19-year-old Arizona native Jose Benavidez Jr (11-0, 10 KO) might be the best American prospect in all of boxing. He was signed to a big contract by Top Rank after a tremendous amateur career, going 120-5 and winning the National Golden Gloves at just 16 years of age. The 5'11" junior welterweight turned pro four months shy of his 18th birthday, and trained under Freddie Roach for a while, getting in sparring with the likes of Manny Pacquiao, Amir Khan and Timothy Bradley, among others.
Offensively, Benavidez is a prodigious talent who mixes up his punches like a fighter well beyond his teenage years. He's scored just about every type of knockout you can already, and has shown a great love of tearing up opponents to the body.
It's still very early to tell overall, of course. But he's shown some defensive holes that definitely need some work, as just about any fighter his age does. It will likely be a while before we see him seriously tested.
Other Junior Welterweight Prospects
Benavidez's amateur rival Frankie Gomez (9-0, 7 KO) is just about as good a prospect. Also 19, Gomez beat Benavidez in the USA Boxing National Championship. [Video]
Japan's Yoshihiro Kamegai (17-0, 15 KO) is someone to watch. Since he knows better than I do, here's what our Japanese boxing expert Sidney Boquiren said in January about Kamegai:
Kamegai is wonderfully talented but needs bigger tests. The Alfaro fight was a good step up in competition and the Teiken fighter showed a good chin in hanging with a former titleholder. That was my biggest concern about the guy – he has nice offensive skills (though I would not invest too much in that high KO percentage) and is touted to have excellent footwork in his defense (which I have not seen in his recent fights). The chin was a question mark, but I still wonder how he’ll do against a fresher, more active opponent.
Unless Akihiko Honda and company want to start importing opponents or sending their charge abroad, I think we won’t see how good this guy can really be for a while.
22-year-old Jessie Vargas (15-0, 8 KO) is tough to get a read on, but bears mentioning. 18-year-old Filipino Jason Pagara (26-1, 15 KO) is a promising youngster who turned pro at 14. Quebecois prospect Pier Olivier Cote (16-0, 11 KO) looked nasty on the Pacquiao vs Mosley undercard and at 26 could be in the game soon. Vernon Paris (24-0, 14 KO) does some old school tricks that almost nobody does anymore and has talent, but personal inconsistencies are a concern. He's failed three drug tests during his career and was the target of an attempted murder in 2006, and now fights with bullets lodged in his back and thigh.