Not long ago, welterweight was legitimately the strongest weight class in boxing from top to bottom. While HBO might like you to believe that, it's just not the case anymore. The top two guys, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr., just aren't fighting much anymore. Antonio Margarito, Miguel Cotto and Luis Collazo have moved up in weight, and Shane Mosley has been ping-ponging between 147 and 154 for years. While Paul Williams claims he can make the weight, it's been three years since he has. And even the future of a guy like Joshua Clottey is still in question. Most boxing fans probably can't even name two of the current titlists at 147 (by the way, they're Vyacheslav Senchenko and Jan Zaveck).
While this division isn't nearly as deep with prospects as some other weight classes (like middleweight), there still are some up and comers in the welterweight division who could make things exciting again soon. Some of them you already know, and some of them you may not, but hopefully they'll help infuse some new blood into a weight class that has gotten very weak very quickly outside of the top few guys.
Mike Jones (22-0) - For a long time, the career of the 6'0" Philly fighter languished, but the networks have started to take interest in the man and he could end up in the division's limelight pretty soon. Jones has some outstanding physical talents - he's very long and very quick, and has good reflexes, particularly for someone his size. His biggest drawbacks are that he sometimes seems a bit gun shy and/or unable to fire under pressure, and that he doesn't have great power despite 18 knockouts in 22 wins. Next up, he'll be getting his biggest exposure yet, fighting Jesus Soto-Karass on the Pacquiao-Margarito undercard.
Kell Brook (22-0) - Brook is already one of the better fighters in the U.K., and he's getting ready to step up to the world level. He's a fairly flashy talent, often keeping his hands low and relying on his quickness and reflexes to outbox opponents. While he's used this style to great effect on the domestic circuit, it's yet to be seen whether he'll be able to take it to the next level, as while this talent was special at the domestic level, he's not necessarily that quick compared to the elite welterweights. If he can maintain his slickness while picking up his workrate a bit and making fewer mental lapses, he could be a longtime contender and titlist in the division. Even as such, he's a good enough boxer with good enough tools that he has some serious blue chip potential.
Oyewale Omotoso (17-0) - The Australian-based Nigerian had mostly stayed under the radar until a couple years ago, when he punched Tia Koswara so hard that he started boxing in the wrong direction for a second or two before falling down. Not long thereafter, he followed it up by becoming the first fighter to knock out Emmanuel Augustus on a punch. From a purely athletic perspective, Omotoso may be more impressive than anyone on this list - he has very fast hands with a strong jab, a great left uppercut and solid power in both hands. He's nearly 5'11" with a broad frame, yet he's able to make the welterweight limit. His reflexes are quite quick as well, as he uses good upper body movement to slip a lot of shots and create opening. He looks best when he throws in combinations, but sometimes he's hesitant to do so. He's scheduled to fight Muhammad Abdullaev next, and hopefully after that, his handlers will finally step up his competition to the world level.
Brad Solomon (14-0) - Despite being a three-time national gold gloves champion, Solomon first came up with little fanfare. That changed when he thoroughly outboxed "the new" Ray Robinson on Showtime. Since then, he's kept his level of competition high, rattling off wins over Damian Frias, Kenny Galarza and Pablo Vasquez. He'll be taking another step up soon when he faces undefeated Asian regional titlist Vitali Demyanenko, a solid prospect himself. An effortless switch hitter, Solomon relies on accuracy and a lightning quick jab (when fighting out of the orthodox stance) to set up combinations. While he can be a bit spare with his punches, everything he throws has a purpose, often fighting low and springing up like a rattlesnake.
More after the jump...
Danny Garcia (19-0) - While Garcia started his career out at junior welterweight, his past two fights have come well into the welterweight limit (including a fringe title fight), and it looks like he might end up campaigning at this weight instead. Since turning pro, "Swift" Danny has blown somewhat hot and cold. When he's faced straightforward fighters, he's been able to fight aggressive and use his good handspeed and power to overwhelm opponents. This was especially apparent in his last fight against Mike Arnaoutis, who he was simply able to overwhelm. On the other hand, he's struggled a bit with opponents with trickier styles, such as Ashley Theophane and Jorge Romero, as it seems like he sometimes struggles with finding his accuracy. He's only 23 years old and has solid support behind him, so while he's being moved quickly, I wouldn't be too surprised if he hits a roadblock soon but then blossoms into something better a few years down the line.
John O'Donnell (24-1) - A skinny southpaw, O'Donnell has earned prospect status by working his way up the domestic food chain, sometimes struggling along the way but seemingly learning and picking up new tricks as he's moved up in class. For a U.K. fighter, O'Donnell has a very "American" looking style - he prefers the shoulder roll and upper body movement to a more standard defense, and at times he falls in love with his quick jab, flicking it out while keeping his upper body twitchy. While he's never going to blow away top level competition just because of his style and some speed limitations, he could well become a fixture near the top of the division as he starts to step beyond domestic level.
Antwone Smith (18-2-1) - Smith earned a lot of fans by pulling off three straight televised upsets in order to earn prospect status the hard way. He's not the most talented boxer in the world, but he's shown an ability to dig very deep and just plain outwill his opponents. He did lose his last fight to Lanardo Tyner, which appeared to be an error in judgment about fight strategy as much as anything else, so we'll have to see whether that becomes a learning experience.
Shawn Porter (17-0) - Despite being only 5'6", Porter actually fought at 165 during most of his distinguished amateur career during which he won nearly 300 bouts, including victories over Daniel Jacobs, Fernando Guerrero and Olympian Shawn Estrada. Since turning pro, he's been boiling down with the goal of fighting as a welterweight, similar to what Andre Berto did after going pro (which isn't the only similarity between Porter and Berto by a longshot). While he has some flashy speed and had solid power as a bigger fighter, he has run into some roadblocks as his size has been decreasing. He really struggled against the very lanky Russell "Spiderman" Jordan, and he's failed to get some other good but not great fighters out of there as quickly as would be ideal. He's very polished and has a lot of speed, but part of what made him special as an amateur was his power. With his decrease in mass, the power seems to be slowly disappearing, which means he'll need to find other ways to compensate.
Sadam Ali (9-0) - A 2008 U.S. Olympian (at lightweight), Ali has relied on very quick handspeed and a very flashy style to start building up a fan base in the New York City area. On the positive side, he has good energy, solid enough fundamentals (when he chooses to use them) and great quickness. On the negative side, he often seems more intent on firing up the crowd rather than winning fights, which has led to a couple of his fights being downright sloppy, as well as getting tagged by mediocre opponents way too easily. It's hard to tell if he's just showboating because he's not being challenged, or if these will be bad habits in the long-term. While he has talent, he's not so supremely talented that he can get away with it, if he can't adjust to fighting more conservatively against a higher class of opposition.
Teerachai Kratingdaenggym (7-0, or 10-0 by news reports) - The lanky Thai fighter had over 100 professional Muay Thai bouts before turning pro in boxing. Despite this, and despite already snagging a minor belt or two, Teerachai is only 19 years old. Between his age, his experience and his length (while his height isn't officially listed anywhere, he looks about 5'11" or 6'0"), he could be one to watch out for, although since he's fighting out of Thailand, it will probably be a very long time before he gets any exposure on this side of the Pacific.
Raymond Serrano (13-0) - Jobu like. Serrano is a Philly fighter with a Philly style, and while it's tough to make the comparison on a level of pure talent, the way that he moves is somewhat evocative of Meldrick Taylor. Perhaps his greatest asset is a piston-like jab that he uses both as a weapon and to set up the straight right hand. Serrano is young (21) and relatively inexperienced and has some room to grow, but he's already been matched tough and has experienced some growing pains, barely earning the win in two of his recent fights.
Yordanes Ugas (5-0) - Ugas may only be 5-0 and 24 years old, but it appears he might become one of the better Cuban prospects, in part because he is indeed much younger than many of the others. After winning gold medals in several international tournaments and winning bronze in the 2008 Olympics, Ugas defected and went pro as a welterweight. He has solid tools all the way around, and as you'd expect of a star Cuban amateur, he's very skilled. As with many of the Cuban amateurs, he does fight a bit amateurish, waiting for his openings rather than trying to create them, but hopefully trainer John David Jackson can try to cure him of that habit. Also, he fights out of the turtle shell defense, but unlike most recent practitioners of that style, he's actually able to move around well while behind the high guard, and is even quick enough that he's able to counterpunch out of the stance. Finally, as an amateur, he was known to be a bit chinny, so he'll have to compensate for that as a pro. His handlers have been having him fight nearly twice a month since turning pro in July. It's early, but he could be one to watch for.
Some quick shout outs:
- Saul Alvarez - One of the best prospects in the world, but probably not heading back down to 147.
- Vitali Demyanenko - A fundamentally sound southpaw who can take a major step forward if he beats Brad Solomon.
- Keith Thurman - Seems to have absolutely huge power, but needs to step up the level of competition before we know more.
- James De La Rosa - Mexican-American with very quick hands and a flashy style.
- Aslanbek Kozaev - A young Siberian action fighter in the mold of Tszyu and Provodnikov.
- Vernon Paris - A tremendous talent and one of the slickest fighters out there. When he's "on", it's a beauty to watch, but he's had major problems outside of the ring and seems to have issues maintaining focus inside the ring.
- Omar Chavez - I personally think he's awful, but he'll get all the chances in the world because of his lineage.
- Jonathan Gonzalez - 2008 Puerto Rican Olympian.
- Jermell Charlo - Athletic kid building up a fan base around Houston.
- Kevin Bizier - Seven time Canadian amateur national champion with great fundamentals but some size and talent limitations.