2011 Prospect of the Year, Gary Russell Jr. (right)
Boxing prospects have had the habit of not living up to expectations in recent years. In fact, winning the Prospect of the Year award has been something of a curse.
Julio Diaz (2000), Francisco Bojado (2001), Samuel Peter (2004), Joel Julio (2005), Amir Khan (2007), Victor Ortiz (2008) and Daniel Jacobs (2009)—seven of ESPN.com's 12 Prospects of the Year since 2000—each lost a fight in the following calendar year.
Diaz, Khan and Ortiz were able to recover and win world titles, but the fact remains that many prospects fail to cope with the pressure of the high expectations heaped upon them. Others are simply overrated.
Gary Russell, Jr., the unanimous choice for 2011, looks as sure-fire as a prospect can be. His advanced ring craftsmanship, boxing IQ and natural physical talents are off the charts. We can never be sure, but Russell's continued success seems like a sound bet.
Thomas Dulorme, Jose Benavidez Jr., Javier Fortuna and Jonathan Gonzalez round out the top five prospects I believe are certain to avoid a loss in 2012.
A number of others, though, are at risk of losing this year. Here's a look at which prospects could fall in the next 12 months.
Ismayl Sillakh's inclusion on this list is a bit of a formality. Sillakh, a native of Ukraine, has all the tools and amateur background you could want in a prospect. More importantly, he has turned in his best performances when the lights were brightest.
So why is he listed here? Sillakh's ascent up the light-heavyweight rank has been rapid, and it seems he is poised for big fights in the coming year. Up next could be a title eliminator against former 175-pound champ Jean Pascal.
Sillakh is at risk of a 2012 loss simply by virture of his increasingly difficult opposition.
Nonetheless, if Sillakh (17-0, 14 KOs) fights as he did when be burst on the scene by knocking out Daniel Judah on the Bernard Hopkins-Roy Jones, Jr. undercard or when he destroyed Cuban standout Yordanis Despaigne last March, he will give Pascal all he can handle. In fact, I think he will win.
British super middleweight George Groves was overshadowed by his more decorated countryman, James DeGale, a 2008 Olympic gold medalist.
That is, until he scored a tight decision victory of DeGale in May.
Groves (14-0, 11 KOs) followed up that high-stakes win with a second-round blowout of the tough Paul Smith to close the year.
The London native has undeniable power and enough moxie to get the job done. But most observers, this one included, thought DeGale deserved the nod in their first fight. It looks like a rematch is in the works for sometime in 2012.
DeGale has proceeded to make impressive strides and, if both continue to win, should avenge his controversial loss later this year.
Demetrius Andrade, the 2008 U.S. Olympian, finally took a step up in competition in 2011. He beat the upset specialist Grady Brewer on the Friday Night Fights season finale in a virtual shutout.
The typical criticism of Andrade (15-0, 10 KOs) is that he is too careful, boring and can get lazy in the ring. These are the sorts of problems that can be fixed with professional experience.
However, I think they are indicative of a much more serious problem. Andrade, it seems to me, lacks a fighter's personality, also known as the killer instinct. He too often relies on his physical advantages—which are immense in the 154-pound division—and doesn't seem to know how or when to apply effective pressure.
If these problems are not corrected quickly, Andrade could fall as his competition improves in a division that is very thick on talent.
The Uganda-born Sharif Bogere may produce the most exciting fights of any of the sport's top prospects. This is also what puts him in danger of losing his "0" this year.
The lightweight banger throws punches in bunches and is not afraid to take his share of blows to land his own. This was clearly on display in his May slugfest with Raymundo Beltran.
Bogere (21-0, 13 KOs) pulled out a unanimous decision that most thought was much closer than the scorecards indicated. Bogere, despite above-average hand speed, was at times beaten to the punch by Beltran's shorter, straighter punches. For example, in Round 8, Beltran landed one such uppercut that badly hurt Bogere and caused what should have been ruled a knockdown.
To be sure, future opponents will take note.
Bogere's crowd-pleasing style will earn him many fans, but could yield him a loss in the near future.
Edwin Rodriguez hits hard, is well trained and has a lot of experience as an amateur and sparring with champions and contenders. He also is too easy to hit, has looked vulnerable, is coming off of an injury and will be facing better competition in 2012.
Rodriguez, a Dominican now living in Worcester, Mass., looked subpar in a January 2011 decision win against the underwhelming Aaron Pryor Jr. It turned out that he had damaged his left rotator cuff in the fight.
While he does not seem to have had an lingering ill effects from the injury, the Pryor fight revealed some chinks in the Rodriguez armor. He could be out-boxed, out-thought and simply out-worked.
Will Rosinsky was able to do some of these things against Rodriguez (20-0, 14 KOs) in their October meeting on ShoBox. Despite the obscenely wide scores, the previously undefeated Rosinsky fought an even fight with the much more heralded prospect.
Rodriguez's uninspiring 2011 performances do not bode well for what figures to be a tougher schedule in 2012.