IBHOF inductee Graham Houston looks at 10 rising stars who impressed in the closing two months of the year.
The new year is fast approaching and it’s that time again — time to look ahead. There’s reason for optimism. We have a number of gifted young fighters coming through. In the last two months alone, a bunch of fighters caught my eye. These are boxers with no more than a dozen pro bouts on their record but who have already shown that certain something we define as star quality. Two are already world sanctioning-body champions. All look destined for big (or bigger) things.
So, without further ado, here, in no particular order, are 10 boxers from around the globe who, in an eight-week spell, captured my imagination as the old year came to a close.
Albert Batyrgaziev (featherweight): Although Russia’s Batyrgaziev has had only five pro bouts (all stoppage wins) you could hardly call him a prospect. At 24, the Tokyo Olympics gold medallist is already a mature fighter who is ready for the best at 126lbs. He blew through former 122lbs title challenger Franklin Manzanilla last weekend in Moscow. Batyrgaziev is a southpaw who brings fast-paced pressure. He did something that was highly unusual in Olympic boxing when, behind on points after two rounds, he seized victory against fellow-southpaw Tsendbaatar Erdenbat, of Mongolia, with a storming last round: Usually it’s “bout over” when a boxer is two rounds down going into the third and final round of an Olympics bout.
Erick Rosa (minimumweight): While “Mini Pacman” Rosa doesn’t have Manny Pacquiao’s ferocity he does possess mature southpaw skills for one so young (only 21). The Dominican Republic’s Rosa took a big step up in his last fight when defeating dangerous Vic Saludar of the Philippines to win a 105lbs belt. Rosa is adept at hitting and not getting hit. He was down in the 10th round against Saludar but seemed simply to have slipped (although a punch was thrown) and Rosa looked incredulous when the referee gave him an eight count. Rosa is 5-0 and I believe he hits harder than the one KO on his record suggests — he scored two flash knockdowns against Saludar.
Jared Anderson (heavyweight): “Big Baby” Anderson looks to have it all. He’s fast, athletic, can box on the outside or deliver concussive punches up close. He boxes equally as effectively in either the southpaw or orthodox stance. And Jared doesn’t mess around, as shown by his 11-0 (11 KOs) record, with eight of those wins coming inside two rounds. At 6ft 4ins and 240lbs he’s certainly big enough. It looks as if the sky’s the limit for this Top Rank prospect.
Samuel Carmona (super-flyweight): Carmona is 6-0 (4 KOs) after a world-class amateur career that saw him represent Spain in the Olympics and World Championships as well as capturing a bronze medal in the Europeans. A switch-hitter (southpaw to orthodox and back again) he has a pleasing, aggressive style. Carmona overwhelmed a useful Mexican fighter in the first round on the Matchroom Boxing show from Bilbao on December 3.
David Morrell (super-middleweight): Morrell looks far more experienced than his record of 6-0 (5 KOs) would indicate. Perhaps that’s because Morrell, 23, was Cuban national champion in the amateurs. He’s a southpaw with smooth skills and serious punching power. Morrell makes his home in the Midwest city of Minneapolis, where he almost casually blew away the towering Alantez Fox in the fourth round the week before Christmas. Working with trainer Ronnie Shields can only enhance Morrell’s already considerable talent.
Xander Zayas (welterweight): Puerto Rico’s Zayas is all smiles — until it’s time to go to work. Only 19, Zayas goes after his opponents and looks to hurt them as soon as the bell sounds. Zayas (12-0, 9 KOs) is exciting and talented. Dare one say it, but there’s something of the Tito Trinidad in the way Zayas lets the punches flow.
Keyshawn Davis (lightweight): Olympic silver medallist Davis, from Pernell Whitaker’s old hometown of Norfolk, Virginia, is 4-0 (3 KOs). Another Top Rank boxer, he’s a skilled sharpshooter who boxed on almost level terms with Cuba’s gifted Andy Cruz in the Olympic gold-medal bout.
Jose Valenzuela (lightweight): Born in Mexico and based in Seattle, where he trains alongside 168lbs champion David Benavidez, the 22-year-old Valenzuela is a hard-hitting southpaw who takes the fight to his opponents and lets his hands go — and he doesn’t believe in playing it safe. This makes Valenzuela fun to watch but also gives his opponents a chance to catch him with a counter punch. However, Valenzuela is deceptively clever at rolling with punches. He’s 12-0 (7 KOs) and he dropped fellow-lefty Austin Dulay four times in two rounds in his last fight, with the ringside doctor advising referee Charlie Fitch to stop the bout after checking Dulay over at the start of the third.
Yoelvis Gomez (middleweight): Cuba’s Gomez can bang — as in really bang. He’s scored six KO wins, five in the first round, in six bouts. The Las Vegas based Gomez landed southpaw bombs to blast out the usually durable Clay Collard in the opening round in his last fight. Collard has an MMA background, and as a boxer he’s been something of an upset specialist. He’s a true tough guy. But in the fight with Gomez, Collard looked visibly shocked at the power of his opponent’s punching. Gomez was on the Cuban national team as an amateur but I think it’s safe to say that, with his seek-and-destroy mentality, he’s more suited to pro boxing. The old “Don’t go to the fridge!” stricture applies when Gomez is in the ring.
David Nyika (cruiserweight): He’s only had two pro bouts, but New Zealand’s Olympic heavyweight bronze medallist Nyika looks exceptionally promising. Nyika has yet to get out of the first round as a pro. At 26, big and muscular at 200lbs, one feels that the good-looking boxer-puncher could safely be fast-tracked.
Main image: Jared Anderson. Photo: Mikey Willliams/Top Rank.