(Continued from part I.)
Joe Hanks, heavyweight, 28, Newark, New Jersey, U.S.A. [18-0, 12 KOs]
Though not as well known as American heavyweights of the future Seth Mitchell and Deontay Wilder, Hanks has quietly put together a respectable career in four years as an American heavyweight hopeful. Hanks scored an improbable one-sided win over then-unbeaten Golden Boy prospect Ashanti Jordan a few years ago and has stayed the course, though not with much fanfare. Hanks has yet to fight on television despite being one of the better kept secrets in American heavyweight boxing. With Joe DeGuardia’s Star Boxing backing him, Hanks should at least be able to break the barrier and make it on television moving forward. Despite being from the East Coast, Hanks established himself in the banquet halls and small houses in Southern California, fighting twelve times in all there. At one point, this writer recalls then-manager Prentiss Byrd offering to pay for Hanks’ spot on cards, yet he still had problems finding him fights. At 6’4” Hanks has good size and has good power that he has learned to utilize better recently; he’s scored six stoppages in eight fights since the opening of 2010. In a particularly shallow time in U.S. heavyweight boxing, Hanks is near the top of the class.
Tomoki Kameda, junior featherweight, 20, Osaka, Japan [22-0, 14 KOs]
The youngest, and perhaps most skilled of the three Kameda brothers, Tomoki took his game to Mexico, even turning pro there at the age of 17. Fourteen of Tomoki’s 22 contests have taken place in Mexico, where he has earned the nickname “El Mexicanito,” or “The Little Mexican.” Like what is generally considered a trait of a good Mexican fighter, Tomoki is a good body puncher. Tomoki is handled by Saul Alvarez’s Canelo Promotions, which could mean tons of exposure for the 20-year-old Japanese fighter on some of Canelo’s undercards. Kameda also features a fan-friendly style and his close win over unbeaten Stephane Jamoye in 2010 was his first real test. He is probably close to vying for a world title, though the 122-pound division is pretty deep and will mean finding an opportunity difficult for the young star. The good news is he is just out of his teens and can continue to progress against lower level opposition while he waits for a golden opportunity. He is perhaps the most exciting prospect in Asia at the moment.
Karim Mayfield, junior welterweight, 31, San Francisco, California, U.S.A. [15-0-1, 9 KOs]
Though Mayfield makes this list as one of its elder statesmen at 31, he doesn’t have many miles on his tires and has finally found himself on an active schedule. A five-year pro, Mayfield took the unbeaten records of four fighters in his first nine pro fights as a spoiler. Despite some of those wins coming against touted prospects from the promotional stables of Don King, Golden Boy, and Goossen-Tutor, Mayfield was unable to catch on with any of them and had to make a way for himself until signing with Mississippi based Prize Fight Promotions, who have landed Mayfield a string of televised gigs against solid opposition. Mayfield burst onto the national scene this past June by being the first to stop the venerable Steve Forbes and followed that up with a NABO 140-pound title win over Patrick Lopez. Mayfield, who fought most of his earlier bouts between 147 and 154, has dropped down to the junior welterweight limit of 140 pounds, one of boxing’s deepest divisions. Although time isn’t on Mayfield’s side, experience is; he’s climbed off the canvas to score come-from-behind wins and by virtue of never being a pampered prospect, he knows the tough aspects of the sport. If his promoters can return him to his roots in Northern California, they will find they have a real ticket seller on their hands.
Ivan Morales, bantamweight, 20, Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico [15-0, 10 KOs]
Though I said earlier I am not usually a sucker for prospects based on bloodlines, it was difficult not to immediately be interested to see what young Ivan Morales was bringing to the sport when he turned pro in 2009 at age 18. Ivan is the youngest of three, the oldest being future first-ballot Hall of Famer Erik Morales. It doesn’t hurt that the other brother, Diego, was also a former world champion before retiring before he even reached his thirties. Diego is not only Ivan’s older brother, he doubles as his trainer and manager. Ivan is a combination of the fighting styles of Erik and Diego, with an added bonus: He’s a southpaw. Ivan has shown boxing ability that more closely resembles Diego, but also a hunger and machismo to mix it up like Erik is known for. Ivan was set to make his American debut on the Morales-Maidana card this past April, but experienced problems coming across the border in time for the fight. Though he has taken a few fights at 115 early on in his career, Ivan’s 5’7” height suggests he will fill out into a junior featherweight when he hits his physical prime. It won’t do him any disservice that his oldest brother was perhaps one of the best 122-pounders of all-time. It also doesn’t hurt that he comes from one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the northern hemisphere. Whether that will all translate into the squared circle, he is definitely a prospect to monitor.
Roman Morales, junior featherweight, 22, San Ardo, California, U.S.A. [8-0, 5 KOs]
Perhaps one of the more unknown American prospects on this list, this writer has had the pleasure of seeing a majority of Morales’ first eight pro contests, all of which took place during a busy 2011. Morales is promoted by Gary Shaw, so it isn’t out of the question that he could make an appearance on ShoBox by the end of 2012 if he maintains this torrid pace. Morales is also managed by Repo Ric, who is well-known in California for generally backing a fighter out of the losing corner. What most people have failed to notice is that Repo Ric has put together quite a nice stable of young prospects in the last 12 to 18 months with Morales being the crown jewel. Roman has also found himself solid gigs as a sparring partner for world champions Nonito Donaire and Rico Ramos, and has more than held his own in those sessions. Despite his age, Morales fights like a veteran, showing poise beyond his years. He has a very precise offensive demeanor and doesn’t waste a lot of shots the way you would expect from a young fighter. When he has an opponent hurt, he is a great finisher. He’ll be on most American boxing writers’ radars by the end of the year.
Thomas Oosthuizen, super middleweight, 23, Boksburg, Gauteng, South Africa [17-0-1, 12 KOs]
Already ranked ninth in the super middleweight division by Ring Magazine, Oosthuizen is past the prospect stage in most of his followers’ eyes. A giant super middleweight at 6’4”, Oosthuizen plied his trade mostly in obscurity in South Africa before catching the eye of Lou DiBella, who brought him to America to fight Aaron Pryor Jr. this past year. After earning that victory, he went back to South Africa and battered Francisco Sierra towards an 11th-round stoppage, which figures to be his last fight in his homeland for awhile now that he is world ranked. His build suggests that he probably should end up at 175 sooner rather than later, otherwise it would be interesting to see how he would handle someone who is able to push him into third gear in the later rounds of fights. DiBella is enamored with Oosthuizen, and rightfully so. He’ll undoubtedly be on American television in 2012 and should figure to be in against someone he won’t be expected to walk through. Because of that, we will find out how real Oosthuizen is without having to wait very long.
Marco Antonio Periban, super middleweight, 27, Mexico City, Mexico [15-0, 10 KOs]
You don’t run across many Mexican prospects above 147 pounds, but Periban fits the bill as a ridiculously strong super middleweight out of Mexico City who would have more attention if any of his bigger wins were televised. Periban stopped the ultra durable Darnell Boone in one round. Boone had only been stopped once in all of his previous sixteen losses, with that stoppage coming back in 2005. Periban followed that up with a one-round stoppage of then-unbeaten Dion Savage, a Roger Mayweather prospect. Periban was a decorated member of the Mexican national team and it seemed as though he was going to be fast tracked to the upper levels of the sport. A difficult fight against Salomon Rodriguez in which he was knocked down in slowed his progress a bit. Periban has caught the attention of Golden Boy Promotions, who signed him this past year. He has yet to sniff American television, though he has fought off-TV on a couple of Golden Boy cards in the past.
David Price, heavyweight, 28, Liverpool, Merseyside, U.K. [11-0, 9 KOs]
At 6’8” and 240 pounds, Price is a big boy. He also is one win away from a possible big time British heavyweight fight. If Price can get by Danny McDermott this month, he’ll be first in line for a shot at fellow unbeaten Brit Tyson Fury’s British heavyweight title. The two have traded verbal jabs for awhile now as the two biggest hopes for U.K. heavyweight glory. Though many have Fury tabbed as the better prospect, Price has been more consistent in his campaign as a professional. If he were able to win the British title (through Fury or not), promoter Frank Maloney would be confident in moving him against more name opponents. In the heavyweight division, there are a heap of names on the decline that are still in need of a paycheck. Though it is a division that hasn’t been very exciting for the last decade, it is starting to heat up with Price, Fury, and American contender Seth Mitchell on the cusp as well.
Gary Russell Jr., featherweight, 23, Capitol Heights, Maryland, U.S.A. [19-0, 11 KOs]
Widely considered boxing’s best prospect in 2011, Russell, Jr. dazzled, but failed to do so against any sort of reputable name. He was 6-0 last year but let three opponents see the distance. There were times that Russell, Jr. fought in a way that made you wonder if he was concerned about giving the fans an explosive finish or not. At one point, his stamina even looked a bit suspect. That said, his natural abilities cannot be overlooked. His handspeed is a sight to behold, but will it hold up over lengthy fights or will he be a front runner? Will Al Haymon and Golden Boy pay for deceptively moving him up the ladder in position for a big fight, or will he find himself fighting an outmatched opponen for a vacant title? That Russell Jr. fights in an especially domestically thin featherweight division means that the latter could happen, such as was the case with Andre Berto and his less than capable world title opponent Miki Rodriguez. It is possible Golden Boy could get big in their britches like they often do over a can’t-miss prospect and match him against someone like Takashi Uchiyama of Japan. If they go the second route, we’ll know if Russell Jr. has what it takes right away. If they decide to be more cautious with him, we could be left wondering the answer to that in 2013.
Billy Joe Saunders, middleweight, 22, Hatfield, Hertfordshire, U.K. [12-0, 8 KOs]
The only thing this writer could see holding up the eventual success of this outstanding lefty are the effects of a number of hand injuries that caused him to be shelved for much of 2010. The following year left him mostly regaining his confidence against lesser opposition. Saunders said he could go unbothered by going deep into a fight; he went ten with Gary Boulden this past November. He is technically proficient and a very good inside fighter. Of the three Frank Warren Olympians who stand from the last Olympic class, Saunders has proven to be the most overlooked. Fellow teammates James DeGale and Frankie Gavin have grabbed their share of headlines, though it now looks as though more of the spotlight is opening up in time for Saunders to have his coming out party. Saunders could potentially be one of the biggest stories of 2012 if matched correctly.
Lonnie Smith Jr, junior lightweight, 24, Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.A. [14-2-2, 10 KOs]
The only fighter on this list with a blemish in the loss column, Smith figures to be the biggest longshot to procure success at the highest levels as well. That considered, Smith is likely the most exciting fighter to watch out of all that are included here. The son of former world welterweight champion “Lightning” Lonnie, Junior hasn’t been matched particularly soft in the early goings. He has managed to crack TeleFutura’s Solo Boxeo a few times in swing bouts, and has always participated in the best fight of the night. He is just flat out fun to watch. Since joining forces with Reno, Nevada’s Let’s Get It On Promotions, Smith’s career seems on more of a path than it ever was before. The Las Vegas native still has time to mature as a pro and has earned the kind of experience that you can’t really teach.
Yohei Tobe, junior bantamweight, 24, Tokyo, Japan [3-0, 2 KOs]
The former two-time national amateur champion quickly made a splash in his rookie season this past year, compiling wins over both a fringe world champion and a fringe contender in just his first three fights. Wandee Singwancha had 80 fights under his belt before Tobe starched him in two. Kohei Kono had gone the distance at the world level with Tomas Rojas just a fights before Tobe won an eight-round decision against him. Tobe showed excellent boxing skills as he made a fool out of Kono in that fight. Tobe could emerge as the latest Japanese fighter to challenge for a world title in the number of fights you can count on two hands, as he is being moved similarly to current world champion Kazuto Ioka, who won a strawweight belt in his sixth pro fight. In three fights, he is already ranked in the top 25 of the WBC. It will be exciting to follow his progress following such an ambitious start.
Deontay Wilder, heavyweight, 26, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, U.S.A. [20-0, 20 KOs]
The U.S. Olympic bronze medal-winning heavyweight has been moved along nicely, and thankfully, away from television cameras. Early in his career, Wilder was as raw of a talent as you could work with. His right hand has looked sensational, though against modest opposition. They haven’t been overly ambitious with Deontay, which is smart considering by the time he is ready to fight name opposition the two-headed heavyweight monster known as “the Klitschkos” should be extinct. The shame in that is Deontay could very well become the heavyweight that we need to willfully eliminate the two brothers from the picture. He has shown patience in waiting for openings before dropping bombs on his unwilling opponents. The red flag is that Wilder has only seen the 4th round once in 20 appearances, and was dropped in that fight by a journeyman opponent. Wilder is in the make of a prototypical heavyweight ruler at 6’7” and has a long reach that will be hard for opponents to penetrate. That Golden Boy is just now starting to think about putting some shine on him could prove fortuitous or disastrous. At 26, he isn’t particularly old and time can be afforded to develop him further. The downfall is that by the time he is ready to step up, the other young talent coming up could have a leg up on him in terms of experience.
Mark Ortega can be reached via e-mail at ortegaLIITR@gmail.com and followed via Twitter at www.twitter.com/MarkEOrtega or @MarkEOrtega. His first contribution to esteemed British boxing magazine Boxing Monthly will appear in their February issue.