Prospect of year: Vasyl Lomachenko
'Flawless' young fighter primed for unthinkable: a title shot in second pro fight
MTR: Prospect Of The Year
No matter how gifted they are or how extensive their amateur background, most boxing prospects are handled with kid gloves when they turn pro. Their managers and promoters want to build up the fighter's record, nurture a following and protect the investment until they're sure he is ready for prime time.
Ukraine's Vasyl Lomachenko is not your normal prospect.
The 25-year-old southpaw is as gifted -- offensively and defensively -- as any fighter to come into the pro game in years. As an amateur, he went a reported 396-1 (avenging the defeat twice) and won two Olympic gold medals, at featherweight in 2008 (when he also collected the Val Barker trophy as the Games' most outstanding boxer) and lightweight in 2012. He won world amateur championships in 2009 and 2011.
He has been hailed as a future professional world champion for years and finally turned pro Oct. 12 in Las Vegas on the Timothy Bradley Jr.-Juan Manuel Marquez undercard. But Lomachenko didn't just face some no-hoper to be quickly drilled. Instead, he was matched absurdly tough in a 10-rounder against Mexico's Jose Luis Ramirez, a fringe contender coming off a split-decision road win against Rey Bautista in April in the Philippines.
Lomachenko -- trained by his father, Anatoly -- dazzled before knocking Ramirez out in the fourth round, the first time the veteran had been stopped.
Rafael's prospects of the year
2012: David Price
2011: Gary Russell Jr.
2010: Canelo Alvarez
2009: Daniel Jacobs
2008: Victor Ortiz
2007: Amir Khan
2006: Andre Berto
2005: Joel Julio
2004: Samuel Peter
2003: Jermain Taylor
2002: Miguel Cotto
2001: Francisco Bojado
2000: Julio Diaz
It was all part of Lomachenko's plan of not wanting to waste any time. When he and manager Egis Klimas were being courted by promoters, they were less concerned about a big signing bonus than the assurance that Lomachenko would be moved very quickly. If possible, they wanted a world title fight in his pro debut.
That wasn't viable, but Top Rank's Bob Arum signed him by promising that Lomachenko could get a title shot as soon as his second fight, provided he showed the goods in his debut.
Lomachenko, the 2013 ESPN.com Prospect of the Year, did just that and now is expected to challenge Orlando Salido for his featherweight crown March 1.
"I want to make boxing history, and to do that there's only one way -- go fast and show everybody what I can do," Lomachenko said before the Ramirez fight. "I don't want to be like other fighters, fighting four- and six-round fights. That's nonsense. I don't need to be built."
Lomachenko's confidence and audacity impressed Arum.
"I really have not seen something like this before, what Lomachenko wants to do," he said. "So I'm withholding judgment. But deep down, I believe if anyone can pull this off, it's this kid. Maybe because it's I want to believe, but I have been so in awe of the name for so many years, I believe he can accomplish anything."
Top Rank vice president Carl Moretti is also a fan.
"I think he will be a great pro," Moretti said. "Salido is going to make him look like a million dollars. It's not like [Lomachenko] does everything good. He does everything great -- speed, conditioning, excellent power, you can see him thinking in the ring. I can't see a flaw. He's flawless."
The rest of the Super 20
Eleider Alvarez (29, Montreal, light heavyweight, 13-0, 8 KOs): Alvarez, born in Colombia, is one of several quality fighters to relocate to boxing hotbed Montreal. An accomplished amateur who won gold at the 2007 Pan-American Games, he notched his biggest pro win in September, a 10-round decision against former contender Edison Miranda. Alvarez was limited to only two fights in 2013, but another was canceled when Allan Green failed to make weight and then pulled out. Alvarez will face his first serious test Jan. 18 against Thomas Oosthuizen on the Jean Pascal-Lucian Bute undercard.
Marcus Browne (23, Staten Island, N.Y., light heavyweight, 8-0, 7 KOs): Browne, a southpaw, was a 2012 U.S. Olympian and decorated amateur who won numerous national tournaments and three New York Golden Gloves championships. Browne is skillful and has a growing fan base at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he fights regularly. He was 6-0 with 5 KOs in 2013 and also gained valuable experience sparring with ex-champion Pascal. Browne will return to Barclays Center Jan. 30 on the Victor Ortiz-Luis Collazo undercard.
Jermall Charlo (23, Houston, junior middleweight, 17-0, 13 KOs): Charlo was 18 when he turned pro in 2008 and has developed nicely, although he's not quite as advanced as twin brother and fellow prospect Jermell Charlo. Jermall fought just once each in 2010 and 2011 and twice in 2012, but made up for lost time in 2013, winning all seven of his fights, including knockouts of Orlando Lora and Antwone Smith.
Jermell Charlo (23, Houston, junior middleweight, 22-0, 11 KOs): Charlo was just 17 when he turned pro in 2007. He began to realize his potential in 2012 as he matured physically and gained power. His jab-right hand combination is textbook and fast. He went 3-0 against improved competition in 2013, including a win over Demetrius Hopkins. Charlo is close to a world title shot but first needs to defeat his toughest test, former two-time middleweight title challenger Gabriel Rosado, on Jan. 25.
Eddie Gomez (21, Bronx, N.Y, junior middleweight, 15-0, 10 KOs): No wonder he's a fighter: Gomez is the youngest of nine children. A two-time Junior Olympic national champion and New York Golden Gloves champion, he is quick-handed, flashy and powerful. He won all three of his 2013 bouts, including an impressive fourth-round knockout of Steve Upsher Chambers. Gomez will kick off 2014 with an interesting fight against fellow unbeaten prospect Daquan Arnett (11-0, 7 KOs) Jan. 30 in the Victor Ortiz-Luis Collazo co-feature.
Jesse Hart (24, Philadelphia, super middleweight, 11-0, 10 KOs): Hart, son of 1970s middleweight contender Eugene "Cyclone" Hart, was a standout amateur who went 85-11 and won the 2011 National Golden Gloves and USA Nationals. He just missed a 2012 U.S. Olympic berth, losing the 165-pound final on a double tiebreaker. As a pro in 2013, he went 6-0 -- all knockouts. He has good size (6-foot-2), speed, long arms and a dedicated work ethic. Hart needs rounds, so for his Jan. 25 fight, he will step up in competition against Derrick Findley (20-11-1, 13 KOs), who has been stopped only once.
Dusty Hernandez-Harrison (19, Washington, D.C., welterweight, 19-0, 11 KOs): Hernandez-Harrison, a popular ticket seller in his hometown, had more than 200 amateur fights before turning pro at 17 (America's youngest at the time). Although a part-time college student, he is extremely dedicated to boxing and was very busy in 2013, going 8-0 against varied opposition and getting valuable exposure on two Gennady Golovkin undercards.
Bryant Jennings (29, Philadelphia, heavyweight, 17-0, 9 KOs): The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Jennings went from unknown to hot prospect by going 5-0 in 2012. He's not a big heavyweight and not a big puncher, but he has fast hands, is willing to engage, and outworks opponents. After a big 2012, Jennings fought only once in 2013, partly due to a change in promoters, but he will kick off 2013 in an important fight against unbeaten Artur Szpilka on the Mikey Garcia-Juan Carlos Burgos undercard.
Anthony Joshua (24, England, heavyweight, 3-0, 3 KOs): The 6-foot-6, 230-pound Joshua won the 2012 Olympic super heavyweight gold medal at home in London and is expected to become a major player in the pros. Joshua took his time fielding promotional offers and resting after the Olympics, then turned pro in October. He has great size and power, and is said to have a tremendous work ethic. He fought his first three bouts in six weeks, but minor injuries forced him out of two others. He will return Feb. 1 in Cardiff, Wales.
Jessie Magdaleno (22, Las Vegas, junior featherweight, 17-0, 13 KOs): Magdaleno, younger brother of junior lightweight contender Diego Magdaleno, has star potential. A southpaw, he has an exciting style and a strong amateur background (120-16 record and six major titles). He would have been favored to make the 2012 U.S. Olympic team had he not turned pro in late 2010. In 2013, Magdaleno went 4-0, stopping all of his experienced opponents inside four rounds. He also switched trainers, joining Joel Diaz, who also trains Diego and welterweight titlist Timothy Bradley Jr. Jessie will open his 2014 campaign Feb. 1.
Antonio Orozco (26, San Diego, junior welterweight, 18-0, 14 KOs): "Simple Man" has flown a bit under the radar, and it didn't help that he fought only twice in 2013 -- although he won both by knockout against decent opposition. He has loads of potential and fights in a good division. He's a pressure fighter who digs well to the body and should make exciting TV fights. He's probably only a couple of fights away from a significant bout. He will face experienced Miguel Angel Huerta on Jan. 24.
Jose Ramirez (21, Avenal, Calif., junior welterweight, 7-0, 5 KOs): Ramirez's stellar amateur career (145-11) included 11 national titles and was capped by a 2012 U.S. Olympic berth. He has speed and power, a solid body attack and an electric left hook reminiscent of Oscar De La Hoya's best punch. Ramirez was 6-0 in 2013 and has quickly become a draw in his home region. He has used his stardom to become heavily involved in various charitable endeavors. His next fight is Feb. 1.
Ivan Redkach (27, Ukraine, lightweight, 15-0, 13 KOs): The 2008 Ukrainian Olympic alternate, who lives in Los Angeles, went 260-40 as an amateur. A southpaw, Redkach has been devastating as a pro. He's gifted offensively, attacks the body and has a relentless style. He should be ready for meaningful fights in 2014, which he will kick off Jan. 17 against Canada's Tony Luis. Redkach was limited to three fights in 2013, winning two by early KO (the other ended in a no-decision because of an accidental head-butt).
Billy Joe Saunders (24, England, middleweight, 19-0, 10 KOs): Saunders, a southpaw, was a 2008 British Olympian. In 2012, he claimed the traditional British and Commonwealth belts. More boxer than puncher, Saunders won all three of his bouts in 2013, including his most significant win: a decision against previously undefeated prospect John Ryder in September. In October, Saunders was named Young Boxer of the Year by the British writers. He will return Feb. 15 in London.
Callum Smith (23, England, super middleweight, 9-0, 7 KOs): Smith, a pro for barely a year, might be the best of the fighting Smith brothers, Paul (British super middleweight champ), Stephen (British junior lightweight champ) and Liam (British junior middleweight champ). Callum went 7-0 in 2013, winning each bout by knockout, and has looked very good, especially in his previous fight, a sixth-round knockout of experienced former world title challenger Ruben Eduardo Acosta.
Errol Spence (23, DeSoto, Texas, welterweight, 10-0, 8 KOs): A southpaw with excellent speed and power, Spence was a 2012 U.S. Olympian and is perhaps the best pro prospect from Team USA. Spence was also a three-time U.S. national champion (2009-11) and two-time National Golden Gloves champion (2009-10). As a pro, he has looked outstanding, albeit against steppingstone opposition. But even when forced to go the eight-round distance against unbeaten Emmanuel Lartey in October, Spence was sharp. He could move quickly.
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Oscar Valdez (23, Mexico, featherweight, 8-0, 8 KOs): The only two-time Mexican Olympian, Valdez is also the only Mexican to medal at the amateur world championships, claiming bronze in 2009. As a pro, Valdez has shown everything you want to see in a young prospect: speed, power, ring intelligence, defense and poise. He mowed down all six of his 2013 foes, although he faced modest opposition. He looks like a lock to eventually win a world title.
Felix Verdejo (20, Puerto Rico, lightweight, 9-0, 6 KOs): The 2012 Puerto Rican Olympian turned pro in December 2012 and quickly established himself as the island's No. 1 prospect. He's an exciting boxer-puncher with Felix Trinidad-like charisma, which has already made him a popular attraction. He has a chance to be a major force. Verdejo will return Jan. 25 in New York on the Mikey Garcia-Juan Carlos Burgos undercard.
Deontay Wilder (28, Tuscaloosa, Ala., heavyweight, 30-0, 30 KOs): The 2008 Olympic bronze medalist has great size (6-foot-7, 225 pounds), massive right-handed power and strong potential. But after 30 fights, he remains untested. He has never been past four rounds. He fought four times in 2013 and blew everyone out, including the faded Sergei Liakhovich and Audley Harrison. Wilder can crack. The question is, can he take? 2014 figures to be the year he finally faces a live opponent.
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