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Could Taras Shelestyuk be an elite welterweight?

This Friday’s ShoBox features the Ukrainian prospect in a very big test.

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First, let me acknowledge that the welterweight division is packed with talent. Not only does it feature Manny Pacquiao, Keith Thurman, and Danny Garcia, it also has some good up-and-comers in Errol Spence, Jeff Horn, and Antonio Orozco.

So why bother mentioning Taras Shelestyuk? BoxRec only ranks him at #93, and there’s several undefeated prospects garnering media attention.

Simply put, he was an exceptional amateur.

In 2011, he won gold at the Baku World Amateur Championships by beating the legendary Kazakh amateur Serik Sapiyev. The next year, Sapiyev went on to win gold at the London Olympics.

(This tournament also featured Errol Spence, and Spence didn’t get past the quarter-finals.)

Four Ukrainians won a gold medal at this tournament. The other ones? Vasyl Lomachenko, Ievgen Khytrov, Oleksandr Usyk, and Taras Shelestyuk. Lomachenko and Usyk currently hold world titles, while Khytrov is considered an exceptional middleweight prospect.

Shelestyuk followed up by winning bronze at the 2012 London Olympics. I should acknowledge here that his path to bronze was controversial, as his quarter-final fight against Alexis Vastine was contentious. Still, he performed admirably in the semi-finals, only losing to Fred Evans by a point.

At the London Olympics, five Ukrainians won a medal: Vasyl Lomachenko, Oleksandr Usyk, Oleksandr Gvozdyk, Denys Berinchyk, and Taras Shelestyuk. I’ve already mentioned Lomachenko and Usyk, but what about Gvozdyk and Berynchyk? Gvozdyk is 11(9)-0, already has wins over Nadjib Mohammedi and Tommy Karpency, and is facing Isaac Chilemba on the undercard of Kovalev-Ward. Berinchyk is 4(3)-0 as a pro, and won over the previously undefeated Emiliano Garcia (16(13)-1) in his last fight.

Essentially, the 2011 World Amateur Championships and the 2012 London Olympics fielded perhaps the greatest national team in the history of boxing. Maybe you could argue that the 1984 American team was better, but seeing how the Eastern Bloc countries didn’t participate in 1984, I’d say the 2011 and 2012 Ukrainian team was better.

And who were the three Ukrainian fighters that medaled in both 2011 and 2012? Lomachenko, Usyk, and — you guessed it — Shelestyuk.

But that’s all well and good. The amateurs are the amateurs.

This is the pros.

How has Shelestyuk performed so far? As a pro, he’s recorded wins over Aslan Kozaev, Juan Rodriguez Jr., and the previously undefeated Travis Hanshaw. These aren’t recognizable names, but just the kind of opponents to give a prospect a good challenge.

I should, however, offer caveats about Shelestyuk. His progress has thus far come slower than Lomachenko and Usyk. Obviously, his progress isn’t slow by the usual standards. It’s actually par for the course. But at 30-years-old, Shelestyuk needs to quicken the pace of development — especially since the welterweight division packs some of the best talent in boxing.

This is why Jaime Herrera (15(8)-3-1) offers such a great test. He doesn’t have the same pedigree as Shelestyuk, but he’s also an overachiever. Herrera holds a win over former world title challenger Mike Jones, and pummeled him into retirement. He also handed a few undefeated prospects their first losses, including Javier Flores, Michael Finney, and Patrick Boozer. Arguably, he should have handed Canadian prospect Steven Butler his first loss too since that fight was in Canada, and the judges who scored the fight a draw were all Canadians.

Should Shelestyuk win against Herrera? Yeah, but those other prospects should have won against Herrera too. Pedigree or otherwise, there’s a reason the fights get fought.