By Lem Satterfield
Trainer Ronnie Shields will be a busy man on December 22 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
Shields will not only work the corner of WBC interim 160-pound champion Jermall Charlo (27-0, 21 KOs) in pursuit of his initial defense and fourth straight knockout against southpaw Willie Monroe (23-3, 6 KOs), but also those of Nigerian prospects Efetobor Apochi and Efe Ajagba, who are combined 12-0 with 11 knockouts in 17 months as professionals.
The 28-year-old Charlo is the main event on a card that includes his younger-by-a-minute identical twin Jermell (31-0, 15 KOs), who is 4-0 with three knockouts as WBC 154-pound champion entering his fourth defense against repeat title challenger Tony Harrison (27-2, 21 KOs).
The 31-year-old Apochi (5-0, all knockouts) stands 5-foot-11 and is coming off an 18-second stoppage of Aaron Chavers in August, and the 24-year-old Ajagba (7-0, 6 KOs) is 6-foot-5 with his last fight being a first-round knockout of previously unbeaten Nick Jones (7-1, 5 KOs) in September.
Ajagba and Apochi debuted on the same card in July 2017 at Rabobank Theater in Bakersfield, California, with first- and second-round knockouts of Tyrrell Anthony Herndon and Daniel Mejia Hernandez.
While Apochi has one other first-round stoppage of Leo Pla from September 2017, Ajagba’s also ended one-rounders in 35, 89 and 91 seconds as well as in 2:19.
They’re both promoted by Richard Shaefer of Ringstar Sports and managed by Shelly Finkel, who also guides WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder as he did retired former undisputed heavyweight king Wladimir Klitschko.
“This will be the first time I’ve had all three of them on the same card,” said Shields, who trains the trio out of the Houston-based Plex Gym. “Efe and Efetobor spar each other all of the time, and it’s really good work for both of them, absolutely.”
Nicknamed “The One and Only,” Ajagba’s advised by Al Haymon like Charlo and the 6-foot-7 Wilder (40-0-1, 39 KOs), a 2008 Olympic bronze medalists who scored ninth- and 12th-round knockdowns during last Saturday’s draw with 6-foot-9 lineal champion Tyson Fury (27-0-1, 19 KOs), failing to earn his eighth knockout in as many title defenses.
A gold medalist in the 2015 African Games and a bronze medalist in 2014 Commonwealth Games, Ajagba has drawn comparisons to Wilder, who stopped eight of his first nine opponents in the first round.
“Efe Ajagba, has the height, power, speed and instincts to be heavyweight champion of the world," said Shields. “But there’s no reason to rush this kid into the heavyweight spotlight. At 24, Efe’s still a very young prospect.”
Shields believes Ajagba’s two or three years from challenging today’s heavyweights, including contender Adam Kownacki (18-0, 14 KOs) and title challenger Gerald Washington (19-2-1, 12 KOs), who will clash on the January 26 undercard of Keith Thurman’s WBA 147-pound title defense against Jose Lopez at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
“Efe’s getting ready for another six-round fight, and after that, we’ll move him up to eight rounds and see how that works out. Then, of course, we’re talking about 10-rounders. So we’re looking at two or three years right now,” said Shields.
“There’s no telling where Deontay or [IBF/WBA/WBO counterpart] Anthony Joshua and the heavyweights division will be at that time. But Efe will have his man strength, by then, and the experience to be able to compete against the top guys in the world.”
Conversely, Apochi’s on a faster track toward one day challenging left-handed IBF/WBA/WBC/WBO champion Oleksandr Usyk (16-0, 12 KOs), a 2012 Ukrainian gold medalist, if not the former titleholders Usyk’s dethroned in southpaw Krzysztof Glowacki (31-1, 19 KOs), Mairis Briedis (25-1, 18 KOs), Murat Gassiev (26-1, 19 KOs) and Marco Huck (41-5-1, 28 KOs).
“We’re going to have to push Efetobor in his development because he just turned 31 years old in November. Efetobor’s fighting in another six-rounder on this next card,” said Shields.
“Then, we’re definitely going to have to push him a lot faster. Efetobor’s a pressure fighter with great stamina and one-punch knockout power in both hands, so I would say he’s about a year away, if that. But I’m telling you, he’s going to surprise a lot of people.”