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BLH Boxing Prospect Year in Review

Radu takes a look back at the year in prospects and scouting reports.

Anthony Joshua v Wladimir Klitschko Press Conference Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

I recently realized it’s been one full year since I started doing these scouting reports on a (somewhat) regular basis. So with 2016 wrapping up and all, I thought this would be a good time to look back at one year of Bad Left Hook Scouting Reports and see what our young boxers have been up to since we last had a look at them. So let’s rewind the tape a little bit:

Prospect: Anthony Joshua. My first attempt at something similar to a scouting report was in April 2015 when we covered heavyweight Anthony Joshua. At the time Joshua was still mostly known for his 2012 Olympic gold medal in his native UK and his impressive physique but at the time opinions about him varied between “future Hall Of Famer” to “greatly over-hyped.”

What I thought of him: At the time I praised his footwork and his athleticism but criticised his guard, his relative stiffness and his tentativeness. I concluded that he has the tools to be a “good heavyweight champion” if he improves in the gym over the next 1 to 3 years.

What he’s been up to since: Joshua matched my most optimistic expectations by visibly improving in the following twelve months. Even though against Charles Martin he won one of the “paper-est” heavyweight titles in the history of paper titles and even though he has defended it against poor opposition since, he has definitely become one of the biggest players in the heavyweight division and has absolutely dominated everyone in the ring. He is scheduled to face Wladimir Klitschko this spring at Wembley Stadium in London in a fight that could potentially catapult him to being one of the biggest draws in all of boxing.

Prospect: Dmitry Bivol, a virtually unknown Russian light heavyweight who was 5-0 (5 KOs) at the time.

What I thought of him: I praised his combination punching, his timing, his technique and his lack of major flaws, while noting his lack of flair and physical strength. I thought he had very high upside.

What he’s been up to since: Bivol fought three times in 2016, picking up some paper WBA “interim world title” from fellow prospect Felix Valera. Bivol took two of his three opponents to the woodshed for the full bout distance but while still displaying high upside, showed that he does have some difficulty putting away fiercely determined and tough opponents.

Prospect: Kosei Tanaka, who was the WBO minimumweight titleholder at the time, a title he had won in only his 5th pro fight, a Japanese record.

What I thought of him: I praised his explosiveness, his ability to close the distance and his stamina but decried his tendency to stay too close to his opponents after attacking them and his gameplan that played to his weaknesses instead of his strengths. Overall I anticipated imminent trouble for him as he was giving opponents too much to work with.

What he’s been up to since: Tanaka ran into major trouble just two days after my scouting report, when, in a hometown title defense, he was dropped by unheralded prospect Vic Saludar and was really taking a bad beating before stopping his opponent out of nowhere on a body shot in the 6th round. He subsequently relinquished his title to move up to light flyweight where he recently won the vacant WBO title on New Year’s Eve in Japan against long-time contender Moises Fuentes.

Jose Ramirez v Manny Perez Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Prospect: Jose Ramirez, a 2012 US Olympian slowly building up a record at light welterweight with Top Rank.

What I thought of him: I actually liked him quite a bit. I praised his left hook, his technique and his tight form. I did not like his predictability, his inability to fight at various distances and most importantly his matchmaking.

What he’s been up to since: Ramirez is still trudging along at a slow pace characteristic of many Top Rank prospects. His opposition was still poor in 2016 yet he managed to look a little less dominant against them. He should either be fighting more often or showing more improvement in his bouts at this stage in his career.

Prospect: Saul Rodriguez, a super featherweight prospect fighting out of Robert Garcia's gym in Oxnard, California.

What I thought of him: Not much, I thought he was a one-dimensional fighter with colossal power and many many flaws.

What he’s been up to since: Rodriguez fought once more since my scouting report (in May) and since then he’s dropped off the face of the Earth.

Prospect: Joseph 'JoJo' Diaz Jr, another former 2012 US Olympian slowly moving into contention at featherweight.

What I thought of him: I thought most of the current featherweight division is a bad style matchup for his slow feet, lack of head movement and tendency to drop his back hand. I did however praise his technique and punch accuracy.

What he’s been up to since: Well, the featherweight division is sort of stuck in no man’s land with many of the top contenders not fighting much (Lee Selby, Gary Russell Jr.) and Vasyl Lomachenko and Nicholas Walters having moved up. Golden Boy have slowly increased JoJo’s level of competition while not visibly positioning him for any title shot. I guess JoJo is still learning and improving while waiting for the title picture to clear up a bit, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Prospect: Brian Castano, a relatively obscure Argentinian light middleweight whom I noticed after a very impressive victory over Sergiy Derevyanchenko in AIBA’s World Series of Boxing.

What I thought of him: There was a lot I liked about Castano, like his work rate, his rabid aggression, his hand speed and his toughness. I even said he is pretty close to contender status. But I did question his matchmaking, including his recent association with Mayweather’s Money Team. In the ring I worried about his exposed chin and his size.

What he’s been up to since: Like many other Mayweather fighters, he has been inactive. He fought a garbage stay-busy fight in July and then managed to wiggle his way into a WBA ‘interim’ title fight in November in his native Argentina. There he was massively tested by utterly unknown Puerto Rican Emmanuel De Jesus before coming out on top by stoppage. While he is now an ‘interim’ titleholder and could potentially demand to face Erislandy Lara, the truth is that his association with TMT is proving every bit as destructive to his career as I anticipated. If his increasing troubles in recent fights continue, I cannot see him carving out much of a career.

Boxing at Manchester Arena Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Prospect: Callum Smith, an increasingly popular and increasingly impressive English super middleweight.

What I thought of him: I liked his size, his textbook technique, his body punching and his intelligent and ‘under control’ style. On the other hand I was worried about his lack of flash, his lack of an extra gear and most importantly his inability to handle even a modicum of aggression from the opponent.

What he’s been up to since: Smith has moved into title contention. He is the mandatory for the winner of the upcoming unification fight between James DeGale and Badou Jack. The problem is, that bout has been pushed back repeatedly and is now slated for January. This has wasted a bit of Smith’s time, he would probably prefer to have already fought for a title by this point. He has been keeping busy fighting four times in 2016 against the same level of opposition as previously, looking untroubled but still failing to dominate impressively.

Prospect: We had a bit of fun looking back at Evander Holyfield’s early days and trying to see which parts of his glittering subsequent career could be gleaned from his first few bouts.

What I thought of him: Trying to pretend you didn’t know anything about his subsequent achievements, you could see insane talent in the young Holyfield: handspeed, technique, physical strength, work rate, head movement, ring movement, chin, power… But you would be forgiven for thinking his very serious stamina issues and his already very apparent tendency to get into brawls would spell a short career resulting in a lot of wear and tear. You might also think his style wouldn’t translate very well to heavyweight.

What he’s been up to since: Of course, a short career with little success at heavyweight is probably the exact opposite of how you would describe his real-life exploits. He would go on to reign as undisputed champion at both cruiserweight and heavyweight. He is the only man to be a four time heavyweight champion while at the same time being arguably the greatest cruiserweight of all time. He was involved in some of the best and the most high-profile heavyweight bouts of the 90s (a very good era for the heavyweight division) and his pro career would last almost 30 years. The insane part is that he managed all of these while retaining, at least to some degree, some of his biggest flaws we noticed in our scouting report. But his legendary heart and determination would turn out to trump his weaknesses.

Prospect: Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk, the 2012 London Olympic gold medalist at heavyweight, competing as a pro at cruiserweight.

What I thought of him: I was very impressed with his highly mobile style for a big man, a true stick-and-move boxer. I also thought he had excellent defense, stamina, patience, power and size. His only weakness seemed to be his remarkably slow starts to fights. With him being 29 year old and seemingly a finished product, I suggested he challenge for a cruiserweight title immediately and predicted he will dominate the cruiserweight division for as long as he feels like it before moving to heavyweight where I also predict success for him.

What he’s been up to since: Usyk has done precisely what I wanted him to do: after a bit of inactivity waiting for WBO titleholder Glowacki to heal from injuries, he absolutely dominated the highly-rated Pole and instantly became arguably the no. 1 cruiserweight in the world. He followed that up with a quick-ish turnaround stopping well-regarded contender Thabiso Mchunu in his US debut in a somewhat unexciting performance. For my money, Usyk is a good bet to be a dominant force in boxing for at least a few years.

Prospect: Errol Spence Jr, the apparent future of the welterweight division.

What I thought of him: Quite simply I thought he is the complete package: slickness, speed, power, accuracy, ring movement, body punching, all compacted in a complete skillset with almost no weaknesses.

What he’s been up to since: Spence absolutely spanked the shit out of two well-regarded contenders in Chris Algieri and Leonard Bundu but him being named the mandatory for Kell Brook’s IBF title has slowed down his momentum a bit as he keeps waiting for Brook to heal from injuries, take trips to GGG-land and then heal from some more injuries.

Prospect: Chechen light heavyweight crusher Artur Beterbiev.

What I thought of him: Beterbiev has ungodly, murderous power and is slowly improving to ‘OK’ levels in pretty much everything else. His biggest weakness is his utter lack of defense and possibly his slow feet.

What he’s been up to since: It is my opinion that of all the fighters to hook up with Al Haymon, Beterbiev has had the most to lose. He was out for a full year for surgery and has come back straight into Haymon circle of overall inactivity. He has under 4 total rounds in the ring in the last 18 months. I cannot possibly imagine this level of inactivity not affecting his prospects.

Prospect: Very young American light middleweight Erickson Lubin.

What I thought of him: I thought he is very young and improving at an amazing pace and that he has a very awkward style built on his length, his southpaw jab, and his constant grabbing and wrestling. But I disliked his guard, coupled with his less-than-ideal head movement. I also thought he has yet to develop a clear in-the-ring style.

What he’s been up to since: At the very opposite end of the Al Haymon spectrum from Beterbiev, I think Lubin has been the prospect best handled by Al Haymon. He has kept busy against slowly improving level of competition. The fact they are not rushing a young and clearly still improving kid is an excellent sign.

New Zealand boxer Joseph Parker during a press conference... Photo by Shirkey Kwok/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Prospect: Joseph Parker, a young heavyweight from New Zealand.

What I thought of him: I thought he had big strengths and big weaknesses. I praised his handspeed, his power and his accuracy. But I was very worried by his non-existent guard, his stamina issues and most worryingly his lack of improvement.

What he’s been up to since: Joseph Parker is now a paper titlist after Tyson Fury’s temporary retirement has freed up all sorts of titles to be contested by all sorts of semi-accomplished fighters willing to buy their way into contention. He barely scraped by top 15-ish fringe contenders Carlos Takam and Andy Ruiz Jr. His in-the-ring development has ground to an absolute halt and his biggest strengths don’t look nearly as impressive against competent opposition. In my opinion, Parker is in big danger of quickly fading out of contention unless they protect his title at home for years Juergen Braehmer-style.

Prospect: Mexican featherweight Oscar Valdez.

What I thought of him: I was very very impressed with Valdez, the list of things he does excellently is too long to even enumerate here. His only real liability is that his small frame for featherweight prevents him from fighting from the outside and forces him into dangerous range.

What he’s been up to since: Valdez had a big jump in profile in 2016. He absolutely crushed recent titleholder Evgeny Gradovich, then won a paper title against an unknown opponent with a fluffy record, then had one defense against another unknown opponent with a fluffy record. He has yet to display any real weaknesses but the featherweight division around him is slightly stuck in a pretty inactive state of Al Haymon-itis.

Prospect: Welterweight Egidijus Kavaliauskas.

What I thought of him: While not a tremendously versatile performer, I liked his aggression, timing, precision, power and accuracy. I worried about his slow feet and his inability to fight at a distance.

What he’s been up to since: Treading water, fighting 4 times in 2016 against not very menacing competition.

Prospect: Julian 'J-Rock' Williams.

What I thought of him: I saw an almost complete fighter, versatile, patient, technically adept, with a good jab, hand speed, ring movement and with no major flaws but perhaps some issues keeping his chin tucked and also not being terribly assertive.

What he’s been up to since: Williams was the mandatory challenger for Jermall Charlo’s IBF title but waited around over 9 months until Al Haymon finally made the fight. In a surprise twist, at least for me, Williams seemed to have no answer for Charlo’s power. He boxed decently in spots but was simply squashed like a fly several times when Charlo landed clean. Williams was unable to both either keep Charlo off of him or take his power. As a fan of J-Rock, I would like to believe Charlo was simply a bad style matchup who just happened to take precise advantage of his few flaws but honestly, the book might just be out on how to beat Williams. We’ll see...

Prospect: Young Japanese light flyweight champion Kenshiro.

What I thought of him: I liked his feet and his jab but criticised his lack of body punching and his ‘all offense, no defense’ style that doesn’t couple well with his relative lack of power. I thought he has potential, but needs to improve quite a bit in several areas if he is to be a factor in the red-hot Japanese light flyweight division.

What he’s been up to since: Kenshiro had a good year, smashing Japanese-scene contender Atsushi Kakutani and then winning the OPBF title.

Boxing at Copper Box Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images

Prospect: The next Scouting Report looked at British heavyweight Hughie Fury by comparing him to where his more accomplished cousin Tyson Fury was at the same stage in his career.

What I thought of him: I liked his jab and his movement which allows him to stay out of opponents’ optimum range. Conversely, I thought his technique was all over the place and he does not punch assertively or powerfully enough. Overall I thought he looked better than Tyson Fury did at the same stage in his career but he would need to continue to improve (like Tyson did) to compete with the division’s more experienced fighters.

What he’s been up to since: Hughie Fury had a year to forget as his recent very active schedule came to an abrupt end after an April bout against Fred Kassi. He was diagnosed with a very severe case of acne conglobata, then the Klitschko - Tyson Fury card he was supposed to fight on got cancelled several times and then word got out of some form of doping test he and his cousin may have failed at the beginning of the year. The British anti-doping agency was not very forthcoming with information and no official suspension was ever announced but the fact is he hasn’t fought in many months and has no fights planned. Whether he is secretly suspended, still recovering from the disease or just got caught up in his cousin’s sad implosion, the fact is Hughie seems out of commission for the time being.

Prospect: Stamp Kiatniwat, a Thai teenager making waves in the flyweight division.

What I thought of him: I saw grit and technique, accuracy, counterpunching, work rate. However, I worried that his inability to use his feet to move out of harm’s way was getting him into unnecessary wars. I thought he was too young and too green to hang with the world’s top flyweights. I also said his very brave matchmaking was already steering him into that direction and one should expect some losses to pop up on his record pretty soon. I still thought that his long-term upside is still solid.

What he’s been up to since: Boy, was I right about his matchmakers. After having sat out most of 2016, they threw him in with WBA titlist Kazuto Ioka on the traditional New Year’s Day boxing extravaganza from Japan. Kiatniwat was a serious underdog on the road against the more seasoned champion. He did manage to attack and drop Ioka early but experience quickly took over and Kiatniwat was having trouble adjusting to offense coming back and was finally stopped in the 7th round. Now, it was only a matter of time before Kiatniwat lost, such was the bravery of his matchmaking. But in all honesty, who turns down a world title shot? Hopefully he will build on this experience.

Prospect: Russian welterweight Konstantin Ponomarev.

What I thought of him: I thought he was a chaotic moving boxer with a varied arsenal, who punches non-stop from every angle. But I criticised how easily he drifts away from his defensive plans the wilder his attacks get. I also thought his lack of handspeed and power were big issues.

What he’s been up to since: Ponomarev was to fight an eliminator with Errol Spence to become Kell Brook’s mandatory challenger. He pulled out with an injury and was out for most of the year. He recently returned with a routine decision win. I guess he will look to re-insert himself in the title picture someway somehow in 2017 but it remains to be seen if he’ll actually get a title shot.

Terence Crawford v Hank Lundy Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Prospect: Felix Verdejo.

What I thought of him: Verdejo looks like the most naturally talented fighter we covered all series. He has supremely fast hands, feet, tight guard, technique, just too many exceptional qualities to list. But we couldn’t help notice that his matchmaking has been deliberately terrible and he seems to be kept away from any risks or challenges with intent. He also seemed to slow down spectacularly after some 2015 hand injuries and surgery. His development already seemed to be going backwards despite the awful opposition. Why this is happening exactly is not clear.

What he’s been up to since: As if the the awful opposition, the in-ring regression, the one-dimensional gameplan and the hand surgeries weren’t enough, Verdejo went and injured himself in a motorcycle accident, which will have kept him out of the ring for 8 months by the time he returns in February. I don’t want to be too harsh on Verdejo, he still may well just come out of nowhere and dominate the entire lightweight division in 2017, he is that talented. But the people around him need to be aware that there is a distinct possibility that his career will take a nosedive if he is not kept focused on boxing, better trained and better matched. If Verdejo fails, it will not be only on him, but his trainers and his matchmakers will share some of the blame.

Prospect: Young OPBF flyweight champion Daigo Higa.

What I thought of him: I saw a brutally aggressive little youngster with a thirst for destruction, with sick power, handspeed, a high work rate, good conditioning and body punching. On the flipside he is not much of a boxer, with problems regarding footwork, head movement and distance control. At only 20 years of age I thought he has a high upside and at least at flyweight he is a dark horse to beat anybody. But with several clear flaws, there are at least two or three gameplans that could thwart this particular version of Higa. At super-flyweight there are some real sharks, but at flyweight a fighter disciplined enough to execute such a gameplan might not exist.

What he’s been up to since: Higa fought just once more since his July OPBF title win, scoring a routine stoppage.

Prospect: Vyacheslav Shabranskyy.

What I thought of him: I especially liked his work rate, his accuracy and his conditioning. But I thought his overall defense was bad and his lack of headmovement in particular just invited power punches. I thought he is a good bet to beat opponents consistently over the duration of the bout unless he gets blasted out with power by a big punching opponent.

What he’s been up to since: Just a few days after my scouting report, Shabranskky got (wouldn’t you know it) blasted out with power by Sullivan Barrera. His defensive issues are simply a massive problem at this point.In conclusion, I would say that boxing is in good hands now rolling into the second half of the 2010s. I see a lot of dedicated, technically proficient and well-trained fighters coming up in the ranks and many of them are straight-up action fighters.

Personally, of all the fighters I reviewed in depth, there were 5 that stood out:

  • Oleksandr Usyk is in my opinion the best fighter I have reviewed in this series (outside of Holyfield who to be honest was in a totally different class from any of the current batch of young boxers). I hope Usyk fights often and either forges a legacy in a very deep cruiserweight division, or moves up to heavyweight where I personally think he will be quite successful.
  • Errol Spence Jr. should make his trainers proud. He is a polished and clinically destructive fighter. He is ready for the elite of the welterweight division now.
  • Oscar Valdez is also a complete fighter with a good team and a good head on his shoulders. I have very high confidence in his chances at featherweight, where he is best suited. I hope he makes 126 pounds easily because he might be undersized at 130 pounds.
  • Felix Verdejo has the highest upside of all young fighters I have covered. I sincerely hope he gets his career back on track because right now there’s every reason to worry.
  • As much as it pains me to have been wrong, I really liked Julian Williams and I don’t want to be revisionist right now. I will stick by my prediction despite the clear loss to Jermall Charlo (whom conversely I don’t admire much) and keep some hope of a long and successful career, especially if he can stay at 154 pounds.

Special mentions to Anthony Joshua and Daigo Higa who, while not possessing otherworldly talent or skills, are in divisions that might play out just perfectly for them to forge a legacy to remember.Do you guys agree with my picks? Who do you think are some of the better prospects in boxing right now? Sound off in the comments below.

And to everyone reading Bad Left Hook, I wish you a good 2017, let’s all enter the new year with renewed determination and energy, and with hope for better days, in boxing as well as everywhere else.

Happy New Year!

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