By Cliff Rold
Today’s always have their champions. Tomorrow’s always need more. 2011 had no shortage of candidates for the positions.
How to define a prospect is sometimes elusive. What is a serious prospect? Is it merely a fighter whose talent, to the naked eye, hints at a special future? Is it a fighter on the cusp of contention or one already sneaking into top tens?
The voting for BoxingScene’s Prospect of the Year provided no clear answer. Instead, what was compiled is a strong cross section of not quite championship level players who are sure to be making moves in 2012.
The leader of the pack is already signed to try and has a chance to make big noise in March.
Prospect of the Year: Danny Garcia
Philadelphia’s “Swift” Danny Garcia moved his career mark to 22-0 with 14 stops with a 3-0 campaign that featured wins over two former champions. It was more than enough to move the 23-year old Jr. Welterweight into the top ten as rated by BoxingScene, ESPN, and Ring Magazine.
And it was enough to earn Garcia a shot on March 24, 2012, at Mexican legend and WBC 140 lb. titlist Erik Morales.
Garcia began 2011 with his lone knockout of the year, a second round blitz of John Figueroa in February. From there, the competition got tougher and he rose to the occasion. He also got the benefit via the halo of spotlight. His unanimous decision win over former unified Lightweight titlist Nate Campbell came on the undercard of Marcos Maidana-Erik Morales. A win over former Jr. Welterweight titlist Kendall Holt came on the undercard of Bernard Hopkins-Chad Dawson. The card was little seen and slightly purchased but the split decision win over Kendall Holt was clear (despite an odd split score at the end) and proved Garcia ready for the next level.
We’ll find out more about how ready in March when he faces one of the premiere warriors of any era. Morales is slowed but proved in 2011 to still have something left in the tank. The 2011 BoxingScene Prospect of the Year will test just how much.
Runner-Up: Gary Russell Jr.
In a close vote, Garcia just edged out Russell and wins over Holt and Campbell made a difference. The 23-year old 2008 Olympian Russell (19-0, 11 KO) was just arriving at the eight round level in the fall of 2011, closing his turn of the calendar with an awesome first round knockout of veteran Heriberto Ruiz. In the year ahead, Russell is expected to make big moves at Featherweight. The total package is there. Russell has incredibly fast hands, accurate punches, southpaw power, and seems to like the trenches just fine. After the solid box office showing for Lamont Peterson-Amir Khan, it’s clear the U.S. Mid-Atlantic will support the fight game. Russell is as promising a talent as the region has produced in years and, properly managed, can build a solid fan base for himself with a crowd friendly style. The big question mark is his chin, but that’s always the question mark until someone lands an answer. Russell added six wins this year and it’s certain there’s more to come.
Honorable Mention …19-year old Jr. Welterweight Jose Benavides (14-0, 12 KO) went 5-0 in 2011 with three stops bookended by a pair of six round decisions. At 5’11, Benavides is likely to mature into a Welterweight, or more, sooner than later…21-year old Jr. Featherweight Randy Caballero posted seven wins to move his mark to 13-0 (7 KO). Managed by Cameron Dunkin, Caballero has a strong brain trust to guide him towards contention…27-year old Jr. Welterweight Pier-Olivier Cote (18-0, 12 KO) has a crowd pleasing style and he’s being built in front of some of the game’s best crowds in Montreal. His knockout of Jorge Luis Teron on the undercard of Lucian Bute-Glen Johnson was his fourth and final win of the year…22-year old Dominican Featherweight Javier Fortuna (18-0, 13 KO) won five fights in 2011, the last of them a dominant decision over tried veteran Miguel Roman. Fortuna’s body work and excellent left hook give him the look of a champion…29-year old Cuban Featherweight Luis Franco (11-0, 7 KO) won three times in 2011 and carries the pedigree of a 2004 Olympic appearance…29-year old Heavyweight Seth Mitchell (24-0-1, 18 KO) won all four of his starts by knockout to excite hope for an exciting American at Heavyweight… Carlos Molina (19-4-2, 6 KO) is one of those cases where the line between prospect and contender can be hard to discern. Molina could easily have taken the duke in a draw against Erislandy Lara early in the year and then worked over Kermit Cintron on the undercard of Brandon Rios-Urbano Antillon…22-year old Super Middleweight Thomas Oosthuizen (17-0-1, 12 KO) is a 6’4 southpaw with a willingness to battle and some of South Africa’s best fistic hopes since the excellent Brian Mitchell at Jr. Lightweight. Oosthuizen won four in 2011…26-year old Ukrainian Light Heavyweight Ismayl Sillakh (17-0, 14 KO) won all three of his starts for the years and is almost unanimously seen as a top ten player at 175 lbs., with a bullet. If Sillakh rules the field in the next year or two, few will be surprised…The same could be said at Cruiserweight of Poland’s 24-year old Mateusz Masternak (24-0, 18 KO) if more of the world were clued in. He doesn’t have the press ratings yet globally but he’s rated by all four major sanctioning bodies, has serious pop, evident skill and three more knockout wins in 2011.
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]