the current title holders,” said Eric Gomez. “We’re looking for a top-10 rated contender or a veteran with a name who is still competitive. Maybe Vivian Harris. We would like to put him in with Juan Lazcano, who gave Ricky Hatton a tough fight last year. Lovemore Ndou is another veteran we think would give Victor a good test and some rounds.

“If Victor looks good against that type of opponent he should be ready to fight for a world title by the end of the year.”

NESTER ROCHA – Bantamweight/Junior Featherweight
Record: 21-1 (7)
Style/Specialty: Crafty boxer
Next fight: Unscheduled
The skinny: The 26-year-old Southern Californian quietly compiled a 17-0 record before suffering a setback in September of ’07, when he was out-hustled by slick Puerto Rican prospect Jonas Hernandez, shortly after he signed with Golden Boy Promotions. But he has won five in a row since and has appeared to recapture his form that attracted Golden Boy’s attention in the first place. Rocha is clearly not a puncher or overly aggressive in the ring, but Eric Gomez says his skillset is special.

“I like to watch Rocha fight,” he said. “He’s such a clean fighter. He doesn’t hold, he doesn’t run. He’s right in front of his opponents, slipping punches and punching back.”

The plan: Gomez believes Rocha is ready to fight for a title. In fact, a title bout with WBO beltholder Gerry Penalosa was scheduled to take place in the Philippines last year but was scrapped when civil unrest broke out in the region.

“We tried to reschedule the fight on the Joel Casamayor-Juan Manuel Marquez pay-per-view undercard last September, but Penalosa didn’t want to do it. Nestor’s trainer and manager Rudy Hernandez is willing to roll the dice with him so we’ll keep looking for the biggest opportunity while we keep him busy on up-coming undercards during the first part of the year.

“Rudy has a relationship with (Akihiko) Honda, the promoter of (WBC bantamweight titleholder) Hozumi Hasegawa, and I’ve told him if he wants that fight for Nestor, we will push for it.”

LAMONT PETERSON – Junior Welterweight Record: 26-0 (12)
Style/Specialty: Economical boxer-technician
Next fight: Unscheduled
The skinny: The 24-year-old Washington DC native was a decorated amateur who was well-schooled by father figure and boxing coach Barry Hunter and developed well by former promoter Prize Fight Boxing, which kept he and his brother Anthony busy from their 2004 pro debuts to when they signed with Top Rank last year. In ’08, Peterson was at his methodical best as he shutdown undefeated (34-0) Antonio Mesquita, wore-down tough Rogelio Castaneda Jr. (TKO 9), and outclassed Lanardo Tyner (W 10). However, because Peterson seldom makes a mistake and his technique is so tight most of his fights are uneventful.
The plan: Trampler said he’s ready to fight for a title and Top Rank is currently negotiating a box-off with undefeated Willy Blain, a two-time Olympian that Peterson beat in the amateurs, for the “interim” WBO belt sometime in the first quarter of the year. Trampler said Peterson would be willing to travel to Europe to beat the Germany based Frenchman.

Style/Specialty: Smart but aggressive technician
Record: 28-0 (19)
Next fight: Feb. 21, opponent TBA, Top Rank PPV
The skinny: Lamont’s younger brother shares the same tough upbringing (both were homeless for a period) and amateur background of his sibling but their boxing styles are different. Anthony is considered the more entertaining of the two as he lets his hands go a little more and may carry more power in his punches than his older brother. The 23 year old began ’08 with an exciting stoppage of Jose Antonio Izquierdo (TKO 8) and then got quality rounds from tough journeyman Fernando Trejo (W 10) and former titlist Javier Jauregui (W 10).
The plan: Top Rank believes he’s close to being ready to challenge for a title, but still needs some quality rounds against a competitive veteran or two. It looks like he will be added to the undercard of one of the two shows that Top Rank is televising on its Feb. 21st remote pay-per-view broadcast.

ANDRE WARD – Super Middleweight
Record: 17-0 (12)
Style/Specialty: Classic boxer with superb athleticism
Next fight: Unscheduled
The skinny: The 24-year-old Oakland native came into his own in ’08 despite suffering a serious knee injury in the middle of the year. The 2004 Olympic gold medalist stopped experienced former title challenger Rubin Williams (TKO 7) and fellow ’04 Olympian Jerson Ravelo (TKO 8) before blowing out overmatched Esteban Camou (TKO 3).
The plan: Promoter Dan Goossen has a February ShoBox date that Ward could begin the new year with but he’d like get the talented and level-headed 168 pounder a higher-profile showcase if possible.

“We’ve let Lou DiBella know that Andre is willing to take on Jermain Taylor in Taylor’s first fight of the year,” Goossen said. “Whether he’s ready is always a question when you step a fighter up but I think Andre’s special and he’ll rise to the occasion.”

Doug Fischer can be reached at [email protected]

Photo of Victor Ortiz courtesy of