TV Fighters You Don’t Want To Miss Even If They Never Make It To The Top

Everyone who follows the sport knows, or should know, the big action stars of boxing these days, the guys you simply don’t want to miss when they’re on television because they bring both excitement (by brawling at the drop of a hat) and skill (by being good at it): Israel Vazquez, Manny Pacquiao, Antonio Margarito, the like*. But just below the action elite on the Die Hard level is a class of under-appreciated fighter that may not be as good as a Pacquiao or Vazquez but nonetheless guarantee a great show; maybe they’re more Big Trouble in Little China, a movie not as skillfully made as Die Hard but still terrifically entertaining. You’ll most often find them on ESPN2, or Versus, or on the occasional pay-per-view undercard, or even on an HBO Boxing After Dark or Showtime card, and when their names are on the schedule, you should DVR that motha. To make the list below, in no particular order, the boxers had to have not won a title belt yet, be exciting in several slugfests I’ve seen and not be a prospect seemingly destined to win titles. Several are quite capable of graduating from the B-list to somewhere above that, a la Margarito or Vazquez, guys I never thought would be among the elite. I left off the pretty-boxing types I’m sometimes drawn to, because much of the pleasure I derive from watching them is of a subtler hue — power punchers or even decent punchers who fight at full speed got emphasis. Please add any of your own nominees in the comments section. I’m trying to do everyone a favor by steering them toward fun fighters, and I’m accepting trades. –Michael Katsidis (lightweight, 135 lbs.): Maybe Katsidis’ inclusion here probably isn’t fair, because of all the fighters on this list, he’s the one who looks like he’s most likely to pull out a title. But if he does, it’s going to be via punching power and sheer recklessness. Katsidis doesn’t care how many pints of blood he loses; he doesn’t care if he gets knocked out in pursuit of a knockout himself; he expressly says he fights for the fans, in a style designed to give them their money’s worth. He’s been called the new Arturo Gatti, and wears a gladiator helmet into the ring; both the outfit and the comparison are apt. His losing effort against Joel Casamayor this year was a legit Fight of the Year candidate, and last year he participated in two top contenders for the honor. He’s on deck to fight Sept. 6 on HBO against Juan Diaz, another top action star, in the most likely Fight of the Year candidate left on the schedule. –Edner Cherry (lightweight): “The Cherry Bomb” is a bad nickname for Edner, because it implies he is one of the lesser fireworks. With the exception of one lackluster performance against Paulie Malignaggi, I’ve never seen a Cherry fight I didn’t thoroughly enjoy. His narrow loss to Jose Armando Santa Cruz stole the show two years ago from a Jose Luis Castillo-headed Showtime card, and if you are familiar with Castillo’s own action star credentials, that should tell you something. Despite not hitting all that hard — Cherry’s appeal is in his determined, go-forward-at-all-costs approach — his knockout of Stevie Johnston was one of 2008’s best KOs, the kind that made Sportscenter’s “Top Plays.” Next up is a title try one weight class higher against Timothy Bradley Sept. 13 on the undercard of a Showtime bout. I’d bet on a good one. –Ali Oubaali (junior welterweight, 140 lbs.): Now, “Hurricane” is a good nickname for Mr. Oubaali. Twice in a row this year, the man transplanted from France to Brooklyn — he fights more like a Brooklynite than the stereotype of a Frenchman — has put his ruthless body-punching frenzy on display on ESPN2, and both times, he has delivered the goods. The second fight was a well-earned promotion to main event. He gets hit a ton, but he’s so confident he’s going to hurt his man to the ribcage he doesn’t much mind. –Jesus Soto-Karass (welterweight, 147 lbs.): Last year on Versus, Soto-Karass scored the CompuBox record for most punches landed in a fight, ever. That’s all you need to know about this freakin’ windmill of a boxer. He just recently notched his career best win, a knockout of David Estrada, who’s been a great TV fighter himself but now looks faded after several failed tests against up-and-comers in the nasty welterweight division. –Andrey Tsurkan (junior middleweight, 154 lbs.): Tsurkan made his first big impression knocking out the son of Hector Camacho, which he did by completely ignoring anything Camacho Jr. did and stalking, stalking, stalking him down until the the Macho one’s progeny wilted. He put the same kind of relentless pressure on Jesse Feliciano four months ago. Tsurkan is brazenly macho himself, the kind of guy who considers himself a fighter, not a boxer. He’ll take on his toughest opponent yet in a sure-fire brawl against Alfredo Angulo in October on HBO.Monty Meza-Clay (junior lightweight, 130 lbs.): Like a lot of fighters on this list, Meza-Clay makes a living with pure volume and pressure and a never-stop-punching attitude, but he’s got a good gimmick to go with it — he’s no bigger than a hobbit. He’s listed at 5’2″, but that might be generous. He’s fought as high as 138, and his only loss was dealt out by fellow listed man Cherry. He bounced back in another try at a big win on ESPN2, knocking out former title-holder Eric Aiken in his best pint-sized Smokin’ Joe Frazier imitation, ducking and weaving his way in to land flurries of punches. –Richard Gutierrez (junior middleweight): Gutierrez now has a track record of being in several consecutive awesome fights, whether he did unexpectedly well (in a gutty slugfest loss to Angulo) or unexpectedly found himself in a tough battle (in a surprising slugfest draw with Jerome Ellis). You gotta hand it to those Colombian sluggers. Even if they shave their chest hair in the shape of a cross, as Gutierrez does. Yes, I mention this every time I talk about him because it still freaks me out. –Brian Vera (middleweight, 160 lbs.): I’ve only seen two Vera fights, but both were exciting — a quick knockout loss at the hands of Jaidon Codrington on “The Contender” last season, and his ultra-manly “come get some, little boy” beat down of highly-touted prospect Andy Lee. In both cases, Vera made extremely clear that he was willing to mix it up with two dangerous power punchers, and what comes next matters very little to him. He’s here on potential, more than anything. –Cristobal Cruz (featherweight, 126 lbs.): Cruz looks like he’s trying to break the record for punches thrown anytime he steps into the ring. It worked for him when he pulled off a March upset of the well-regarded Thomas Mashaba, spoiling his U.S. television debut with pure activity. At 36-11, he’s the losingest man on this list, but hey, he just got his best career win, so he’s obviously not a faded force. I left off the faded types, obviously, otherwise Estrada would be here, as well as the likes of long-time TV thriller Ben Tackie. –Fulgencio Zuniga (super middleweight, 168 lbs.): In the run he gave Kelly Pavlik for his money, his two seesaw battles with Jose Luis Zertuche and his upset of over-hyped Victor Oganov, Zuniga has taken his lackluster speed to the limits with some crafty veteran moves and a willingness to trade punches. Of course he’s from Colombia. –Edison Miranda (super middleweight): Another Colombian who knocks out his opponent or gets knocked out by him in every bout and I will defend him for that as long as he keeps fighting and doesn’t look like he’s on the verge of brain damage. Seriously, never in a bad fight, this guy. –Chris Henry (light heavyweight, 175 lbs.): Against Adrian Diaconu and Rubin Williams this year, Henry flashed the kind of power and face-forwardness that makes for exciting TV fighters. Like Vera, he’s here on potential. –Librado Andrade (super middleweight, 168 lbs.): He’s among the elite fighters on this list, despite the 2007 drubbing he took from Mikkel Kessler, because 1. He bounced back a few months later to appear in one of the year’s best brawls, a win over Yusaf Mack, then got an even better win over Robert Stieglitz to set up a title fight in October against Lucian Bute; and 2. Margarito has shown recently that a virtually uncrackable chin in conjunction with powerful combinations, anything can happen, a formula Andrade employs. Even his loss to Kessler was kind of impressive, in a “‘Halloween’ oh my God this monster won’t stop coming no matter what you hit him with even though in the end Jamie Lee Curtis is surely going to win in the end” way. Andrade/Bute is my cult pick for Fight of the Year. P.S. I swear I’ve seen movies that didn’t come out in the 1980s. *Besides Vazquez, Pacquiao and Margarito, the other must-see action stars who are among the elite boxers — like, top 25-caliber pound-for-pound fighters in the world — and mix it up regularly include Miguel Cotto, Kelly Pavlik, Juan Manuel Marquez, Rafael Marquez, Paul Williams, Diaz, Fernando Montiel, David Haye, Vic Darchinyan and Arthur Abraham. Those somewhere in-between the two lists — either in the prospect or still too unproven to be considered elite category — include Angulo, Joel Julio, James Kirkland, Chris Arreola, Juan Manuel Lopez, Andre Berto, Edwin Valero, Jorge Linares and Robert Guerrero.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.