Friday, June 09, 2023  |



Heartbreak kids: When prospects aren’t what they seem

Fighters Network

What more appropriate venue could there be than a place called The Tank for a fight that could either expose one of boxing’s brightest prospects or effectively finish off another one?

James Kirkland vs. Joel Julio is the sort of high-risk matchup upon which HBO’s Boxing After Dark was founded. Not only will it likely provide stirring action, but it will provide answers. The winner moves up, the loser moves down, and one way or another the cycle of boxing observers falling in and out of love with prospects will continue.

Right now, Kirkland, with his menacing mini-Tyson appeal, has us all dreaming about his upside and hoping his defensive deficiencies will provide thrills but not spills.

We were in a similar place with Julio not so long ago. He looked like a Colombian Felix Trinidad, silky smooth and heavy-handed, but once he stepped up to world-class opposition, he faltered, getting outboxed by Carlos Quintana and Sergei Dzindziruk. A loss to Kirkland would be his third defeat in less than three years and would relegate the 24-year-old “Love Child,” so nicknamed by boxing writer Dan Rafael because of what seemed at the time a justifiable pugilistic infatuation, to journeyman/gatekeeper status.

Julio may well beat Kirkland and begin his path to resurrection, but even if he does, his ceiling has probably already been exposed. Only three years ago, none of us were even sure if this uber-prospect had a ceiling. But like so many young fighters before him, Julio’s appeal was based in part on illusion, on his limitations being masked until a certain point in his career.

And that’s simply the way it is with boxing prospects. You don’t know what you really have until they’ve moved up the ladder and faced the best possible opposition. On the same card featuring Kirkland vs. Julio, Victor Ortiz makes his HBO debut. He sure looks like a superstar in the making, but is his charming personality blinding us to possible flaws? Meanwhile, boxing fans and experts alike are developing various levels of man-crushes on the slew of Cuban amateur stars invading the pro ranks, but if Yuriorkis Gamboa is any indication, they could be taking us for emotional rollercoaster rides.

It’s difficult to know what to look for in separating the future champions from the illusions, but one man who has more experience than most in doing so is Steve Farhood, the color commentator for ShoBox since the prospect-centric series debuted in 2001.

“There are three fairly obvious factors I look for in prospects,” he told THE RING. “First, a strong amateur background, which allows for a certain comfort and presence in the ring; second, connections, which should guarantee making the right fights at the right time; and third, overcoming adversity, which suggests character.

“I also like fighters who have a quiet confidence and don’t feel the need to toot their own horn. I remember sensing this right away in both Joan Guzman and Alfredo Angulo. And as tempting as it might be to do, I’ve learned not to make the mistake of drawing firm conclusions after a single viewing. For instance, both Kermit Cintron and Timothy Bradley were fairly unimpressive in their ShoBox debuts. They were given second chances, and they both shined. Sometimes the moment gets to a young fighter, and sometimes styles create problems. It takes repeated exposure to determine what a prospect has or doesn’t have.”

It’s the ones who were exposed for what they didn’t have who will be the focus of the rest of this article. We’ve ranked 10 hopefuls from the past 10 years who turned out to be illusions, with a couple of ground rules. First, anyone who claimed a “major” title went far enough that they won’t be on this list. (That means guys like Jeff Lacy and Zab Judah are safe.) And second, we excluded fighters who can’t be written off just yet, such as Julio (we’ll know more this weekend) and Amir Khan.

Here, then, are the top 10 boxing illusions of the last 10 years:

10. Jeffrey Resto

What he was supposed to be: According to Larry Merchant in 2003, the best prospect around, as meaningful an endorsement from as high an authority as you’ll find. The Bronx-born junior welter also had a New York media push behind him, and one amateur referee called him the best he’d ever seen.

What went wrong: Resto lacked the over-the-top mental toughness to make it in boxing. He admitted to being unfocused at times, and in his first loss, against Carlos Maussa, he was having vision problems, got scared and quit. A half-hearted comeback fizzled last December when he got blown out in two rounds by Victor Ortiz.

9. Anthony Thompson

What he was supposed to be:As the 2001 USA Boxing Athlete of the Year, big things were expected of the hottest amateur prospect to come out of Philadelphia this decade. The bidding for his promotional rights made headlines, and Bernard Hopkins called him a future world champion just eight fights into his pro career.

What went wrong:To be fair, the 27-year-old “Messenger” still has some potential. But Hopkins’ prediction coming true is an extreme longshot. Thompson got caught and KO’d by Grady Brewer in a shocker in his 16th fight, and though his two subsequent losses were highly controversialÔÇöa decision to Yuri Foreman and a cut-induced stoppage against Ishmail ArvinÔÇöthis blue-chip amateur prospect looks unlikely to be any more than a fringe-contending pro.

8. Kid Diamond

What he was supposed to be:One look at the ponytail, body type and straight-up style was all you needed to get excited about Almazbek Raiymkulov becoming the next Kostya Tszyu. A draw in his 20th fight against possible future Hall of Famer Joel Casamayor only added to the illusion that Kid Diamond would go all the way, since most observers thought the draw should have been a victory.

What went wrong:Suspect defense and a decreasing desire to tough it out when the other guy hit back have knocked the Kyrgyzstan native out of contention, probably for good. He got stopped by Nate Campbell, needed an atrocious decision to get past trialhorse Miguel Angel Huerta and surrendered three weeks ago against relative neophyte Antonio DeMarco.

7. Derrick Jefferson

What he was supposed to be:Maybe not all that much considering the late start he got in the sport, but who could ever forget HBO’s Merchant exclaiming “Derrick Jefferson, I LOVE you!” following the Michigan heavyweight’s jaw-dropping knockout of Maurice Harris in November ’99?

What went wrong:He punched himself out against David Izon two months after the Harris win and was never all that good again. It seems crazy now that we were once so excited about this guy, but he gave us a brief taste of a heavyweight Arturo Gatti, and we fell for it. Part of the problem was that his confidence and drive were never the same after he lost the zero on his record. And part of the problem was that he was never close to good enough to be a heavyweight savior. Merchant and the rest of us simply got caught up in the moment.

6. Angel Vazquez

What he was supposed to be:The guy who was going to decapitate Naseem Hamed. A tall, vicious-punching featherweight who was destroying fringe contenders and sturdy trialhorses with alarming ease in 1996 and ’97, he was Diego Corrales a year or two before Corrales hit the scene.

What went wrong:Vazquez’s career suddenly stalled out just when it should have been taking off. He wasn’t active enough in ’98 and ’99, and before you knew it he was in his 30s and the hunger was gone. He fought listlessly in losing his “O” against Victor Polo in 2000, and a third-round knockout loss to Ivan Valle in ’03 spelled the end.

5. Dominick Guinn

What he was supposed to be:Like so many others just before him – Shannon Briggs, David Tua, Michael Grant, Andrew Golota, Kirk Johnson, Lance Whitaker – he was supposed to be a future heavyweight champion. With skills, power, poise and an extensive amateur background, “The Southern Disaster” seemed to have it all.

What went wrong:What seemed like a positive attribute, poise, turned out to be a major hindrance. Guinn was too calm, too passionless, too willing to go round after round without throwing punches. After a 24-0 start, he’s gone 6-6-1 in his last 13, not because he lacks talent, but because he fights like a guy who doesn’t particularly care if he wins or loses.

4. Ricardo Williams

What he was supposed to be:The breakout star of the 2000 U.S. Olympic team. If you asked anybody after the Sydney Games who was the best fighter on that American team, you weren’t going to hear Jermain Taylor’s name or Jeff Lacy’s name or Rocky Juarez’ name. Williams had the most natural talent, the smoothest skills, was only 19 years old and would have been a gold medalist if not for some questionable scoring.

What went wrong:Money and youth can be a dangerous combination, and in this case they resulted in a lack of discipline in the gym and a couple of losses to ordinary fighters. Soon afterward, Williams started a 31-month stretch in prison for drug trafficking. Maybe he was never quite as fast and talented as the hype suggested. But he was gifted enough that he should never have lost to Juan Valenzuela and Manning Galloway.

3. Tokunbo Olajide

What he was supposed to be:The junior middleweight champion of the world and quite possibly a pound-for-pounder. That’s how much talent Michael Olajide’s kid brother had. He could score spectacular knockouts while backing up, and truly appeared to be playing above the rim when matched with mere mortals. Everyone who saw him fight was convinced he was going far.

What went wrong:One punch from previously unknown Epifanio Mendoza led to a broken fibula and a dislocated ankle as Olajide crashed to the floor, and though his leg healed, mentally, he was never the same. He lost a close decision to Ian Gardner four fights later and hung up the gloves for good in 2004 at age 27. A deep thinker, a talented jazz trumpet player and an aspiring writer, he just wasn’t as eager to punch people for a living as we were to watch him do it.

2. Audley Harrison

What he was supposed to be:The heir to Lennox Lewis’ throne, if not undisputed heavyweight champion, and then at least Britain’s best big man of the post-Lewis era. A 6-foot-5, 250-pound southpaw who’d just scored the super heavyweight gold in the 2000 Olympics, Harrison was a star before he’d even turned pro.

What went wrong:The “Fraudley” insults were hurled before he even started losing, so you can imagine how bad it got when he did start losing, to the likes of Danny Williams, Dominick Guinn and, most astonishingly, Michael Sprott. Last December, Harrison lost a fourth time, to 37-year-old Martin Rogan. In retrospect, maybe beating the likes of Paolo Vidoz and Mukhtarkhan Dildabekov to claim an Olympic title just didn’t mean all that much.

1. Francisco Bojado

What he was supposed to be:If you were willing to get completely caught up in the hype, the next Roberto Duran. One prominent boxing writer, who shall remain nameless so as not to embarrass him, even listed Bojado in his Top 10 pound-for-pound when he’d been a pro for less than a year. That’s how captivated we all were watching this 18-year-old kid blow out his first nine opponents in a total of 14 rounds.

What went wrong:It’s one thing for the press and the fans to believe the hype, but it’s another thing for the fighter to become convinced he’s Superman. Bojado got cocky, his training habits slipped and, somewhat like Zab Judah, he stopped learning and completely plateaued at a young age. Purely on veteran ring smarts and desire, Juan Carlos Rubio, James Leija and Steve Forbes all beat “Panchito.” Now he’s 25 years old, has an 18-3 (12) record and hasn’t fought in 16 months. But maybe his little brother Angel can still be the goods.


ÔÇó Contrary to what we’ve been told all our lives, boxing is apparently an old man’s game. Who ever would have imagined Juan Manuel Marquez would be doing his career-defining work as a lightweight at age 35? And who ever would have guessed, after he scored two stoppages in 10 fights from November ’03 to March ’08, that he’d become a knockout artist when he moved up to 135 pounds and started facing bigger men?

ÔÇó How good was Marquez vs. Juan Diaz? It’s clearly the Fight of the Year so far. It provided two strong Round of the Year candidates (the first and the eighth). It ended with a Knockout of the Year candidate. And if there was a clinch all fight, I don’t remember it.

ÔÇó Can we lure Oba Carr out of retirement, get him in the ring with Rocky Juarez and give some sort of consolation alphabet belt to the winner?

ÔÇó I give Troy Ross an excellent shot at living up to the name of the TV show The Contender and beating some guys currently ranked by THE RING at cruiserweight. But I’m not sure that showing Grady Brewer and Sakio Bika sitting at ringside before this season’s final fight was the best way to illustrate the career boost that winning The Contender provides.