By Cliff Rold
Five years from now, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao might still be teasing fans that they’ll fight for the first time.
They probably won’t be the top two stars in the game anymore.
The future is always calling. Last year, the top prospect selected was Lightweight Felix Verdejo. He has done nothing to change that impression.
This year, we look a little higher up the scale.
For the sweet science, the future could be bright. It’s been a decade, at least, since new genuinely electric new faces emerged in the sports most important and storied class.
There is something different when a Heavyweight with the goods appears to be emerging.
While there are several top-notch talents making their way towards contention as 2014 comes to a close, the winner here stands out as the potential king of it all. Pound for pound, an ant might be as strong as a lion.
The lion is the king of the jungle.
The Heavyweight Champion is the lion of fistiana.
The BoxingScene.com Prospect of the Year for 2014 is a Heavyweight. Whether he becomes the lion remains to be seen.
2014 Prospect of the Year: Anthony Joshua
The 25-year old Joshua (10-0, 10KOs) won all seven of his starts on the year, never getting out of the round two. The 2012 Olympic Super Heavyweight Gold Medalist looks the part. His speed is exceptional, he clearly can bang, and he’s got serious size at 6’6 and a cut 240 lbs. Also a positive, Joshua has good balance and better footwork than most men his size start out with. There hasn’t been a Heavyweight who looked this can’t miss since Wladimir Klitschko first exploded on the scene. He’s already beginning to work through the assortment of name, faded veterans one expects to see a prospect against and there is no reason to think Joshua won’t have moved from prospect to contender by this time next year.
Is Joshua the future heavyweight champion? There are questions to be answered. What happens past round two? What happens when another big man catches the point of his chin? We won’t know until we do. For now, the choice came down to this:
If there was a single fighter in all of boxing one was going to invest in, right now, and expect to make the most return on that investment, who would it be?
The answer is roaring through the ranks of the big men. The answer is Anthony Josuhua.
Runner-Up: Artur Beterbiev
Coming off the floor in the first round, the two-time Russian Olympian Beterbiev (7-0, 7 KOs) stormed back in round two of his December clash with Jeff Page to end matters with authority. So far, that’s what the 29-year old rising Light Heavyweight star always does. He ends things. Beterbiev doesn’t work by the hour. In a 4-0 campaign in 2014, that included perhaps ending the career of former Light Heavyweight titlist Tavoris Cloud with a second-round knockout that announced him arguably as already more than a prospect. Beterbiev ends the year already rated in the top ten by BoxingScene, TBRB, and Ring Magazine.
Other Fighters Receiving Honorable Mention (In Alphabetical Order)
Adrian Estrella: The 22-year old Mexican made serious noise at Jr. Lightweight in 2014. Estrella (20-0, 18 KOs) scored four knockdowns of former unified Jr. Featherweight and Featherweight titlist Celestino Caballero in his fourth of five wins this year.
Ievgen Khytrov: The 2011 World Amateur Champion and 2012 Ukrainian Olympian brings that pedigree, and heavy hands, to the paid ranks. The 26-year old Khytrov (7-0, 7 KOs) picked up all but one of his wins so far in 2014, with knockouts coming from the fifth to the first rounds.
Ryo Matsumoto: The lanky Japanese Jr. Bantamweight puncher was 4-0 with three stops this year, defeating former title challenger Hiroyuki Hisataka by decision and stopping former Flyweight titlist Denkaosan Kaovitchit in just two rounds. A stunning (for the 115 lb. division) 5’8, the 20-year old Matsumoto (13-0, 11 KOs) is already rated in the top ten by the WBA, justified by his latest win - stopping Rusalee Samor in the 12th and final round Tuesday in Japan.
Albert Pagara: The 20-year old Filipino hopeful won four fights this year. None was more impressive that a decision over Raul Hirales in November. Pagara (22-0, 15 KOs) has shown power and the wind to go the full twelve.
Errol Spence: The 2012 US Olympian might be the best prospect in the States since Andre Ward was on his way up. 5-0 with 4 stops in the year, Spence (15-0, 12 KOs) is competing at Welterweight but the Texan has the frame to eventually take his talents to Middleweight. It would be no surprise if Spence-Khytrov were the talk of boxing in a few years.
Joseph Parker: A hair behind Joshua in terms of Heavyweight upside, the 22-year old From New Zealand has size at 6’4, speed, smart feet, and he can bang. 4-0 with five stops in 2014, Parker (12-0, 10 KOs) fought in three countries and made an impression in each of them. Is Joshua-Parker the rivalry of tomorrow? If so, there be gold in the Heavyweight hills.
Jose Pedraza: The 25-year old Boricua was actually among the least active fighters on this list, going 4-0 (2KOs) on the year. The latest win for Pedraza (19-0, 12KOs) was also the most significant of any fighter on the list, dominating Michael Farenas over 12 rounds in December to guarantee a title shot at 130 lb. in his very next fight.
Callum Smith: The British faithful have a tradition of excellence in the Super Middleweight division. Six wins in 2014 said the 24-year old Smith (15-0, 11 KOs) may be the heir apparent to the Benn’s, Eubank’s, Calzaghe, and Froch.
Kosei Tanaka: An accomplished amateur in Japan, the 19-year old turned pro in 2013 and won all three of his fights in 2014. Tanaka (4-0, 2 KOs) proved he might already be ready to make a run at a title at 105 lbs. with a tenth round stoppage of previously undefeated Ryuji Hara in October.
Olexandr Usyk: The 2011 World Amateur Heavyweight Champion from Ukraine won all four of his fights on the year by knockout. Only 27, Usyk (6-0, 6 KO) could be a major force at Cruiserweight for years. More intriguing, at 6’3, he may have the size to eventually be a factor at Heavyweight.
Oscar Valdez: A two-time Mexican Olympian, the 24-year old Valdez (14-0, 13 KOs) finished a few points shy of the medal rounds in 2012. 6-0 with five stops in 2014, Valdez is coming of age in a Featherweight division that is suddenly as flush with talent as it’s been since the first half of the 00’s. Will he ascend while the heat is on? Or will he be the talent who takes control when the dust settles?
Felix Verdejo: The 2013 choice for BoxingScene.com Prospect of the Year had another fine year, going 7-0 (6KOs) on the year. His 2014 campaign was actually quite similar to his first full year as a pro, in part why he didn't land honors this year - also because it doesn't make much sense to win this award two years in a row. Verdejo (16-0, 12KOs) looks the part to become Puerto Rico's next big star. 2015 will have to come with an increase in competition, though, rather than made-to-order opposition.
BoxingScene 2014 Awards
Network of the Year: HBO
Comeback of the Year: Rocky Juarez
Prospect of the Year: Anthony Joshua
Event of the Year: Announced December 30th
Upset of the Year: Announced December 31st
Knockout of the Year: Announced January 1st
Round of the Year: Announced January 2nd
Robbery of the Year: Announced January 2nd
Fight of the Year: Announced January 3rd
Fighter of the Year: Announced January 4th
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]