July 15, 2013

A Review of KO Digest's "Spotlight on Boxing's Up and Comers"

The first and the best - Gary Russell Jr
By Terry Strawson - Since we at KO Digest began shining our 'Spotlight on Boxing's Up and Comers' last November, we've featured some of the brightest prospects and contenders that boxing has to offer. We've highlighted their stories from dimly lit gyms to the bright lights of HBO and SHO and given insight into their journeys from the bottom to the top. This month, instead of featuring a new fighter, we'll review the recent activities of our profiled fighters, in and out of the ring. In a year that promises to turn some of these prospects into contenders and contenders into champions - one or two have been less fortunate.

Gary Russell Jr, recognized by many to posses the fastest hands in boxing, was the first fighter we focused on last November in our ever-growing Spotlight series. Since then, Russell Jr (now 22-0, 13 KOs) from Capitol Heights, MD, has beaten Vyachaslev Gusev by unanimous decision and was scheduled to fight in Brooklyn, NY, on the undercard of the now scrapped Bernard Hopkins-Karo Murat bout. That card fell through due to Murat's inability to acquire the necessary travel visa, an issue that has since been resolved. We should look forward to seeing one or two more fights from Russell Jr. before a possible showdown with featherweight champ Abner Mares - a fellow Golden Boy Promotions fighter. 

Thurman beats Zaveck by decision
On the SHO undercard of Andre Berto against Jesus Soto Karass on July 27th in San Antonio, TX, welterweight Keith "One Time" Thurman (featured last December on KO Digest) will square off against fellow knockout artist Diego Chaves as both put their undefeated records and reputations on the line. "All is going well and according plan," said Thurman. "We're just shaving down the knife, we're getting it nice and sharp and getting ready for this performance on the 27th. We have intentions of throwing bombs all night. That means every single round I will be throwing some of them critical blows. It's not that every shot I throw will be a bomb but at any point during the fight a knockout can occur."

Thurman (now 20-0, 18 KOs) trained by Dan Birmingham in Florida, has been getting rounds under his belt with Daquan Arnett (11-0) and readying himself to exploit the shortcomings of Chaves. "Sometimes he'll lunge in with a big wide left hook, I have seen him miss it many times. If he steps in with that over-zealous knockout mentality, if he happens to throw that wide hook, I plan on shutting it down with a short one of my own. There are things we saw on film and we'll be looking for them come fight night. Bombs will be dropping all night!" It's a huge opportunity for Thurman and his last two victories, over the durable Jan Zaveck and the experienced Carlos Quintana, should see him better equipped than the talented yet relatively untested interim WBA 147 lb champ Chaves. In the second installment of Golden Boy's Knockout Kings series, Thurman and Chaves bring 36 knockouts out of a combined 42 fights to the table. This one should not go the distance. The fight will be televised on Showtime in the US and on Super Channel in Canada.

Another opponent goes By-By for Jennings
Philadelphia born heavyweight contender Bryant "By-By" Jennings (spotlighted in January) continued his surge toward a title shot with a hard fought victory last month over Andrey Fedosov. Once again on NBC's Fight Night in front of his own fans, Jennings showed more of the boxing skills and commitment to a craft that he only picked up very recently, having turned pro in 2010. Fedosov, a big strong Russian-born fighter, came to fight and certainly had his moments but Jennings was not to be denied. The bout was stopped in the 6th on a cut to Fedosov, and Jennings improved his record to 17-0, 9 KO's. His rise in the sport has been honest and Jennings has performed well against gradually improving opposition - his 2012 knockout of Bowie Tupou for the USBA title shouldn't be overlooked.

At 6'2 and 225 lbs, Jennings' size, or lack of it, could be a factor as his fights, and his opponents, continue to get bigger.

In Houston, TX, another KO Digest Up and Comer Ricardo Williams Jr, is training and awaiting resolution to a similar issue made public by Andre Ward recently. Williams Jr. (featured last February) and Ward share the same manager; James Prince. Prince and promoter Dan Goossen have been engaged in a legal battle, and the career of Williams Jr. has been affected in the meantime. "I'm in a bit of a different situation [than Ward] but basically I haven't fought as many times that's required in my contract. I just don't feel like I'm getting the attention that I need, to get to where I need to be," said Williams Jr. The slick Olympic silver medalist from 2000 has not been in the ring since his somewhat controversial victory over then undefeated Golden Boy prospect Luis Ramos, on FOX Sports late last year. Ranked 9th at junior welterweight by the IBF, Williams Jr. could be in a worse position but it appears that his future lies away from Goossen Tutor and negotiations to part ways are in the works. "I don't think it's going to be a problem. I've pretty much done everything he asked of me, fought who he wanted me to fight, we're not on bad terms, but if boxing is what I'm gonna be doing then I need to start doing it a little bit more."

Williams Jr did name a potential suitor from New York that unfortunately cannot be revealed at the time of writing.

Nelson fights inside against Cuello
Willie "The Great" Nelson, the 6'3" junior middleweight contender from Cleveland, OH, came through a tougher than expected bout against Luciano Cuello on HBO last month after being featured last March. In a fight that saw him suffer two cuts over his right eye, Nelson showed moments of quality yet was engaged in a war of attrition for the majority of the bout. "Cuello was tougher than I expected. He was game, and he came to win. He came to fight me." In the first round, Nelson came out strong. His attack was aggressive and he appeared to be putting everything on each and every shot that landed on the shorter Cuello. "I pretty much just got excited doing too much trying to impress the fans," confessed Nelson of his first round display on the Gennady Golovkin headlined HBO card from Foxwoods, CT

Due to the natural and obvious attributions of Nelson's height and reach, trainer Jack Loew can often be heard pleading with, and berating, his charge in between rounds to employ the jab more. Nelson, a tall fighter more comfortable in closer quarters, told KO Digest that Loew had issue with his "listening in the corner" and that the verbal abuse on the stool was a case of the former Trainer of the Year simply "doing his job." And doing it well, too. Nelson (now 21-1-1, 12 KOs) made a hard fight harder against a capable fighter whose only prior losses have come against Canelo Alvarez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Despite not scoring a knockout, his impressive run continues and although nothing is scheduled as of now, Nelson remains focused, stating - "I want to be a world champion by 2014."

Mayfield has a fight scheduled vs Pavel Miranda
One fighter who has struggled to find fights, yet now finds himself on the verge of a world title shot, is Karim "Hard Hitta" Mayfield. A heavy handed junior welterweight contender from San Francisco, Mayfield has not been inside the ring since we spoke back in April. His most recent outing was a less than spectacular - but noteworthy defeat of Mauricio Herrera on HBO back in October 2012. Outside of the ring, Mayfield recently put pen to paper on a promotional deal with Bob Arum's Top Rank and, according to Mayfield, a fight with WBA titlist Khabib Allakhverdiev could materialize at some point in the year. A shot against Allakhverdiev (also attached to Top Rank) would conceivably be the easiest route to a title and more realistic than his other targets. "There's a few fights out there that I would definitely like to have. Obviously Danny Garcia, I have been calling him out but he's not sure if he's fighting Lucas Matthysse, I'm not sure what's going on, he's just running from everybody. And shit, Adrien Broner said that he'd let the fans pick his next opponent and I'd like to be a candidate to fight that guy. But, with that being said, I don't know if there is a possibility of that right there," said Mayfield to KO Digest, seemingly eluding to the ongoing stalemate between Golden Boy and Top Rank that, barring a mini miracle, would prevent such bouts from taking place. For now, Mayfield (still 17-0-1, 10 KOs) is staying busy and has been helping Berto prepare for his upcoming fight against Karass. As we went to press, Mayfield signed to fight Pavel Miranda on the undercard of Chavez Jr and Brian Vera on October 7th.

A tainted Love saw a win become a no-decision
Just hours after we made middleweight J'Leon Love the focus of our attention in May, news broke via ESPN's Dan Rafael that Love had tested positive for a banned diuretic substance. The Nevada State Athletic Commission has since suspended Love for six months, fined him $10,000 and overturned his controversial NABF middleweight title victory over Gabriel Rosado, rendering it a no-decision. A swift change of fortunes for the boxer-puncher from Inkster, MI., who only has himself to blame. After what had been a huge milestone win for the young Mayweather Promotions fighter, his future now seems very uncertain. Love (15-0, 8 KOs) is definitely not the first fighter to endure such pitfalls and he certainly won't be the last, but he does have some work to do.

How much longer will Bellew have to wait?
Liverpool born Tony Bellew, the most recent boxer profiled, is currently on a much deserved vacation in Mexico and was unavailable for comment. After two grueling fights in as many months against the extremely tough Isaac Chilemba, Bellew is now the mandatory WBC challenger to World Light Heavyweight Champion Adonis Stevenson, a fight that will go to purse bids on July 26th. The proposed bout between the two power-punching light heavyweights could go ahead later in the year unless a mooted fight between Stevenson and former IBF champion Tavoris Cloud gets in the way, a scenario that can only unfold with the blessing of Bellew and promoter Eddie Hearn.

It will be interesting to see how the mini-saga unravels as 'Bomber' has already fought three WBC ordered eliminators.

And so there you have it fight fans, a look back and a look ahead at each of the eight promising prizefighters who have been spotlighted as a part KO Digest's popular "Boxing's Up and Comers" series. Be sure to join us next month as we again shine our spotlight on a brand new up and coming boxer making waves on the way up the ranks.

Look for a new KO Digest Spotlight on Boxing's Up & Comers on the 15th of every month! 

Written by Terry Strawson ~ exclusively for KO Digest