Ten to watch in 2017 – UK and Ireland

Mark Butcher
04/02/2017 9:59am

Mark Butcher casts the Boxing Monthly spotlight on the British and Irish fighters who may cause a stir in 2017; a mixture of former amateur stars, under-the-radar talents and up-and-comers on the verge of a breakthrough...

Andrew Selby
Flyweight (7-0, 5 KOs); Barry, Wales.
When IBF featherweight champion Lee tells you brother Andrew Selby is the more talented fighter you would be foolish not to take notice. In less than 14 months as a pro, the decorated amateur (two European golds as well as World silver and bronze) has been moved quickly by father-son promotional duo Chris and Jamie Sanigar. The Welshman has lovely feet, reflexes and the blurring handspeed to make capable fighters appear leaden and ordinary. ‘A.C. Superstar’ also has the swagger, epitomised by his arms on the ropes showboating in his British title win against a game Louis Norman in May. A rich amateur pedigree means the Welshman, 28 on Christmas Day, could easily be dropped into a world title contest later in 2017. The talent is certainly there.

Josh Taylor
Super-lightweight (8-0, 7 KOs); Edinburgh, Scotland.
Ricky Burns has, almost single-handedly, propped up the Scottish boxing scene for a number of years but seems to have an heir apparent in fellow 140-pounder Josh Taylor. Promoter Barry McGuigan has waxed lyrical about the 25-year-old southpaw for some time and 2016 appeared to indicate ‘The Tartan Tornado’ is for real. Indeed, McGuigan mischievously mentioned that Taylor might be ready now for three-weight world champion Burns before being reined in by trainer/son Shane. Commonwealth champion as an amateur and now a pro, Taylor can afford to take his time, but the manner in which he dissected tough-as-they-come Dave Ryan in October underlined his considerable potential and it may be difficult to hold him back. Ryan, noted for his relentless pressure, was dropped twice and riddled with sickening shots before being saved in the fifth. The next generation of Scottish boxers may well follow in the Tornado’s wake.

Liam Williams
Super-welterweight (16-0-1, 11 KOs); Clydach Vale, Wales.
British and Commonwealth 154lbs champion Liam Williams can war and box in equal measure. He does everything well, but is sometimes misplaced as a mere puncher due to his intelligent pressure and heavy hands. Such pigeon-holing is a disservice to Williams’ fine technical skills. In a fight of the year contender in July, the Welshman repelled a spirited challenge from unbeaten Londoner Gary Corcoran before triumphing in the 11th of a genuine grudge match. It wasn’t always easy on eye, but the ill-tempered clash illustrated that Williams can withstand the pressure of expectation and negotiate a dogfight. Voted ‘Young Boxer of the Year’ by the British Boxing Writers Club, 2017 should see the Welshman make his move into world class under the watchful eye of trainer Gary Lockett. Victory over the tricky Ahmet Patterson in November aided Williams’ push for the WBO’s mandatory position with the title likely to be vacated by Canelo Alvarez next year.

Marcus Morrison
Middleweight (14-0, 10 KOs); Manchester, England.
A conversation with Joe Gallagher rarely passes without the trainer/manager name-checking fellow Mancunian Marcus Morrison as his gym’s next big thing. A hurtful puncher, Morrison is on the brink of championship status after picking up a minor crown this year and earning a Top 30 ranking with the WBC. A natural athlete and gifted footballer, defender Morrison was released aged 16 by his boyhood club Manchester City for being too small (ironically before a sudden growth spurt), but he channeled that disappointment into his other love boxing. Gallagher has likened Morrison to a ‘middleweight Anthony Joshua’ with the strength and natural power to cause shockwaves at 160. Morrison, with four first round wins in 2016, will hope his punch follows him up in class. Gallagher believes it will.

Ryan Burnett
Bantamweight (15-0, 9 KOs); Belfast, Northern Ireland.
An apparent neurological condition threatened to derail Ryan Burnett’s promising pro career before it even started in 2012, but after disproving early medical opinion the talented Belfastman is now firmly on track for a world title. With the astute Adam Booth in his corner, Burnett is blending his pressure and bodywork with a pure, boxing skillset. Burnett, 24, looked a little one-paced in his British title win against crafty veteran Jason Booth and two subsequent decision wins but appeared a fighter reborn when he outboxed and outbullied former European champion Ryan Farrag in November. Exemplifying devil on the front foot and guile in retreat, a switch-hitting Burnett showed pleasing adaptability and high promise. On that evidence, he can be a force at 118lbs.

Michael Conlan
Bantamweight, debuts in March 2017; Belfast, Northern Ireland.
One of the defining images of the Rio Olympics was Michael Conlan’s middle finger ‘salute’ to the judges who robbed him against Russian Vladimir Nikitian in their controversial bantamweight quarter-final. World amateur champion Conlan seemed destined for a medal before that contentious decision, but his skills should earn greater reward when he turns pro on St. Patrick’s Day weekend in New York. With a host of suitors competing for his signature, Conlan, 25, opted to join Bob Arum’s established Top Rank organisation and that appears a shrewd move given the promoter’s blueprint for transforming elite overseas amateurs in to professional world champions (see Vasyl Lomachenko, Oscar Valdez and Zou Shiming). The charismatic Conlan should crossover to the American market with ease.

Robbie Davies Jr
Super-lightweight (15-0, 11 KOs); Liverpool, England.
They don’t come much more under-the-radar than Robbie Davies Jr, but limited media coverage should not be perceived as a lack of talent. Away from the TV spotlight, the Liverpool box-fighter has been steadily impressing with manager Neil Marsh and, while others have earned more column inches, the stiff-punching Scouser, son of 1976 Olympian Robbie Sr, has stealthily broke into the world ratings. Davies feels, with some justification, that he is the avoided man of Britain’s revitalized super-lightweight division. In March, he underlined that statement by halting resilient Jarkko Putkonen [WTKO6] just five months after the Finn had taken fancied Jack Catterall the full ten rounds. While Britain’s 140 pounders continue to give the Scouser a wide berth, he’s currently rated No.6 by the WBA and may not need them anyway.

Ohara Davies
Super-lightweight (14-0, 11 KOs); Hackney, England.
Like so many before him, boxing saved Ohara Davies from the call of the streets but now the East Londoner is on a more fulfilling road. Davies, nicknamed ‘Two Tanks’, has impressed on his move up from lightweight and added steamrollering strength to his arsenal. Having never tasted defeat as an amateur or pro, Davies has always carried himself with an air of self-confidence but that inner-belief was backed up by some eye-catching performances in 2016. Trained by Tony Sims, Davies has developed into a spiteful puncher, halting all four of his opponents in the calendar year before his move up in class against tricky Italian Andrea Scarpa in late November saw him extended for the full 12 rounds. Promoter Eddie Hearn has suggested Davies could contend for world honours in 2017. A natural entertainer, Davies is always a fun watch and appears to have another level within him.

Gamal Yafai
Super-bantamweight (10-0, 4 KOs); Birmingham, England.
Aptly nicknamed ‘The Beast’, Gamal Yafai has been noted for his ferocity and tendency to throw every punch with bad intentions. There is a natural ruthlessness about Yafai with his waves of pressure squeezing the space from the ring and gradually breaking opponents’ heart and resistance. Illustrating his fondness for a row, the 25-year-old cast aside his gameplan and went to war with a ridiculously game Bobby Jenkinson (KO7) to win the Commonwealth 122lbs crown in March 2016. Heads bored in and the win lacked finesse, but it illustrated the faith the Birmingham man has in his raw strength and power. The former amateur star showed improved patience and discipline in outscoring the dogged Josh Wale in July but had to sit out the rest of the year after tearing ankle ligaments while preparing for an October clash with Sean Davis. Back to full fitness, the relentless Yafai represents an uncomfortable night for most super-bantamweights.

Paddy Barnes
Flyweight (1-0); Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Double Olympic bronze medallist Paddy Barnes is on a fast track to professional glory after switching codes in November. With a distinguished amateur career behind him, the loquacious Belfastman believes he will be a world champion within ten fights after signing with Matthew Macklin’s MGM outfit. At 29, there is little time to waste for Barnes who is angling for a revenge match against old Olympic nemesis and current WBO champion Zou Shiming. Barnes debuted in unusual fashion in November when Bulgarian Stefan Slachev was dismissed by referee Hughie Russell Jr for lifting, but his career should reach greater heights than that.