Saul Alvarez could be the next great Mexican star. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
With many of boxing's established stars either fading, winding down, or flat on their way out of the sport (at least in a top of the world sort of way), new blood needs to come along. And despite any rumors to the contrary, fear not: There is talent out there under the age of 25. Some of these names are already at or near the top of their divisions, some have held major titles already, some have already taken some lumps, and some are just about to bloom -- that is, if they're going to bloom.
Division: Junior Welterweight
Khan (23-1, 17 KO) has blossomed into a more well-rounded fighter in his five fights under the tutelage of top trainer Freddie Roach. Since losing a stunner TKO-1 to Breidis Prescott in September 2008, he rebounded with wins over tough but limited Oisin Fagan and undersized, worn-out veteran Marco Antonio Barrera. It's what he's done since finding a groove with Roach that's counted. He dominated Andriy Kotelnik to lift the WBA title in his debut at 140 pounds, then defended it against sanctioning body-ranked but grossly overmatched Dmitriy Salita. He made his debut on American shores in May against scrappy Paulie Malignaggi, and routed the Brooklyn native in New York before stopping him in the 11th round. Khan's major weakness is a dodgy chin, and everyone knows it. Not only was he knocked silly by Prescott (whose power is often overrated), but he has been floored by feather-fisted Willie Limond. Since pairing with Roach, he's learned to use his height (5'10") to the advantage it should be. Combine that with perhaps the fastest hands in the sport, and even with a bad chin, Khan could be a top name for a long time to come.
Division: Welterweight / Junior Middleweight
Alvarez turned 20 on July 18. Two and a half months before that, he was in the main support slot on the massive Mayweather-Mosley pay-per-view, defeating veteran Jose Miguel Cotto in the fight of the night. "Canelo" (33-0-1, 25 KO) got in another fight eight days before leaving his teens, completely obliterating Luciano Cuello. He's been fighting a bit north of the 147-pound limit lately, and with wide shoulders on his 5'9" frame, he'll surely end up competing there long-term. But the plan still seems to be for him to emerge as a welterweight contender first, though he's also eager to knock off fellow young Mexican star Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., who says Alvarez isn't a big enough star yet. In one night alone in May, Alvarez made a lot of fans with his style. He's very aggressive, punches hard at all times, and while he has his defensive flaws, he's still a baby in the sport. He's got an innate charisma that will make him an easy star, and he could be the next Mexican superstar. He's not the sort who's going to have an unbeaten, unblemished career. He will take his lumps, because when the chips are down, I'm going to bet he doesn't respond with defense.
Mares had a terrific amateur career, going 112-8 with 84 knockouts and facing some top names along the way. He took the gold at the Central American & Caribbean Games, beating Juan Manuel Lopez. At the 2003 Pan American games, he took the silver medal, losing to amateur legend Guillermo Rigondeaux. He represented Mexico at the 2004 Olympics, losing a controversial decision to Hungary's Zsolt Bedak in the opening round. As a pro, he's shown the goods. Mares (20-0-1, 13 KO) went through the riff-raff and then took a big leap up in competition in May against bantamweight titlist Yonnhy Perez. The two went to a draw, with Mares proving he belongs on the big stage. He's lined up next to face Vic Darchinyan in Showtime's four-man bantamweight tournament. With Darchinyan's mix of unique, reckless brawling and his own solid amateur pedigree, Mares has another tough row to hoe. But he's certainly showing ambition.
Koki (23-1, 15 KO) is the oldest of Japan's notorious fighting Kameda brothers, with Daiki (21 years old) and Tomoki (19 years old) right behind him. Koki took the WBC flyweight title from family rival Daisuke Naito in November 2009 in a terrific fight that showed that Kameda had matured into a fully-developed professional boxer. A southpaw with power, he stayed within himself and managed to outbox one of the division's recent best, and with a foul-free performance, sort of cleared the family name a bit. (Naito had been bodyslammed and elbowed during a win over Daiki in 2007, resulting in the suspension of Daiki and father Shiro, then his trainer.) In his first defense of the belt after beating Naito, he faced Thailand's Pongsaklek Wonjongkam, whose best years seemed behind him. Kameda wasn't able to outbox Wonjongkam, who won the Ring Magazine world championship with the mild upset and might have sealed a future Hall of Fame case with the victory. Since the loss, Koki has gone back to work, knocking out journeyman Cecilio Santos. It remains to be seen how he'll rebound from his first loss, but brother Daiki has come back strong from his earlier defeats.
The St. Louis native is coming off of a tight, debated win over Andriy Kotelnik on August 7. But that shouldn't sully his standing as one of the best young American fighters. In fact, Alexander is the first American-born fighter we've mentioned yet. Alexander (21-0, 13 KO) won the vacant WBC 140-pound belt in 2009 against veteran Junior Witter, and seven months later unified that with the IBF title when he stopped rugged, tank-built Juan Urango in the eighth round. His win over Kotelnik may not have been the most convincing, but Kotelnik is no slouch, and many fighters who went on to terrific careers had stumbling blocks (if not L's) during their rise. Floyd Mayweather Jr., for example, had great difficulty with Jose Luis Castillo in their first bout. He's flanked by trainer-manager Kevin Cunningham, who has taken a page from Freddie Roach's book and is also serving as Alexander's mouthpiece to the media. Through Cunningham's media crusade, the talented fighter has finally received proper promotion from Don King. He's now lined up to face Timothy Bradley in early 2011.
As far as accomplishments go, Moreno (30-1-1, 10 KO) probably has done more than everyone else here. He's slick, highly skilled, and still under the radar to U.S. audiences. There's a good argument he's the No. 1 bantamweight in the world. The Panamanian went to Germany in 2008 and lifted the WBA belt from Wladimir Sidorenko, and returned a year later to successfully defend the belt in a rematch. With Germany's reputation for homefield scoring, neither was any small feat. He then went to France and outpointed popular Mahyar Monshipour, and came back to to the country five months later to stop Frederic Patrac. Then he went to Venezuela and beat Nehomar Cermeno. Finally, he got a big fight back on his own turf in Panama, and beat Cermeno again in August. The run he's on right now is mildly miraculous -- not that he won these fights, but that he has won so many close decisions on the road. Moreno wanted in on Showtime's bantamweight tournament, but again, he still has no name in the States. Here's hoping he finds a notable fight with one of the names Showtime supporters. He's earned it twice over at this point.
Division: Light Heavyweight
To date, the Welshman has faced mostly domestic-level opposition, but he's blown past them all. In his last fight, he dominated Antonio Brancalion, winning the European light heavyweight belt, having already held the British strap. Cleverly (19-0, 9 KO) left Enzo Calzaghe's stable in 2008 but hasn't missed a beat since then. He looks like he has the goods, and I'm a big fan. But we'll find out more about him in his next fight, when he takes on Karo Murat on September 18. The winner is in line for a WBO title shot.
Linares, like Khan, has a loss on his record that caused many to give up on him too soon. The Venezuelan, co-promoted by Golden Boy in the U.S. and Teiken in Japan, grabbed the then-vacant WBC featherweight title against Mexican veteran Oscar Larios in 2007. Larios, who was faded but had fight left in him, gave Linares a test but took a beating in the end, and the much-hyped prospect had arrived. He made one defense against Gamaliel Diaz, then moved up to 130 to claim another vacant title, beating "You Can't Spell 'Why Bother?' Without" Whyber Garcia for the WBA title. After one defense, he was matched with Juan Carlos Salgado, an unbeaten but lesser prospect. Salgado shocked the world by stopping a cold Linares in the first round. Linares has come back with wins over Francisco Lorenzo and Rocky Juarez. Against Juarez, he fought just over the lightweight limit. He'll now take on shot former titlist Jesus Chavez in October, heading back to the Japanese rings for the first time since losing to Salgado. Those who have written him off have done so too quickly, in my view.
Kell Brook has hype, but it's all across the pond. He's yet to receive any real recognition as a possible emerging U.K. star in the States, which is a real shame. He might be the best young welterweight in boxing, even better than Andre Berto. Solid domestic opponents have offered no resistance for the Sheffield native, and he's a heavy favorite over veteran British welter Michael Jennings. The two are scheduled to meet at Frank Warren's "Magnificent Seven" show on September 18, a fight that's been about a year in the making and has lost some luster as Brook (21-0, 14 KO) has shown continued improvement, while Jennings, at 32, has peaked and doesn't have Brook's talent in the first place. With the state of the welterweight division (it's really, really shallow), Brook will be easily forgiven for staying on the European level for another year or two before trying to head to the States. He's going to get as much competition against Euro-level fighters as he would over here. Like Berto and Mike Jones, Brook is in a rough position. He needs steps up in competition, but there are few proper choices for someone with his ability.
Juan Carlos Burgos
Another young Mexican star, coming along at a time when the top names in Mexican boxing are on their way out. With the likes of Burgos, Alvarez and a few others, the proud tradition of Mexican fighters will definitely be living on in the near future. Burgos (25-0, 18 KO) came up in the rings of Tijuana, his hometown, and has recently stepped up competition. In May, he stopped veteran Ricardo Castillo in 11, delivering quite a beating along the way. Castillo doesn't really have a lot left, but the win was a good one for a young fighter like Burgos. He's on the rise in the intensely competitive featherweight division.
Honorable Mentions: Miguel Angel "Mikey" Garcia, 22, Featherweight ... Vanes Martirosyan, 24, Junior Middleweight ... Victor Ortiz, 23, Junior Welterweight ... Antonio DeMarco, 24, Lightweight ... Brandon Rios, 24, Lightweight ... Anthony Peterson, 25, Lightweight ... Juan Alberto Rosas, 25, Super Flyweight ... Cesar Seda, 24, Super Flyweight ... Jose Benavidez, 18, Junior Welterweight. (I didn't want to go into pure prospects, but Benavidez is so talented he bears mentioning at 18 and after seven pro fights.)