Saturday evening (night if you were in London), for the first time in what’s felt like decades, the boxing world was treated to a heavyweight gem. The bout was Anthony Joshua v. Wladimir Klitschko, and what we got was one of the greatest heavyweight bouts in recent memory.
Heading into the fight, there was nothing but respect between the two fighters. In a strange twist for such a bout, there was no trash talk or hatred. Instead, they let their used their track records to hype their fight, not their words. Not that trash talk is a bad thing, it’s just an odd occurrence in the sport.
Expectations for the Joshua-Klitschko bout were absurdly high, how couldn’t it be? It was the tale of a young man, who is just about to enter his prime, taking on a legend, who has dominated the weight class for over a decade.
In front of a packed crowd of 90,000 fans at Wembley Stadium, Klitschko and Joshua combined for what should easily be considered as a fight of the year candidate. There were knockdowns, perfect combos, and even a little bloodshed. But ultimately, what we witnessed was eleven rounds of beautiful boxing.
The two went back-and-forth in the first four rounds until Joshua managed to knockdown Klitschko. Klitschko, however, bounced back in the sixth when he knocked down Joshua, for the first time in his career. From that moment on, the two traded blows in an effort to regain control of the fight, each side gaining ground with every combo. But that all changed in the eleventh round.
In the first of the championship rounds, Anthony Joshua absolutely dominated Wladimir Klitschko. Joshua came out aggressive, he was looking to end this fight before it could reach a judges’ decision. He began so strong that he knocked Klitschko down twice at the start of the round. Then, just as it seemed Klitschko had enough space to recover, Joshua forced him against the ropes and began to tee off on him. Klitschko didn’t push back, so referee David Fields called a stop to the fight at 2 minutes, 25 seconds.
There’s no doubting how large an affect this fight was for Anthony Joshua’s legacy, but the success of this bout could mean much bigger things for the sport of boxing itself.
This fight was much more than just an opportunity to unify heavyweight championships. It was a changing of the guard, from old to young. It’s a sign that the next era of boxers are ready to shine in the public eye.
Anthony Joshua appears to be one of the leaders into this new era.
It should be noted, however, that this change isn’t just occurring for heavyweights. Every weight class houses a young fighter or two who, if they continue to win the way they are, could very well develop into a star.
So, here they are. The ten most promising* boxers who can hopefully thrust the sport back into mainstream popularity.
*Note: this is not a P4P ranking of all weight classes, but a list of fighters who I personally classify as the future of boxing. This is purely my opinion, and if you disagree be sure to let me know. I love talking about this sport.
10. Shakur Stevenson, 19 yrs old
Country: U.S. 1-0-0 (0 KOs)
Okay, I’ll admit this is probably too soon to be pegging Shakur Stevenson as a star…but did you see this kid at the 2016 Rio Olympics?
Dominating his way to the Olympic finals, Stevenson displayed everything you could hope for in a young fighter: speed, patience and power. Unfortunately, he was unable to capture the gold medal against Cuba’s Robeisy Ramirez, who was also an Olympic champion four years prior to his bout with Stevenson. The gold medal bout was decided in favor of Ramirez by split-decision.
Though he lost, Stevenson impressed many with his Olympic run, including Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Mayweather had this to say about Stevenson, immediately following Stevenson’s quarterfinals victory over Tsendbaatar Erdenebat:
“I see the next Floyd Mayweather. If anybody can break my records, this young kid here can do it. I truly believe in him.”
I don’t know about you, but that seems like some pretty high praise.
9. Naoya Inoue, 24 yrs old
Country: Japan 12-0-0 (10 KOs)
You could make a legitimate argument that Naoya Inoue has more power, pound-for-pound, than anyone else on this list. It’s a large reason why it only took him six professional fights to win a WBC title. He was only 19 years old at the time.
Throughout his amateur career, as well as his professional career, Inoue has been known to make his opponents with his power punches. But more importantly, he’s known as the future of the Junior-Banamweight division.
The only thing you can hold against him is that he hasn’t had much experience against superstar fighters. His career has been highlighted by his victory over Kohei Kono, of which he is only just over five months removed, and is scheduled to fight Ricardo Rodriguez on the 21st of May. This presents another opportunity for Inoue to gain popularity amongst the viewing audience.
It should, however, be noted that The Ring currently ranks Inoue as the tenth best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
8. Gervonta Davis, 22 yrs old
Country: U.S. 17-0-0 (16 KOs)
Currently slated to have one of the busiest years out of anyone on this list, Gervonta Davis is ready to dominate the boxing world. Not just as a fighter, but as a champion.
His last bout, which also happened to be his first opportunity at an IBF championship, was an incredible success as he defeated the then-IBF Junior Lightweight champion, José Pedraza via seventh-round TKO. Davis excelled in front of a crowd of 10,128 spectators, all packed in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and he quickly turned those in the audience into fans.
A protégé of Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s, Davis made sure study those who came before him, just maybe not in the way you’d expect:
“In this camp, I studied ‘Pretty Boy’ Floyd, not ‘Money.’ I learned to stay composed.”
Mayweather had comments of his own following the January 14 bout:
“Is this the future of boxing? Abso-f***-lutely.”
Davis’ combination of explosiveness and power is quite rare in a body as compact as his is, and it’s only part of the reason he’s viewed so favorably going forward. (It’s also why his nickname is “Tank.”) He’s an incredibly technical and accurate puncher for his age, so you better grab yourself a pair of shades…’cus this young man’s future is bright.
7. Román González, 29 yrs old
Country: Nicaragua 46-1-0 (38 KOs)
Not even two months away from the first loss of his professional career (which, if you ask me, shouldn’t have been judged the way it was due to a headbutt from his opponent), Román González is still on top of the boxing world.
The man they call Chocolatito is one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters in the world, even occupying the title of top pound-for-pound boxer before his March 18 loss. His power punches are absurd for a fighter of his size, and he’s aggressive nature has wreaked havoc amongst the Flyweight divisions.
It’s currently unknown when he’ll fight next, but you can be sure it’ll be a rematch against Srisaket Sor Rungvisai for the WBC Super-Flyweight championship. At least, that’s what Chocolitito wanted after his loss:
“I’m a little dinged up but I thought I won the fight. I want an immediate rematch and to win my belt back.”
Talented, accomplished and hungry; sounds like the kind of boxer whose name you should remember.
6. Erickson Lubin, 21 yrs old
Country: U.S. 18-0-0 (13 KOs)
In sports, specifically amongst sports fans, there are people called ‘Stans’. It means you’re a bit of an obsessive fan toward specific athletes, who, for better or worse, could do no wrong in your eyes. As I’m sure we all know, ‘Stans’ can be incredibly annoying to listen to, and frustrating to talk to. Well…I guess you could say I’m an Erickson Lubin ‘Stan’, because as far as I’m concerned he’s the future of American boxing.
His age limits him from ranking as the highest American boxer on this list, but trust me, his future has no limits.
Lubin currently competes in what is arguably the toughest weight class in all of boxing, but he’s significantly younger any of his fellow fighters who rank in the top-20 of the Super-Welterweight division. Only he has something his competition doesn’t: reach.
If you’re at all unfamiliar with boxing, you should know that a height of 5’11” and a reach of 76″ is pretty odd amongst Welterweights. That, along with his age, presents him with multiple opportunities: 1. he remains as a Welterweight or 2. he grows into becoming a Middleweight. Either way, Lubin seems like a lock to become a superstar.
He has power, reach, athleticism, skill and natural movement, which all help to forecast the kind of terror he can become to whichever weight class he decides to fight in. His only gray mark right now would be the lack of star-power in the opponents he’s already faced. Though, at only 21 years of age, I’m sure that will change, very soon.
5. Deontay Wilder, 31 yrs old
Country: U.S. 38-0-0 (37 KOs)
Nine years. That’s how long it took for an American to win a Heavyweight championship since Shannon Briggs was defeated by Sultan Ibragimov in 2007. That streak came to an end in 2015 when Deontay Wilder -who, years ago, dropped out of the University of Alabama, then worked as a waiter at IHOP in order to take care of his then-ill daughter Naieya- defeated Bermane Stiverne.
In that title bout, Wilder showed that he could go the distance if need be, effectively disproving any preconceived notion that he lacked the stamina needed to fight into the championship rounds. Even now, with five title defenses since that victory, that remains Wilder’s only fight that hasn’t ended prematurely to a knock-out.
It’s difficult for some to appreciate just how rare a career Wilder has had to this point. Not only is he the first Amercian heavyweight champion in nearly a decade, but he’s somehow remained perfect through 38 fights. That’s insane for any heavyweight fighter, ever.
His pure punching power goes unmatched throughout any weightclass; and, when paired with his accuracy Wilder becomes one of the deadliest boxers in the world. How else do you explain a 97.3 percent knockout-to-win ratio.
Wilder is dominant. He’s powerful. He’s just getting started.
4. Keith Thurman, 28 yrs old
Country: U.S. 28-0-1 (22 KOs)
Until Saturday, the fighter whose star burned brightest this year was none other than Keith Thurman. It’s been exactly two months since he unified WBC and WBA Welterweight championships over Danny García, which went on to average 3.74 million viewers. The largest of any Saturday primetime bout since 1998. (The fight actually peaked at 5.1 million viewers.)
From the very first bell, everyone watching the March 4 bout knew they were in for a classic. Both corners started the fight aggressive and angry, each fighter looking for an opportunity to fire off a quick combo. The pace of the bout never seemed to slow down, neither side seemed to truly gain control. But the back and forth nature of this fight is what made it so special.
In the end, it was Thurman who unified the two belts via split decision.
Thurman has never beaten an opponent of García’s level before -though he’s been on an absolute tear since winning his WBA title in 2013- and, in turn, he’s never been viewed as highly as he is now. We don’t currently know who Thurman’s next opponent will be, but you can be sure that it will be a big draw. Because ,unlike most of the others ranked behind him, Keith Thurman already is a star.
3. Anthony Joshua, 27 yrs old
Country: UK 19-0-0 (19 KOs)
**For explanation of placement on this list, see written portion above
2. Andre Ward, 33 yrs old
Country: U.S. 31-0-0 (15 KOs)
Since Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s retirement, it is without question that Andre Ward has been the face of American boxing. There are others who you could look to as the future of American boxing, but as of right now that mantle is occupied by Ward. Mainly because they don’t nearly have as much skill as him.
Ward is known both for his accuracy and ability to weave his opponents punches, which makes him quite the annoying fighter to go up against on its own. But he also houses a really powerful left hand, which he strengthened after a surgery to his right shoulder. (Don’t worry, that injury has no effect on him now. If anything, it’s improved his overall fighting ability.)
Perhaps the best part about Ward is that he’s not just a force to be reckoned with in the ring, but a star out of it as well. He appeared in Ryan Coogler’s film“Creed,” and he makes countless appearances at youth centers, schools and corrections facilities in an effort to inspire those in his community.
All things taken into consideration, Andre Ward is pretty incredible for the sport of boxing. At 33 years old, no one really knows how much longer he can maintain his current pace, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s currently the best the U.S. has to offer. Which, by the way, is nowhere near a bad thing.
1. Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez, 26 yrs old
Country: Mexico 48-1-1 (34 KOs)
Well, I think we all knew who this was going to be. You could very well argue that Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez has had a spot on this list since 2010, but his perceived expectations of stardom far exceed even that.
Throughout his professional career, he’s only had down moments: once when he was 15 (seriously, he was 15 years old), he finished with a draw against Jorge Juarez; then again when he lost to Floyd Mayweather Jr. by majority decision. It should be known, though, that his loss to Mayweather was really, really bad.
At no point in their 2013 bout did Álvarez look ahead. He had no control, and worse yet, he was straight-up out-boxed. He has, however, bounced back incredibly well since his first career loss. Álvarez has put together an impressive stretch of victories of late, defeating such notable fighters which includes James Kirkland, Miguel Cotto, Amir Khan and then Liam Smith.
In the face of the potential darkness brought about by his (probably only) career-low, Canelo has shown complete resiliency. Ultimately, that’s the greatest star quality imaginable; the ability to bounce back.
Canelo is on the cusp of superstardom, but whether he reaches that level or not will depend on what happens next in his career.
Thankfully, Canelo has an upcoming bout with Julio César Chávez Jr., the son of a legend, this Saturday. If he wins, he could very well become the face of this sport, period. But I guess we’ll just have to see if that happens.