This is the second and final part of a series that began (and is explained) here. These are some of the runner-ups, essentially.
Timothy Bradley, junior welterweight, 28
Upside: He’s got pound-for-pound top-10 level talent — he’s among the handful of elite American boxers — and off-the-charts grit. He’s got a great smile, is attractive, and has exhibited some gift of gab. He’s beaten a slew of good fighters in his young career and could be in line in the summer for a chance to beat a great one — he’s a finalist for facing Manny Pacquiao at welterweight. If he doesn’t get that fight, he could still get a nice opportunity against the likes of lightweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez or Amir Khan.
Downside: His fighting style, at its worst, is as ugly as boxing gets, all mauling and head butting. He’s been in a couple good fights, but mostly he is no picnic to watch. He might also be spoiled: He got a whopping $1 million to fight old-as-dirt Joel Casamayor, and while the backing of Top Rank rather than Gary Shaw is ultimately likely to lead to a profile upgrade, he could develop an entitlement mentality. Otherwise, it’s just about getting a chance to prove himself against top foes, although Pacquiao is probably a bridge too far. Maybe the ugly style could be overlooked with a win like that, but it will hold him back as long as he employs it.
Adrian Broner, junior lightweight, 22
Upside: Upper-tier speed and power are a great start; scintillating knockouts often follow. He’s a mini-Floyd Mayweather, Jr. clone both in the ring and out, which has its upsides. That cockiness makes some people love him and some people want to see him get KO’d. He’s a little funnier than Floyd, though, and hasn’t had Floyd’s legal troubles. He’s one of the top couple 130-pounders. And he had a favorable reception in a fight in his hometown of Cincinnati when he fought there last.
Downside: He still hasn’t been tested by anyone all that good, and his struggles with an undersized and crude Daniel Ponce De Leon are ominous, even if he’s fought more aggressively since than he did against Ponce. In other words, “mini” Mayweather might be an overestimation of his abilities, although we’ll see next time he faces someone with top talent. Problem is, outside of Yuriorkis Gamboa, there’s not a lot of top talent in his division.
Tavoris Cloud, light heavyweight, 30
Upside: Here’s another action hero-type who hasn’t tapped his potential — both in how good he can be and in how exciting he can be. Hardcore fans already love him. If he beats Gabrel Campillo next month, he could be in the running for a big fight like one against the division’s best talent, Chad Dawson. If he gets a win like that — and his hard-nosed, hard-hitting style give him a real chance — he’ll ascend all the way to the top of the light heavyweight ranks, where he’s already one of the top few men.
Downside: He is absolutely invisible. He’s promoted by Don King, who has done a miserable job with him; when King isn’t keeping Cloud busy (one fight total in 2011), King is reportedly busy negotiating absurd contract demands with Jean Pascal, who had all the pull in a Pascal-Cloud match-up and didn’t need Cloud as much as Cloud needed Pascal. That fight could have “made” Cloud. Cloud also has suffered from some bad luck, as when a card he was on in late 2011 fell apart. He also might be too rudimentary in his style to beat anyone very gifted.
Amir Khan, junior welterweight, 25
Upside: Khan is blessed with arguably the fastest hands in boxing, and he’s improved his punch resistance immensely under the tutelage of world-class trainer Freddie Roach, two ingredients that make him one of the top couple junior welterweights in the world. He’s rubbed elbows with folk like Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, he’s got a unique background for a boxer (Pakistani-Brit, Muslim) that could be a marketing asset. He tends to do pretty good TV ratings in the U.S., in addition to a big following in the U.K., owing to more fun fights than you usually see from someone who’s a bit of a “mover” in the ring.
Downside: His loss in his last fight, to Lamont Peterson, revealed not only some flaws in his boxing skills, but in his makeup as a fighter. Khan’s power isn’t terrific, and he really struggled to keep Peterson off of him as a result, plus made a number of tactical mistakes. His incessant whining afterward has probably cost him a few potential fans, to boot. If he gets the rematch and wins, he could get his name back into the mix for a fight with Mayweather, but there’s no guarantee.
Juan Manuel Lopez, featherweight, 28
Upside: No matter what happens, the Puerto Rican fan base seems to like this kid, who fights with a real passion. He may have lost his last fight, but like all Lopez fights, it was guns-blazin’ from start to finish. He has contended with Miguel Cotto for favorite among the Puerto Ricans, even. He’s still one of the top featherweights in the world.
Downside: The loss to Orlando Salido was a huge upset, and there are serious questions about whether Lopez is fully dedicated to the sport any longer — he’s had some distractions outside the ring and his technique has appeared to degenerate. If he can get his shit together, he can get back to borderline pound-for-pound top-10 status, but if he doesn’t he might be out of boxing altogether before long.
Abner Mares, bantamweight, 26
Upside: The young, promising prospect has very quickly grown into “the man” in his division. He has hit some bumps along the way, but he has overcome them all, having emerged at the top of the heap in Showtime’s bantamweight tournament. He doesn’t do anything perfectly, but does everything at least pretty well — he’s smart, he’s tough and he’s got solid power and speed, with a body attack that is particularly ferocious. His fights tend to be close-fought bouts that vary between flat-out brawl and high-level offensive displays.
Downside: Mares isn’t yet a ratings draw or ticketseller, despite his Mexican background; perhaps his reputation for being a dirty fighter is holding him back. He was a major party to one of 2011’s most tawdry in-ring incidents, where he punched Joseph Agbeko low all night long. He was significantly less dirty in the rematch, but still was doing some rough stuff in there. Maybe he’s also had some bad luck — his last fight reportedly did poor ratings, because it went up against the year’s most anticipated pay-per-view on HBO. His personality doesn’t stick out much, but he is well-spoken.
Lamont Peterson, junior welterweight, 27
Upside: Peterson, in his 2011 fight against Khan, showed that his hometown of Washington, D.C., very likely was the untapped boxing market some suspected it was. More than 8,000 came out for Peterson-Khan, something that put him in very elite category for 2011, alongside only Pacquiao, Mayweather, Cotto and Saul Alvarez. Peterson put on a terrific performance for the fans, displaying great determination and inside fighting to pull out the narrow win. Now he’s a dark horse to face Pacquiao, which would be a massive opportunity, but a rematch with Khan or Bradley also would be pretty big.
Downside: There are some who strongly believe that Peterson didn’t deserve the Khan decision. It was a close fight, anyway, and he got the benefit of the doubt from the judges. For a career-best performance, Peterson still hurt himself with lulls in his offense, the kind that had hurt him in the past; he tends to get outhustled at times. He’ll need another good performance to convince everyone he’s a real threat in the division. His back story about him and his brother growing up homeless is a big plus to his relatability, but he isn’t much of a “talker.”
Gary Russell Jr., featherweight, 23
Upside: Russell’s gifts and skill level are the highest of anyone on this list. His speed is off the charts, and his Olympic pedigree means he knows how to box his opponents’ socks off. For that reason, he was the consensus Prospect of the Year for 2011, as he was on this site. He also might be able to tap into the D.C. market, since he’s based nearby.
Downside: I can’t stand the way he’s being managed. He either always fighting someone worse than he should be, and/or facing someone who’s selected at the last minute, and/or facing someone under unnecessarily favorable terms (like in his mystifying eight-round fight on HBO in 2011, meant to protect his brittle hands). All this babying of him could really cause him some trouble for if and when he actually steps up the competition. Also, despite a highlight-reel knockout in his last fight, his power is not exceptional.
Devon Alexander: He’s still at least a modest draw in St. Louis after one bad loss and two questionable wins in his last three, but he’ll need to beat Marcos Maidana in February to restore some of the luster he’d gained as a New York Times cover boy.
Chad Dawson: Few like his style, he doesn’t do good ratings or sell tickets, but he’s loaded with talent and at least he showed hints of a personality in his angry response to Bernard Hopkins’ inability to continue in their fight — he got some rare kudos from a boxing public that doesn’t much care for him because of it.
Mikey Garcia: The surgical offensive fighter could be in the running to snag a share of the rich market of Mexican/Mexican-American boxing fans, but he’s only recently worked his way to contender status and might not fight with the fire Mexican fans tend to love.
Robert Guerrero: Guerrero delivered his best performance yet in 2011 against Michael Katsidis, but once again was derailed by outside-the-ring issues with a shoulder injury. His story about he and his wife overcoming her illness, his mercurial talent and a public relations machine that redefines “aggressive” should keep him in the discussion, at least.
Marcos Maidana: Maidana’s action hero credentials are unimpeachable; he’s never, ever in a bad fight. He has been in some decently-rated fights, but as the B-side. The Argentinian-American fan base doesn’t really exist, alas, which means he’ll have to keep winning fans among a general boxing audience.
Matthew Macklin: This is very conditional — if Macklin can beat Sergio Martinez in March as a massive underdog, he’d instantly become a sensation with an Irish-American fan base that often mobilizes behind its own. Andy Lee is the closest thing there is right now to an Irish-American ticketseller.
Victor Ortiz: He’s hippy-dippy and his airheaded ways have led to any number of public relations backfires (like the head butt/excessive apology/sucker punch knockout sequence in his last fight against Floyd Mayweather, Jr.) but he does have authentic natural speed and power and has proven himself a big draw in Southern California. Beating Andre Berto in a rematch next month could help him bounce back.
Also considered: Mike Alvarado, Alfredo Angulo, Chris Arreola, Andre Berto, Danny Garcia, Antonio DeMarco, Roman Gonzalez, Mike Jones, Andy Lee, Walter Matthysse, Giovani Segura, Brian Viloria