Almost every young boxer dreams of becoming a world champion and the trappings associated with it; money, fame and stardom. Only a miniscule proportion of those who lace up the gloves will however go on to fulfil their dreams. Success depends not just on ability, but mental fortitude, work ethic, the right support and a healthy dose of good fortune. For the path to the summit of boxing is paved with adversity.
For a prospect on this path who wishes to graduate to contendership, he must at some point get past a gatekeeper; one who guards entry to the doors of the world class boxing level. Pass the test and contendership awaits you along with the potential opportunity to fight for championship glory. Fail and you’re headed back to the drawing board. Some fighters, indeed the majority, hit their ceiling and never progress beyond this point.
Boxing gatekeepers are a mixed bunch. Some are failed prospects themselves while others might have mixed it up at the highest level before falling down a notch or two. All of them however command a respect within the sport that your run-of-the-mill journeyman won’t typically receive. Gatekeepers are not just there to be punching bags or to provide a glorified sparring session. They come to win. Often they have world-class skills or attributes, but not the all-round game to reach that level. And as they’re matched tough, they need to be so themselves.
If you’re the real deal, you should get past a gatekeeper and do so convincingly. However, if you take them lightly, turn up underprepared, make any rookie errors, or simply are not as good as you need to be, you will pay the price. In this article, we take a look at five of the best boxing gatekeepers who are still active and putting young hopefuls through the gauntlet…
#5 Derrick Findley
Derrick Findley is a stocky, brawling ball of aggression. Only 5 foot 6 inches tall but hugely muscular, he has generally fought between 160 and 175 pounds throughout his career, amassing a record of 29-24-0 to date with 19 knockouts. There are four things you can expect from a Findley fight. He is invariably the much shorter man in the ring, almost always there as the ‘opponent’, usually goes the distance and generally gives all-comers a tough night’s work.
Now 36 years old, the man nicknamed ‘Superman’ is past his best and has been stopped on several occasions in the last couple of years, but his fighting spirit remains undimmed. In his last fight, he knocked down TMT fighter Lionell Thompson en route to a defeat on points. Just last year, he bludgeoned former super middleweight contender and hometown favourite, Don George, to defeat in five rounds.
Findley comes to fight and he comes to win. If you’re not for real, he will find you out, often in devastating fashion. A youthful future world title challenger, Andrzej Fonfara, received a wake-up call when he faced Findley in a 2008 middleweight bout. Findley knocked the spindly Fonfara silly in the second round, turning him into Bambi on ice. Following the embarrassing defeat, Fonfara wisely moved up in weight. Ronald Hearns, son of Tommy ‘The Hitman’ Hearns, also fell in two rounds at the hands of Findley, leaving the ring on a stretcher as his legendary father looked on in horror.
Findley can be outboxed, as Andre Ward, Andre Dirrell and Gilberto Ramirez all demonstrated; just some of the big names that he has faced during his career. However, his power, durability and strength of will mean that he is always dangerous. Prospect Lamar Russ, a more talented and technically superior boxer, found this out to his cost when he faced Findley in 2014. Despite suffering a grotesque haematoma on the side of his head and being badly hurt in the eighth round, Findley battled through adversity to drop Russ twice and score the upset on the cards.
#4 Sergey Khomitsky
Sergey Khomitsky is a notorious name in UK boxing circles. The shaven-headed Belarussian has gained a reputation as a Brit-basher, having retired Jamie Moore and inflicted first-career-defeats on the up-and-coming Frank Buglioni and Adam Etches. Moreover, he stopped all three, enhancing his reputation as one of the most dangerous gatekeepers in Europe. Don’t let a record of 31-15-3 with only 14 knockouts deceive you. The man from Minsk punches like a mule.
In addition to fight-ending power, Khomitsky is extremely durable, with only three stoppage losses in his career. One, against Avtandil Khurtsidze, was due to injury while another came in bizarre circumstances in the tenth round against former super middleweight world champion, Robert Stieglitz, due to his corner taking too long to re-tape his gloves. Khomitsky had given Stieglitz a very competitive fight up to that point.
Truthfully, the only man to legitimately stop Khomitsky is no less a puncher than Gennady Golovkin, back in 2007 when the Kazakh KO artist and future middleweight monarch was virtually unknown in the United States.
Khomitsky is now 44 years old, but shows little sign of slowing down. He last fought on the undercard of the World Boxing Super Series semi-final between Callum Smith and Nieky Holzken earlier this year. He was not facing a mug either in former interim WBA middleweight champion Dmitry Chudinov. Khomitsky gamely went the distance with his much younger foe, even staggering him at one point during the bout, demonstrating that he can still serve as a reliable prospect-checker at 160/168 pounds.
#3 Lanardo Tyner
Welterweight is one of boxing’s traditional glamour divisions and with the likes of Keith Thurman, Errol Spence, Terence Crawford, Manny Pacquiao and Shawn Porter currently reigning as champions, is as stacked as it’s ever been. For the best part of a decade, Lanardo Tyner has guarded the welterweight doors to world level and done as good a job as any. He gave Canelo Alvarez one of his toughest fights while the Mexican was still ascending the ladder to stardom back in 2009. Canelo won widely on scorecards which didn’t reflect how hard he had to work and how much resistance Tyner put up.
Known appropriate as ‘The Pain Server’, Tyner has dished out plenty of it since turning professional in 2004. He regularly takes fights on short notice and often fighting well above his natural weight of 140 pounds. Tyner has a take-no-prisoners mentality in the ring and unprepared prospects can often find themselves being overwhelmed by his aggression, such as once-touted prospect Antwone Smith, who won the early rounds against Tyner in their 2010 bout but faded in the face of unrelenting pressure and was finished off by body shots in the ninth round. Alternatively, Tyner has enough single shot power to put you away quickly if you catches you clean, as he did in the first round to future junior middleweight world title challenger, Charles Hatley, in 2012.
Tyner has a creditable draw against Adrian Granados and a win against former 140 pound titleholder Vivian Harris on his resume which currently stands at 35-13-2 with 22 knockouts. He has also faced future and former world champions Lamont Peterson, Jessie Vargas, Antonio DeMarco, all of whom he went the distance with. Only hard-hitting Steven Butler has been able to stop Tyner inside the distance, last year in Canada in a junior middleweight contest.
If decorated former amateur, Cortez Chambliss, saw it as a sign that Tyner, now 43 years old, was ready for the taking, he was sorely mistaken when he signed to fight Tyner this year. At 21 years of age, Chambliss is young enough to be Tyner’s son and with just 4 professional fights to his name it proved all too much too soon. Tyner destroyed Chambliss by third round TKO, knocking him down multiple times until the referee had seen enough. Pain served, lesson learned.
#2 Jesus Soto Karass
Mexican warrior, Jesus Soto Karass, is an unlikely gatekeeper. He’s slow, a bleeder, not a huge puncher and far from the most technically skilled boxer, but makes up for it with inhuman toughness and a phenomenal workrate.
Soto Karass first rose to prominence when he finished off a once great but long-past-his-best Vince Phillips in 2006. He suffered hard luck in two defeats to American prospect Mike Jones, the first of which he had a good case for winning. He moved up to junior middleweight to face another tough customer in Gabriel Rosado and found the Philly fighter’s superior natural strength and power too much to handle, falling to his first stoppage defeat and his fifth winless fight on the trot.
Then Soto Karass experienced a career renaissance. He faced heavily-favoured and hard-hitting Marcos Maidana back at welterweight and although he was stopped on his feet while still trying to return fire, he gave an excellent account of himself up to that point; taking Maidana’s best shots and outworking him to the point at which he seemed poised to take over the bout in the middle rounds before being caught.
Soto Karass parlayed his better-than-expected performance against Maidana into an upset victory over Turkish contender Selcuk Aydin before facing former welterweight champion Andre Berto in 2013. Berto, the odds-on favourite, was hurt early in the bout by Soto Karass and then suffered a shoulder injury which compromised him for the rest of the fight. He battled valiantly, even being given credit for a knockdown in the eleventh round, but Soto Karass was not to be denied, drowning Berto with an avalanche of punches and finally stopping him with a crushing left hook in the final round for a career-best win.
Soto Karass was rewarded with a shot at the then-WBA interim titlist Keith Thurman and after an exciting start in which he stunned the favourite with an overhand right in the opener, Thurman’s class and power took over, ending affairs with a ninth round knockout. After being outpointed in his next bout against Devon Alexander, Soto Karass engaged in an all-out war with another hardnosed gatekeeper, Yoshihiro Kamegai. For ten rounds, both men abandoned any semblance of defence and traded hell-for-leather in a split draw that was a candidate for Fight of the Year.
It called for a rematch, but the second fight was anything but competitive. Soto Karass looked a shell of himself as Kamegai pounded him into an eighth round corner retirement. Two more successive losses followed, to Mauricio Herrera by majority decision and to Juan Carlos Abreu by brutal eighth round KO.
It was against this backdrop that Soto Karass took to the ring to face hot Golden Boy prospect Neeco Macias, a non-stop volume puncher like Soto Karass, but younger, fresher and naturally bigger. Many, including myself, saw it as a criminal matchup considering how shopworn Soto Karass had appeared in his last few fights. We couldn’t have been more wrong. Soto Karass rolled back the years and outslugged the young upstart, throwing a record-breaking 1,848 punches to 1,505 for Macias, earning a majority decision win, his first since upsetting Berto five years previously.
His record now stands at 29-13-14 with 18 knockouts; numbers as rugged as Soto Karass is in the ring. Look beyond the numbers, Soto Karass is one of the best, and undoubtedly the gutsiest, gatekeepers of his generation.
#1 Darnell Boone
Darnell ‘Deezol’ Boone has the worst record of any man on this list. His record currently stands at 24-24-4 with 13 knockouts. These are highly beguiling statistics, for Boone may well be the ‘Godfather of Gatekeepers’ as Ring Magazine Editor, Dougie Fischer, once crowned him.
He certainly holds the biggest scalp on his record. For Boone is the only man to defeat the WBC and lineal light heavyweight world champion, Adonis Stevenson. Furthermore, he did so in stunning fashion, knocking the Haitian-Canadian puncher out in the second round of their 2010 bout.
That is not the sole achievement of Boone’s career however. He has upset several touted prospects during his career such as two-time world title challenger Willie Monroe Jr. Moreover, he has faced a who’s who of contenders and future champions across a fourteen year professional career; Andre Ward, Erislandy Lara, Edwin Rodriguez, Lajuan Simon, Curtis Stevens, Brian Vera, Craig McEwan, Jean Pascal and Sergey Kovalev among others. He went the distance with all of them, drawing with Simon and was arguably robbed against McEwan.
Numerous prospects have survived close shaves with Boone, gaining draws or winning split or tight unanimous decisions which could easily have gone in his favour. Boone was the first man to knock down and badly hurt Ward who retired as the undefeated pound-for-pound king of boxing. He did the same to Kovalev in their first fight. On that occasion, the Russian escaped with a split decision win, but to this day cannot remember most of the fight. Ignore the fact that he only has 13 career knockouts; Boone has dynamite in his fists and world-class timing. Fall into his traps and you could find yourself undergoing a spot of hibernation on the canvas.
What makes Boone’s feats all the more remarkable is the fact that he is a natural middleweight and has weighed in as low as 153 pounds in the past, yet most of his significant fights have taken place at super middleweight or light heavyweight, almost always at short notice.
Boone had virtually no amateur career to speak of, no major backers, trainer or promoter. He has learned his craft on the job and has done so very well considering his circumstances. He has to supplement his earnings from boxing professionally with being a sparring partner for the likes of Gennady Golovkin, a trade in which his reservoirs of durability and trusty, dusty bag of veteran tricks are highly valued. Abel Sanchez, Golovkin’s trainer, characterises Boone as a cagey old-school fighter and credits him with giving his prize pupil looks which other sparring partners won’t offer. It’s praise indeed for a fighter with a record as pedestrian on paper as the one held by Boone.
Like all of the gatekeepers on this list, Boone’s best days are behind him. He is now 38 years old and his cast-iron chin has shown signs of rusting, with three of his last six losses coming via stoppage, albeit two of them against world-class punchers Stevenson and Kovalev in rematches. But he still has the ability to give prospects between 160 and 175 pounds hell, as Schiller Hyppolite discovered in 2016. The Canadian, fighting on home ground, was sent to the canvas twice and badly hurt, but hung on for a unanimous decision victory and leaving Boone feeling hard done by once again.
Tonight, Boone will make his cruiserweight debut against a journeyman with a record of 9-13-4; a rare occasion on which he will face an opponent with a worse record than his. It’s hard to begrudge him the luxury, considering how tough he has been matched during his career. While the opponent may not be distinguished, it still marks a special occasion for Boone, being the first time that he has fought in his native Youngstown, Ohio, in eleven years. A homecoming for the Godfather of Gatekeepers; a man who, with better fortune, could quite conceivably have become a world champion.
Article by: Paul Lam
Follow Paul on Twitter at: @PaulTheWallLam