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Top prospects to watch in 2010 – part II

01
Jan

In part one of my “Top prospects to watch in 2010” column I listed the best up-and-comers, plus honorable mention fighters, in the lighter-weight divisions (middleweight down to flyweight). Now, check out the big boys the sport:

Super middleweight: Anthony Dirrell (17-0, 14 knockouts)

The younger brother of 2004 Olympic bronze medalist Andre Dirrell is probably the best pure athlete on this list but the promising boxer missed all of 2007 and most of 2008 to undergo chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Dirrell, who possesses the same uncanny speed and reflexes his brother is blessed with, was able to get the disease in remission and returned to the ring in late 2008. The rangy 25-year-old switch hitter fought four times in 2009 and appeared to regain his pre-lymphona form with his ESPN2-televised seventh-round stoppage of Alfredo Contreras.

Honorable mention: Shawn Estrada (the 2004 U.S. Olympian from East L.A.’s year was hampered by surgery due to training injuries but the strong and physically imposing boxer-puncher still managed to fight four times in 2009, running his record to 6-0 with 6 KOs), Curtis Stevens (the former NYC amateur star wasn’t very active in 2009 but he ended the year with a third-round TKO of undefeated Piotr Wilczewski, which set up an ESPN2-televised showdown with Jesse Brinkley in January).



Light heavyweight: Thierry Karl (25-4, 17 KOs)

The 25-year-old French standout campaigned at middleweight, where he suffered four losses, the last defeat being a fifth-round KO to experienced French national champ Francois Bastient in March of 2008. However Karl has found new life at light heavyweight in 2009, rebounding nicely from the Bastient loss five knockout victories, including a quickie first-round stoppage of undefeated (19-0) fellow prospect Nadjib Mohammedi in September.

Karl is a tall and rangy boxer who uses his height and reach well by working most of his power punches off a snappy jab. His technique is solid and his power seems to have increased with the step up from middleweight to the 175-pound division.

Honorable mention: Ismayl Sillakh (the tall and rangy 24-year-old California-based Ukrainian, one of the more complete boxer-technicians on this list, extended his undefeated record with three impressive stoppages in 2009, including a fifth-round TKO of tough Canadian journeyman David Whittom, who had gone the distance with former titleholder Adrian Diaconu in his previous bout), Igor Mikhalkin (the 24-year-old Germany based Russian southpaw was 4-0 vs. solid opposition in 2009), Isiah Thomas (20-year-old former junior amateur star, who won four in a row in 2009, not only shares the name of the NBA great, he’s from Detroit!).

Cruiserweight: Yoan Pablo Hernandez (20-1, 11 KOs)

The 6-foot-4 southpaw from Cuba reminded some of former cruiserweight titleholder Juan Carlos Gomez, but the 2004 Olympian’s promising career took a turn for the worst when he was knocked out in three rounds by former beltholder Wayne Braithwaite in March of 2008. However, 25-year-old boxer, who has fought his entire pro career in Germany, has won consecutive six bouts since his only loss.

Although a knockdown he suffered en route to out-pointing faded Michael Simms in October of 2008 still puts his chin in question, Hernandez looked sharp in 2009, knocking out British prospect Mickey Steed in five in February, scoring an eight-round unanimous decision over hard-punching U.S. prospect Aaron Williams in May, and out-boxing once-beaten fringe contender Enad Licina over 12 rounds in October.

Hernandez is a versatile boxer, who is as comfortable standing and trading as he is sticking and moving. He sets up most of his power shots with a strong jab and doesn’t shy away from delivering body punches. Hernandez is not as sharp or economical as some of his Cuban peers (particularly fellow southpaws Guillermo Rigondeaux and Erislandy Lara) but he makes up for his lack of technique and occasional lapses in concentration with a busy workrate.

Honorable mention: Alexander Frenkel (24-year-old Germany based Ukrainian went 6-0 in 2009, all by KO, including a first-round demolition of shopworn former titleholder Kelvin Davis), Pawel Kolodziej (6-foot-5 Polish standout only fought twice in 2009 but beat solid opposition), Mateusz Masternak (another Polish cruiser hopeful, but this 22 year old was busier in 2009, beating four decent opponents, including a KO of fellow undefeated Polish prospect Lukasz Janik in October).

Heavyweight: Francesco Pianeta (20-0-1, 12 KOs)

This 6-foot-5 southpaw, who turned 25 in October of 2008, was brought up slowly due to his lack of an amateur background (he had a brief Muy Thai career before switching to pro boxing) but he immediately showed potential due to his size, athleticism and lefty stance.

Pianeta, who was born in Italy but raised and based in Germany, has solid offensive and defensive technique and is surprisingly light on his feet for a man his size (his fighting weight is around the 240-pound range). However, he’s still a work in progress as he often forgets to use his jab and is still learning to how to cut the ring off on mobile opponents. His opposition has steadily increased in in recent years, and the three fights he had in 2009 likely gave him the kind of quality rounds that will help him realize his considerable potential.

Pianeta began the year with a 12-round draw with Poland’s far more experienced Albert Sosnowski (44-2) in April. Sosnowski is a fringe contender (at best) whose ability isn’t nearly as impressive as his muscular physique and largely built-up record, as evidenced by his recent eight-round loss to journeyman Zuri Lawrence. However, the 30-year-old Pole followed-up that loss with an eighth-round stoppage of durable Danny Williams (and the Mike Tyson conqueror was on a good run prior to losing to Sosnowski) and he brought the confidence from that win into his bout with Pianeta, soundly out-boxing and outworking the youth over the first four rounds of their fight.

However, Pianeta gradually worked his way into the fight beginning in the middle rounds, landing the sharper, harder punches during his sporadic offensive bursts. The developing southpaw did well when he let his hands go, but he didn’t do so enough for most observers, who though he Sosnowski deserved the nod. However, the 12-round experience was good for Pianeta, who put forth a more consistent offense in forcing aging British player Matt Skelton to stay on his stool after eight rounds in September. Pianeta ended the year with an eight-round decision over 6-foot-9 Russian journeyman Evgeny Orlov in December.

Honorable mention: Deontay Wilder (statuesque 2004 Olympic bronze medalist has the size, height and reach of a modern heavyweight and he used his impressive physical tools to smash seven relatively soft opponents in 2009), Tyson Fury (21-year-old giant, who went 8-0 in 2009 against considerably more experienced competition than Wilder, won a 10-round decision over serviceable pro John McDermott in September, earning him even more popularity in his native Britain), Sam Sexton (25-year-old Brit achieved notoriety on the UK boxing reality series ‘Prize Fighter’ and earned prospect status — plus the Commonwealth title — by twice beating Irish folk hero Martin Rogan in 2009), Travis Kuffman (24-year-old U.S. standout lost his last fight by TKO, to Tony Grano, going 4-1 in 2009 but he has the size and ability to bounce back in 2010), Tor Hammer (26-year-old former NYC-area amateur star is a well-spoken college grad who can also fight as evidenced by his eight victories in 2009), Andrzej Wawrzyk (22-year-old Polish prospect extended his undefeated mark to 16-0 with three victories in 2009).

Doug Fischer can be reached at [email protected]

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