It was June 9 that boxing began its slow, careful comeback after almost three months of Covid-19 lockdowns. That was the date when Top Rank launched the first of a series of shows in a protected environment at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Just six weeks, but it seems so long ago. It’s like we are living in a state of suspended animation.
The good news, though, is that we are seeing boxing again. Up to the end of July we had shows in the US, the UK, Mexico, Poland, Belarus and Germany. It’s strange days indeed, with TV pundits doing their commentary behind a plastic screen, cornermen wearing face masks (and even perspex face shields) and shows taking place without crowds. Yet we do have boxing, and that’s good. It’s good for the boxers and it is good for the viewing public. (Actually, I honestly believe it’s therapeutic for all of us to have boxing on TV again.)
I’ve watched all the shows that were available to me and it pleases me to note that there are some excellent fighters coming through the ranks. It would take too much space to name them all, but here are 10 who caught my eye between June 9 and July 31.
Anderson is an unbeaten heavyweight in the Top Rank stable. He was US national champion as a junior and senior. There’s a lot to like about Anderson. He has a pleasing, aggressive style. Anderson puts punches together, switches effectively to a southpaw stance and invests in body punches. Still only 20, he stands 6ft 4ins and weighs 235 pounds. Anderson calls himself The Real Big Baby — the implication being that Jarrell Big Baby Miller isn’t all that. He is clearly a very confident young man. Anderson took his record to 4-0 (all KOs) when he overwhelmed the southpaw Johnnie Langston in three rounds in a step-up fight. Langston had an 8-2 record, both losses on very close decisions (a split and a majority), but Anderson went right through him. Then, on July 16, Anderson blew out Hector Perez (7-2 going into the bout) in 105 seconds. With five KO wins in five fights (four first-round finishes), Anderson’s future looks bright.
Oh, my, what can you say? Berlanga, 23, has scored 13 consecutive first-round KOs. He’s a big (6ft 1in) power puncher from Brooklyn (and proud of his Puerto Rican heritage). Berlanga goes right to his opponents and looks to lay some hurt on them. He doesn’t mess around. Berlanga’s last opponent, Eric Moon, had respectable credentials (an 11-2 record going into the bout; good amateur credentials) but Berlanga just walked through him and clubbed him to the canvas with two consecutive right hands. His trainer, Andre Rozier (best known for his work with Daniel Jacobs) apparently wanted Berlanga to get some rounds in. No chance of that. Once that opening bell sounds, Berlanga is in seek-and-destroy mode.
OMAR ALEJANDRO AGUILAR
I really like the look of this tall 140-pounder from Ensenada, Baja California. He has that rangy, explosive look of a young Alexis Arguello. I’m not sure we could call Aguilar an up-and-comer because he looks on the fringe of world class. He’s won 18 fights in a row, with 17 KOs. There’s 13 first-round KOs in there. We saw Aguilar — if briefly — on the Zanfer Promotions show from Mexico City on June 27 when he blew out veteran Dante “Crazy” Jardon for his latest quick win. It was all over in 55 seconds. The boxing oddsmaker set a rounds total of 3.5 rounds with the under 3.5 rounds favoured. But it was obvious from the opening seconds that this would be a short night for Aguilar. Jardon, 32, didn’t stand a chance. A right hand had him going and quick follow-up burst of punches brought the referee’s intervention. Aguilar was sharp and accurate, with no wasted punches. One-round endings can be misleading, but Aguilar looked sensational, and he’s only 21. (BoxRec doesn’t recognise the Jardon result because commission members weren’t present due to Covid-19 issues, but the fight happened and for me it is another KO win on Aguilar’s record.)
Some boxers just look a bit special. Rodriguez fits the bill. The 24-year-old southpaw from the Dominican Republic is a rising star at 140lbs. He is tall (almost 5ft 11ins) and he hits with precision and power. You could go so far as to call him a classic boxer-puncher type. In his last bout, against Kenyan Dennis Okoth, Rodriguez landed a beautiful left hand through the middle of his opponent’s guard to score a second-round KO. That makes it 8-0-1 (8 KOs). And Okoth wasn’t a soft touch. He represented Kenya in the world championships as an amateur, and as a pro Okoth had wins over a boxer with a 10-0 record and another with a 10-1 record. So, to bomb him out in two rounds was a good result. Rodriguez lost to Cuba’s two-time world amateur champion Andy Cruz in the quarter-finals of the world amateur championships; in his opening bout of the tournament Rodriguez eliminated the Canadian Olympic representative Arthur Biyarslanov. He trains under the direction of Freddie Roach and Freddie’s assistant, Marvin Somodio, at the Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles.
A powerfully built middleweight from Georgia (the country, not the state) the 5ft 8ins Sekniashvili advances in tank-like fashion and bangs away to head and body. Sekniashvili, 26, boxed in various amateur tournaments in Europe but his straight-ahead, wear-them-down style is more suited to the pros. There’s something of the Artur Beterbiev in his physical appearance and the way he fights. Sekniashvili took his record to 6-0 (4 KOs) when he clubbed his way to a unanimous six-round decision over former national Golden Gloves champion Isiah Jones in Las Vegas on June 16. Jones is a competent boxer but Sekniashvili outclassed him with sheer strength and heavy hitting — Jones was too occupied with defence to do much of anything.
Cain is one the brightest stars to come out of Liverpool for a while (although gym mates Brad Strand and Nick Ball are right up there in the ones-to-watch department). Cain, 23, boxes in the 130lbs division. He took his record to 6-0 (all stoppages) by ploughing through the taller but outgunned Ed Harrison on the July 31 BT Sport show. Cain is exciting to watch. He moves forward, hands low, and makes his punches count — with his left hook being especially noteworthy. Cain was a national junior champion in the amateurs. A criticism is that by keeping his hands down he risks getting clipped on the chin as the opposition gets stiffer, but attack seems to be Cain’s best defence and it’s working out just fine so far.
Torres, a 22-year-old from Santa Monica, California, is an under-the-radar fighter. He boxes in the 140lbs division and he’s another of the long and lean types, almost 6ft. He’s a sharp boxer-puncher with a 13-0 (11 KOs) record. California’s Thompson Boxing outfit promotes Torres and is bringing him along nicely. I watched Torres’ latest fight when he stopped Chilean veteran Oscar Bravo in the sixth round. Unfortunately, the video stream was on the blink but you could see Torres’ quality. Bravo had been working with respected trainer Joel Diaz and he came to win but Torres easily moved around his seasoned opponent and teed off on him, bloodying the older man’s nose and hitting him freely until the referee intervened. The result that really stands out, though, is Torres’ unanimous six-round decision over fellow-prospect George Acosta, who was 7-0 going into the bout. On paper it looked like a real test, but Torres dominated, winning five of the six rounds on all three judges’ cards.
Chamberlain, 21, is one of the bright prospects in Frank Warren’s stable. An English champion as both youth and senior in the amateurs, Chamberlain is a tall southpaw with a 6-0 (4 KOs) record. What I particularly like about Chamberlain is that he goes to work immediately. If he is expected to get rid of an opponent quickly, he does just that. Four of his wins have come in the opening round. He is quick, aggressive and he punches hurtfully to body and head. Yes, he’s been in with soft opposition and, yes, he has a long way to go, but the quality shines through.
Contreras calls himself ‘The Caveman’. This suggests he’s a slugger type. In fact, Contreras, a 22-year-old from Bakersfield, California, has what you could almost call old-pro skills in the way he rolls away from punches or slips under them and fires in snappy shots of his own. He’s 11-0 (6 KOs). In his last fight, Contreras faced a fellow-unbeaten in Rolando Vargas, a 20-year-old with a 5-0 record. It was an excellent bout on one of the Top Rank shows at the MGM Grand. Vargas is also a promising fighter. He landed some solid right hands, but Contreras showed an excellent chin. Overall, Contreras was too speedy and too savvy.
Vianello boxed for Italy in the super-heavyweight division at the Olympics and he’s 7-0 (7 KOs) as a pro. He trains in Las Vegas under the guidance of Kevin Barry, who has plenty of experience working with heavyweights (David Tua, Joseph Parker). Vianello is a tall (6ft 6ins) stand-up boxer with power in his right hand. Although he has been matched carefully by the Top Rank people, all of his opponents have had winning records (that is, more wins than losses). He’s 26 and wears a gladiator-type mask on his ring walk, hence his Gladiator nickname. Vianello is a veteran of the quasi-pro World Series of Boxing. A good-looking Italian heavyweight who can box and punch can obviously be built into a major attraction, but there’s no hurry.
Main image: Jared Anderson. Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank.