Ten to watch in 2017 – US and Overseas
Mark Butcher casts the Boxing Monthly spotlight on the US and overseas boxers who may rise up in 2017; a mixture of ex-amateur stars, unrealised talents and contenders on the verge of a big break...
Flyweight (11-0, 11 KOs); Urasoe, Okinawa, Japan.
Daigo Higa has been widely touted as Japan’s next big star after a string of destructive performances. Higa’s mentor, the great Yoko Gushiken, even believes the reigning OPBF flyweight champion is a stronger fighter than he was - high praise indeed. Nicknamed the ‘Romagon of Okinawa’ - due to stylistic comparisons with brilliant four-weight world champion and Teiken promoted Roman Gonzalez, it’s fair to say Japanese expectations are high! Higa, still only 21, dissected former WBO title challenger Ardin Diale in four in July before repeating the dose against another Filipino, tricky southpaw Felix Cagubcob Jr, in November. His unyielding pressure, fight-ending power and crippling bodywork should menace the flyweight division’s leading lights in the years to come.
Featherweight (15-0, 11 KOs); Tagbilaran City, Philippines.
The latest off that seemingly endless production line of Filipino punchers, the aggressive Mark Magsayo, known as ‘Magnifico’, was involved in a bonafide ‘Fight Of The Year’ Contender with former IBF 122lbs challenger Chris Avalos in April 2016. It was an ambitious match for Magsayo yet he overcame a third-round blitz where he tasted the canvas to have Avalos in desperate trouble at the end of the fifth before the Californian’s corner belatedly threw in the towel in the following round. The win showed the young Pinoy, still just 21, had championship heart and could overcome adversity though his thirst for a knockout leaves him open defensively. The all-action Magsayo had his second win in the US in September (Ramiro Robles W12) and handlers ALA Promotions are poised to manoeuvre him into title contention with WBO champion Oscar Valdez the target.
Super-featherweight (17-0, 16 KOs); Baltimore, USA.
It is a measure of Floyd Mayweather Jr’s considerable faith in Money Team fighter Gervonta Davis that the Baltimore ‘Tank’, still only 22, is being wheeled into a world title shot against dangerous Jose Pedraza on 14 January. Skilled southpaw Davis, the son of two drug addicts who spent time in foster care and group homes, boasts over 200 amateur wins, but will face one of the trickiest campaigners in the fight game in IBF champ Pedraza. However, Davis is brimming with self-belief, “Boxing is searching for its next star and I believe that I'm the one,” he said in November. Mentor Mayweather backed up that bold statement, “Gervonta has the skills to be a fighter who carries the sport.” Lofty expectations and in January we should know if Davis lives up to that hype. UPDATE: Davis duly won the IBF belt by spectacular seventh round stoppage
Heavyweight (14-0, 13 KOs); Malmo, Sweden.
In the age of the super-heavyweight, towering Swede Adrian Granat possesses the physical tools to compete with the behemoths jousting for dominance at the top of the division. Respected trainer Jim Evans took his fighter Michael Sprott to face Granat in December 2015 and was quick to sing the Swede’s praises. “He’s a bit special,” Evans told BM late last year. The 6ft 7 1/2ins Swede is mentally resilient, moves well for a big man and has sledgehammer fists. Granat, who helped Wladimir Klitschko prepare for his losing title defence against Tyson Fury in 2015, became the first man to stop former European title challenger Frank Rill (WTKO6) in October and recently called out Dillian Whyte, Hughie Fury and David Price on social media. The man nicknamed ‘The Pike’ should be swimming in championship waters soon. He may just be the man to emulate Ingemar Johansson and bring a world heavyweight title to Sweden.
Super-welterweight (17-0, 12 KOs); Orlando, USA.
Erickson Lubin caused consternation in US amateur boxing circles in 2014 when he defected early to turn pro with Mike Tyson’s now defunct Iron Mike Productions. USA Boxing (America’s amateur boxing federation) had considered the National 2013 Golden Gloves champion to be a lock for medal. The gifted southpaw was, however, enticed by Tyson’s star appeal and instead saw out his teenage years as a professional. Now with Al Haymon’s PBC vehicle and rated No.5 by the WBC, the rangy, 5ft 11ins Lubin (who boasts a 76 inch reach) is well placed to make moves in the bustling 154lbs division. ‘The Hammer’, unbeaten for seven years after amassing a 143-7 amateur record, has been matched strongly throughout. A fan-friendly box-fighter with a thudding jab, angles and fast hands, Lubin looks the real deal.
Bantamweight (4-0, 3 KOs); Kawanishi, Japan.
It’s a wonderful aspect of the Japanese fight scene that red-hot prospects are not safe-guarded for future glories but cast straight into the fire. Demonstrating a maturity way beyond his years, nineteen-year-old phenomenon Hinata Maruta is a fine case in point. The electric bantam, a rakish 5ft 9 ½in, turned pro against world-ranked Filipino Jason Canoy late in 2015 illustrating a sturdy chin before pounding out a clear six–round decision. The skillful and speedy Maruta has been the talk of Japanese boxing circles ever since his childhood and seems destined to contest a world title after a mere handful of fights.
Super-featherweight (24-4-1, 5 KOs); Philadelphia, USA.
In an era of spoon-fed prospects and pretenders feasting on journeymen to inflate their record, super-featherweight contender Tevin Farmer is a pleasing exception. Having lost four of his first 12 contests as a part-time fighter, the Philly stylist began to take the game seriously and has since reeled off 17 straight victories. The last of those losses was a late notice, eighth round TKO at the fists of Jose Pedraza in October 2012, but southpaw Farmer has matured dramatically and thrown himself into contention for a rematch with the former IBF champion. Fight watchers really took notice after Farmer schooled tough Ivan Redkach in July. His principal strength is his natural reflexes that evoke memories of the uber-slick Pernell Whitaker. The Philadelphian, dubbed ‘American Idol’, is unlikely to reach Whitaker’s level but has the ring smarts to give any of the 130lbs champions fits.
Light-heavyweight (8-0, 6 KOs); St Petersburg, Russia, by way of Tokmak, Kyrgyzstan.
Born on the same day as Joseph Stalin, Kyrgyzstan-born Dmitry Bivol is now proudly waving the Russian flag and at the forefront of that nation’s buoyant boxing scene. Bivol, 26, is already a champion of sorts having picked up one of those ubiquitous WBA interim titles by flooring awkward Panamanian Felix Valera twice en route to a wide points triumph last May. Having resided in Russia since he was 11-years-old, Bivol enjoyed an extensive, near 300-fight amateur career, but was a perennial No.2 to 2012 Olympic gold medallist Egor Mekhontsev. A fine technician and hurtful puncher, he has since moved ahead of professional stablemate Mekhontsev and is currently ranked No.1 by the WBA with its 'regular' champion Nathan Cleverly in his sights. He’s a clear and present danger.
Welterweight (15-0, 12 KOs); Kaunas, Lithuania.
Egidijus Kavaliauskas has the look of a Baltic serial killer and hopes to strike similar menace amid the welterweights as he is finally let off the leash in 2017. The 28-year-old Lithuanian, who represented his country in the 2008 and 2012 Olympiads, is based in Oxnard, California, with coach Robert Garcia who has claimed Kavaliauskas is the hardest puncher he has ever trained. A former World bronze medallist in 2011, Kavaliauskas lost to Fred Evans in the quarter-finals of the London 2012 Olympics (having defeated the Welshman in the World's). As a pro, his power and aggression have largely impressed against mostly modest opposition yet one senses this is a make or break year for the man dubbed ‘Mean Machine’. He could be the wild card of the vibrant 147lbs division.
Super-bantamweight (28-0, 22 KOs); Otumba, Mexico.
The WBC 122lbs title has been a revolving door of late with three champions seizing control in the last year and few would bet against No.1 contender Rey Vargas being the next claimant. Vargas, 26, has freakishly long arms with which to detonate his bombs and dropped former WBA super-flyweight champion Alexander Munoz four times in September [WTKO5] to earn his mandatory position. Victory against veteran title-holder Hozumi Hosegawa appears within the Mexican’s range, but it’s likely he will need to triumph in Japan. Vargas, who is trained by the great Nacho Beristain, is promising to travel with fireworks. “We have to [believe] in the KO. Hosegawa is strong so we need to have a lot of movement inside the ring. This is my moment,” said Vargas. If successful, the Mexican could fight WBC No.2 Gavin McDonnell soon afterwards.