For the 2012 U.S. men's boxing team, the Olympics were a disaster. For the first time since boxing became an Olympic sport in 1904, the United States had zero men's medal winners. Hair was being pulled out across the sports media world, from boxing journalists and pundits to more mainstream writers and commentators who maybe once cared a lot more about a boxing program that produced champions, and no longer seemed able to do so.
Only one of the nine men's fighters on Team USA even made it out of the second round, and that required an appeal to overturn what had originally been ruled another loss for the Americans.
But there was at least a little bit of a silver lining. Many observers did feel that there were at least a handful of serious pro prospects on the U.S. squad, and that one of the major problems for the American amateur program, at least in terms of competing in high-level competitions like the Olympics, was that our young fighters were looking more groomed to be professionals than successful amateurs. Whether or not that's an actual problem is at least worth some discussion -- after all, most of these guys are hoping to turn pro and be champions, which is not always the case for other countries, where the amateur programs are given more glory and honor than we see here.
Still, the consensus agreed that the American amateur program had been falling apart for years. Even those involved with the program, or those who used to be involved with it, agreed that over the last 20 years, the U.S. boxing program was crumbling. London was hardly the first evidence of that, simply the most damning.
Since then, all nine of the "failed" fighters from London have gone professional. One has already challenged for a world title. A few are really just getting started. And at least one looks like a future world champion. Let's take a look at where Team USA 2012 stands in 2015, ranking the fighters, if only in one dummy's opinion.
9. Michael Hunter (Cruiserweight - 9-0, 6 KO)
Hunter, 27, turned pro in March 2013 as a heavyweight, but seems physically better suited to cruiserweight, where he's fought his last two bouts, at least if he's comfortable at the weight. He weighed in at 212½ for his pro debut and his highest weigh-in reading was 218 in February of this year, but he's dropped some pounds since then.
He's the least proven of the 2012 squad to this point, as he hasn't even really fought anyone who could be considered so much as a club-level true test for someone with his amateur background. When he was 18 years old, he made the National Golden Gloves final after just five fights as an amateur, and won bronze at the U-19 World Amateur Championships that same year. After failing to qualify for the 2008 Olympic team as a super heavyweight, he dropped down to heavyweight (201 lbs max) and made the 2012 team, where he was beaten on a tiebreaker in the opening round by Artur Beterbiev, who is now an emerging top contender as a pro light heavyweight.
Working in Hunter's favor is that he's the son of Mike "The Bounty" Hunter, a heavyweight who fought as a pro from 1985-96. Though his father had an erratic career plagued with drug problems, Hunter clearly has some natural gifts. He's not as advanced as a pro as any of his former teammates just yet, but there's still legitimate promise in him, and he could have a higher ceiling than a couple of these guys. He'll be in action next on October 13, part of a PBC on FS1 undercard.
8. Jamel Herring (Lightweight - 13-0, 8 KO)
Herring, 29, is the second-oldest 2012 Team USA member, a former Marine born in New York and fighting out of Cincinnati, where he works with Mike Stafford, the trainer to Adrien Broner. After taking up boxing in 2001, he fought while serving in the Marine Corps, winning a silver medal at the 2010 World Military Games, and gold at both the 2011 and 2012 Armed Forces championships. He was an active Marine when he went to London in 2012, and finished out his service before turning professional in December 2012.
Herring didn't stand out as one of the most talented members of Team USA, but in interviews he did come off as mentally more mature than the average amateur, which makes sense given his background in the armed forces. He was captain of the 2012 Olympic team, and when he lost his opening round match against Daniyar Yeleussinov of Kazakhstan, he said, "I've been through a lot of ups and downs, and I'm proud of my accomplishments. I'm proud of how far I've come. I went out there, fought to the best of my abilities, listened to my coaches and did everything I possibly could, but the best man won today."
As a pro, he has not looked like a blue chipper, because he's really not a blue chip type of prospect. He's not a can't-miss guy. What Herring has most going for him is exceptional work ethic, and combined with solid skills and a great mind set, he's the sort of fighter who can sneak up on you. He's not likely to become a world champion, but he could become a minor contender, perhaps. He fights next on October 3 in Cincinnati, facing Yakubu Amidu on the Broner-Allakhverdiev undercard.
7. Dominic Breazeale (Heavyweight - 15-0, 14 KO)
We spoke a lot about Breazeale, 30, yesterday evening. He remains something of a project, and often still looks very much like a football player learning the finer points of boxing. But he's been devastating as a pro thus far, using his size and natural power to overwhelm his opponents, most of whom have been open to being overwhelmed without much trouble. Still, he's done everything you could ask of him to date, and he gets a nice chance to showcase where he's at on Saturday night when he faces Fred Kassi in the PBC on NBC co-feature.
Does Breazeale have what it takes to become a top heavyweight? It's debatable, at best. The natural inclination is to continue thinking that he's one serious fighter away from getting chin checked, because the most recent football-to-boxing convert was Seth "Mayhem" Mitchell, who did a lot of damage before he ran into Johnathon Banks and Chris Arreola, who both flat-out wrecked him. But Mitchell had shown a lot of vulnerability before then, too, and beneath the hype was a lot of chatter that despite his hard work and dedication to being a great fighter, he just didn't have the chin to truly make it to that top level.
Breazeale has not shown that thus far, but he's about to start facing fighters who could let us know if there is an issue. If there is, it's hard to avoid as a heavyweight. Mitchell and a far more polished prospect in David Price have been recent examples of that. And while Wladimir Klitschko did overcome some early issues with knockout losses, Wladimir Klitschko was also an Olympic gold medalist. Breazeale was a one-and-done in London, which wasn't surprising, but to say the least, even if he meets all possible expectations, Breazeale is not going to be Wladimir Klitschko. He is at least doing all he can do thus far to become a legit contender, though. His upside may not be huge, but he could make some money if he can keep proving himself.
6. Terrell Gausha (Junior Middleweight - 15-0, 8 KO)
Gausha overcame a bit of a rough start to stop Armenia's Andranik Hakobyan in the third round in his first bout to put Team USA at 2-0 to start off their run at London before everything swiftly fell to pieces. Gausha's second round loss to India's Vijender Singh (who is about to turn pro himself) was a 16-15 heartbreaker, but he looked like a fighter with upside coming out of London.
Gausha, 28, has perhaps been a bit disappointing thus far as a professional; he hasn't progressed at the rate of some of his teammates, and has sort of fallen by the wayside in comparison to the other guys ahead of him on this list. The Cleveland native looked pretty sharp on June 20 in a win over Luis Grajeda, and is scheduled to face Puerto Rico's Eliezer Gonzalez this Saturday in Birmingham. Gausha may still prove to be a legit pro, but he's got some ground to cover.
5. Rau'Shee Warren (Bantamweight - 13-1, 4 KO)
You could argue that Warren's loss should have him below Gausha -- I guess you could argue that Warren's loss should have him ranked last if you're really weird -- but his loss (1) came against a guy who holds a world title, (2) was very competitive, and (3) could have easily been a win for the 28-year-old Cincinnati native.
Warren's trip to London in 2012 was his third Olympic bid, and he was determined to win a medal. He did not, losing to France's Nordine Oubaali, 19-18, in what was one of the more action-packed fights of the entire games. That followed first round exits against South Korea's Lee Ok-Sung in 2008 (a controversial decision) and China's Zou Shiming in 2004. Shiming would go on to win bronze in Athens, then gold in both Beijing and London.
So Warren came into the pro ranks with a pretty extensive amateur background, to say the least. He was dropped in the fourth round of his pro debut on November 9, 2012 (notable mostly for California judge David Denkin just giving Warren the round anyway), but largely dominated after that before facing WBA bantamweight titleholder Juan Carlos Payano on August 2, losing a split decision in Florida in a dirty, foul-filled fight that saw Warren drop the Dominican in the final round.
It is hard to avoid the question of whether or not Warren is destined (doomed?) to be in the "always a bridesmaid, never a bride" role, where he gets close but never quite gets over the hill. Despite a standout amateur career, he went 0-3 at the Olympics, and now has lost his first world title opportunity as a pro. On the one hand, he's always come back from defeat well. On the other hand, how many times can you come back well? Still, until he proves he's anything less than a legit bantamweight contender, it's hard to rank him lower than this, and you could argue he should be a spot or two higher.
4. Marcus Browne (Light Heavyweight - 16-0, 12 KO)
Browne, 24, is a powerful southpaw from Staten Island who has been very impressive in his last two wins over veterans Cornelius White (a wide ten-round decision) and Gabriel Campillo (a 55-second knockout). He's also a Teddy Atlas favorite, as he's a product of the Atlas Cops & Kids Boxing Program.
This could be akin to psychobabble, but Browne has a certain swagger about the way he carries himself -- not an ego thing, really, just a very confident demeanor, and that has really shown in his most recent wins, which also include a six-round stoppage of Aaron Pryor Jr in April. He's really been mowing down the gatekeeper types, and it may not be long into 2016 before we see him start to get mentioned for bigger fights at 175.
Personally, I like Browne a lot. I think there's major upside here, and he showed some of that in London, too, losing 13-11 to Australia's Damien Hooper in the opening round. Hooper, at the time, was ranked No. 2 in the world by AIBA, and was considered Australia's best hope for a gold medal. (Hooper would go on to lose in round two to Egor Mekhontsev, who would later win gold.)
3. Joseph Diaz Jr (Super Bantamweight - 17-0, 10 KO)
The only fighter on this list with Golden Boy Promotions, Diaz, 22, has stayed busy and is already a top 15 or 20 guy in what is a pretty strong weight class. The youngest of these fighters, "JoJo" is coming off of a solid but not easy win over Rene Alvarado, and will face Ruben Tamayo on October 23 in Los Angeles on Estrella TV.
Diaz routed Ukraine's Pavlo Ishchenko in the round of 32 in London before falling to top-seeded Cuban Lázaro Álvarez in the round of 16, in what was a terrific action figtht. Álvarez won on a score of 21-15, and Diaz immediately announced his intention to turn pro that fall, which he did. Álvarez would go on to win bronze after being upset in the semifinals by silver medalist John Joe Nevin of Ireland.
Diaz has shown great action potential thus far as a pro, not surprising after the effort he put forth in London. He can be a bit reckless at times, and that could be a problem, but he's already shown a good ability to go 10 rounds, going that distance on four separate occasions. The narrow win over Alvarado may be reason for some pause, but a lot of really good fighters go through a night like that at this stage of their careers. The ones who go on to big things use it as a learning experience.
2. Jose Ramirez (Junior Welterweight - 15-0, 12 KO)
Along with Diaz, Ramirez is the only fighter on this list who is not with Al Haymon. Ramirez, a Top Rank fighter, has looked like a force thus far in his pro career, and was one of the best-looking prospects for the Americans coming out of London, too. He won his first round fight over France's Rachid Azzedine (21-20) before falling to Uzbekistan's Fazliddin Gaibnazarov (15-11) in the second round. That loss saw Ramirez have a terrible time figuring out Gaibnazarov for the first two rounds, trailing 12-5, before an impressive third round charge that wound up being too little, but still something to point to as evidence of his potential.
In May of this year, Ramirez, 23, knocked out veteran Robert Frankel in five rounds, and he went to Macau for a three-round stoppage of Japan's Ryusei Yoshida on July 18. He's scheduled to return on December 5 in Fresno, California, in a UniMas-televised bout.
At 5'10" with a 72.5" reach, Ramirez is fairly big for a junior welterweight, and has shown real power, particularly to the body. Like Diaz and Browne, he's got youth on his side, too, and Top Rank sees big things in the future for him, as well they should.
1. Errol Spence Jr (Welterweight - 18-0, 15 KO)
There's really no question that Spence, 25, is the best prospect of this list, and really, he's one of the very best prospects in the entire sport. A 5'9" southpaw with speed, skill, and power, Spence has been thrashing gatekeepers for the last year and change, starting with a shutout 10-round decision over Ronald Cruz in June 2014.
More recently, we've seen Spence dispose of Phil Lo Greco inside of three rounds on June 20, and he utterly dominated Chris van Heerden on September 11 in Toronto. That fight in particular, which was televised on Spike, drew a lot of attention to the native of Desoto, Texas.
In London, Spence made it further than any other American male, beating Brazil's Myke Carvalho (16-10) in the round of 32, and scoring a 15-13 win over India's Vikas Krishan, a fight originally scored for Krishan but rightfully overturned on appeal. Errol lost in the quarterfinals to Russia's Andrey Zamkovoy, who would then lose to eventual gold medalist Serik Sapiyev of Kazakhstan.
Spence looked like the most purely talented of the American fighters in London, and that has not changed. Public perception is that Spence is going to be a contender in the very near future, and there's even been talk that he might be the American fighter best suited to take over in the absence of Floyd Mayweather going forward in the division.
Mayweather's praise has also been a big help for Spence, at least in terms of the public being aware of and interested in his career. Floyd has used Spence's name to deflect questions about Keith Thurman, saying that "One Time" should prove himself against the former Olympian before trying to come after "Money" Mayweather. Though it's a trash talk tactic more than anything in all reality -- as good as Spence is, Thurman has certainly proven more as a pro -- the fact that nobody totally dismissed the idea speaks to the way those who have watched Spence progress see his talent.
Spence is already starting to make inroads toward the top 10 in the welterweight division, and Al Haymon has a lot of fighters at 147 that could be interesting tests for him as soon as the first half of 2016. Names like Robert Guerrero, Devon Alexander, and Andre Berto could come up as legitimate Spence targets sooner than later, and it's not just because of the hype. Spence has a lot of talent, and even considering the fact that I think the top four guys here are really good prospects, Spence is simply on another level. Of all of these fighters, he is the clearest choice for "can't miss" status.