Boxing's 10 Rising Stars Who Deserve a Shot at a Title Belt
One of the most common complaints about boxing is that there are far too many championship belts. For the casual fan, it's impossible to keep track of them or know how significant any given promotional trinket actually is. Even for somebody like me, who spends a lot of time watching, researching and writing about the sport, it can still get very confusing.
The situation is made worse by the promotional organizations themselves, who will sometimes free up their "world championship" belt by naming their current champion a "super" or "diamond" champion, or else organize "interim championship" fights in weight classes where their current champion isn't even inactive.
So it's not surprising that so many boxing fans, writers and commentators more or less ignore them, instead focusing on specific match ups and individual rankings from important publications like The Ring.
But it is going too far to say that promotional belts are completely meaningless. It's important to remember that just because a fighter is wearing a belt that says he is the world champion does not mean he is actually the best fighter his weight in the world-he might not even be in the top five.
But in a sport as wide open as boxing, it still serves as some sort of a touch stone. You don't get one of those belts without being an elite athlete and legitimately talented boxer.
Some of the fighters on this list have held belts of various kinds. I am defining "title belt" as the world championship as recognized by one of the four major promotional organizations-either the WBC, WBA, WBO or IBF.
Peter Quillin, Middleweight
Peter Quillin, 26(20)-0, whose father is from Cuba, calls himself "Kid Chocolate" in honor of Eligio Sardinias Montalio, the first Cuban world champion and one of the greatest pound-for-pound boxers of all time.
Those are big shoes to want to fill, but if a young fighter isn't extremely ambitious, he should probably find another line of work.
Quillin has great length for a middleweight, quick hands and serious punching power. The one knock somebody could make against him is that he hasn't really fought against any significant competition.
The good news is that Quillin's next fight, scheduled for May 26, is against a future Hall-of-Famer. The bad news is that it's Ronald "Winky" Wright, a 40-year-old who is 0-2 since 2006.
But even far past his prime, Wright should be able to present Quillin with some problems that the explosive 28-year-old contender has yet to see. A victory won't necessarily "prove" anything for Quillin, but it could end up being a valuable learning experience.
A loss would mean, among other things, that I never should have included him in this story.
I doubt very much that he will lose. A popular Brooklyn resident, Quillin could be the type of champion who is very good for the sport in the United States.
Henry Lundy, Lightweight
Henry Lundy, 22(11)-1(1), just had an exciting win over fellow contender Danny Williams on Friday Night Fights. The fight really showcased Lundy's strengths: excellent hand speed and timing to go with legitimate punching power.
But it also showed where Lundy is weak: he gets hit too much. Williams dropped him in the first, a round Lundy was probably winning. He won the remaining nine rounds on one judge's card and eight of them on the other two.
It was the fifth time he has been dropped in his career. That's a lot of time on the canvas for an elite fighter. Lundy is an elite fighter, all right, but he needs to lose his bad habit of throwing his right cross wide and leaving it out in front for too long.
It's already caught up with him once. His single career loss came via TKO against John Molina in a fight he was winning easily before Molina dropped him in the eighth.
Lundy may have his flaws, but he would make an exciting and legitimate world title contender. If you watch the clip linked, you can see how he handled David Diaz, a former world champion.
John Molina, Lightweight
John Molina, 23(19)-1, has the kind of punching power that can end a night early or turn a fight completely around when he is losing. There isn't a lot of subtlety to his game, but if somebody puts him in a title fight, it's a certain bet he is going to come out both guns blazing.
Molina's one career loss was a unanimous decision to Martin Honorio, an accomplished pro, but not exactly a world beater. That Molina has his flaws can be seen clearly in the linked video. Henry Lundy out-boxed him for most of the fight.
But once he had Lundy in trouble, he finished him off like a shark. At some point a rematch should be in order between these two. It wouldn't be a shock to see it come for a world title.
Alexander Dimitrenko, Heavyweight
Given the current state of the heavyweight division, it's hard to see how Alexander Dimitrenko, 32(21)-1, has yet to receive a world title shot. His one career loss was in a WBO eliminator by majority decision against Eddie Chambers.
Chambers is small enough to make the weight limit at cruiser, but he is universally ranked as among the top heavies in the division. Plenty of guys with much bigger blemishes on their records have gotten title shots.
Like the Klitschko brothers, Dimitrenko is a Ukrainian native who has been trained by East German legend Fritz Sdunek. Still, I'm pretty sure Mother Klitschko has only asked the boys to refuse to fight each other, not all other Ukrainian fighters, so it should be possible to work something out.
Or else maybe Dimitrenko could challenge Alexander Povetkin for his WBA strap.
I was actually tempted to put Povetkin on this list, because in my book, his current world title is less than legitimate, given that he earned it only after the WBA vacated the title by naming Wladimir Klitschko "Super" world champion.
Since beating Ruslan Chagaev for the "vacant" belt, Povetkin has beaten 42-year-old Cedric Boswell and most recently won a majority decision over cruiserweight champion Marco Huck.
A win over the 6'7", 250 pound, 29-year-old Dimitrenko wouldn't exactly make people stop thinking that he ducked his way to the "world championship." But it would be a meaningful fight for both men, one that the winner would walk away from with elevated stature.
Erislandry Lara, Junior Middleweight
Erislandry Lara, 15(10)-1-1, is a Cuban defector and former amateur standout. Parts of his life read like an action-adventure movie. He eventually escaped to Mexico in a speed boat.
He has only been fighting professionally for less than four years, with 17 bouts, but he's more than demonstrated that he's ready to fight the best in the world at 154 pounds. A year ago, he drew with Carlos Molina.
Last July, he dropped a majority decision to Paul Williams, a former world champion. You would have a hard time finding anybody aside from Williams' camp and the three judges who didn't think Lara deserved the win.
The biggest obstacle standing in Lara's way is that he's dangerous but not very well-connected in the fight game. He meets Ronald Hearns later this month, a fight he should win going away.
If he keeps winning, it's only a matter of time before he gets a title shot.
Lucas Martin Matthysse, Light Welterweight
In my opinion, Argentinean Lucas Matthysse, 30(28)-2, just might be the most deserving name on this list. He was scheduled to get a shot at the vacant WBC light welterweight belt on the Mayweather-Ortiz card but had to withdraw at the last moment.
Matthysse has an 85 percent KO ratio, and his only two career losses have come by contested split decisions against former world champions.
In November 2010, he dropped a razor-close fight to Zab Judah: 114-113 twice for Judah and once for Matthysse. His split-decision loss to Devon Alexander last June in Alexander's native St. Louis was one of the most criticized decisions in recent years.
Matthysse is due to fight Humberto Soto in June, another former world champion. Sooner, rather than later, he will finally get his shot at championship gold.
BJ Flores, Cruiserweight
At 33 and with a career that is nearly nine years old now, BJ Flores, 27(17)-1-1, stretches the definition of "rising star." And while his record is impressive, much of it built on less-than-stellar competition.
The biggest name on his resume is his only loss, former light heavyweight champion Danny Green from Australia, who beat him by unanimous decision in 2010.
Still, Flores has held a number of lower-tier belts. He has an exciting style and a pretty good fanbase, especially for a cruiserweight.
He's overdue for a shot at somebody's belt.
Karo Murat, Light Heavyweight
Karo Murat, 24(14)-1-1, has held several European and Inter-Continental titles but has yet to get a shot at a world championship belt. He has the kind of resume that should put him in any conversation of worthy title challengers.
Murat's only career loss was by TKO to Nate Cleverly in a WBO title eliminator in 2010. His last fight prior to that was a fairly one-sided unanimous decision against Tommy Karpency, who just challenged Cleverly for his belt last February.
Murat's last fight was a draw against Gabriel Campillo in October 2011. Campillo followed that up by dropping a split decision to IBF champion Tavoris Cloud, but I'll go to my grave believing Campillo won that fight. It was a judging decision I would rate as at least as big of a travesty as the previously mentioned Matthysse-Alexander stinker.
So Murat has clearly put together a track record that merits a title shot. Unless he gets upset, he should get one soon.
Kell Brook, Welterweight
Kell Brook, 27(18)-0, was a boxing prodigy in his youth, developed by trainer Brendan Ingle, the same man who guided Nasseem Hamed to world championship status. By the time he turned pro at 18, he had already garnered numerous amateur championships.
Brook has been regarded as a future star his entire career. British boxing writers voted him "Prospect of the Year" in 2009 and The Ring profiled him in their "New Faces" column last November.
In The Ring, he spoke frankly about the struggles he had early on to develop his mental maturity to the point where it matched his prodigious physical talents. Like many young athletes, the allure of night life has been a distraction for Brooks at times, leading to some minor scrapes with the law and a court-imposed curfew.
Brook and his current trainer, Dominic Ingle, both insist those troubles are behind him now. "He's definitely back to the straight and narrow," Ingle told The Ring.
A focused Brook should be a major player in the always-competitive welterweight division for the next few years, at least.
Since 2010, he has looked very tough against solid gatekeepers like Mathew Hatton (UD) and Philip Kotey (TKO 2) as well as former world title challengers Rafal Jackiewicz (TKO 6) and Lovemore N'Dou (UD).
Vanes Martirosyan, Junior Middleweight
Undefeated Vanes Martirosyan, 32(20)-0, is a former Olympian, trained now by the legendary Freddie Roach. He is already ranked No. 3 by The Ring in the super-competitive junior middleweight division.
Martirosyan has shown a great ability so far to adapt to the professional game. He has maintained his technical game while showing good power.
While he has yet to fight a really highly regarded opponent, with his elite amateur status and his current home at the famous Wild Card Gym, he really couldn't be in a better position to progress to world championship status.
He is promoted by Bob Arum and Top Rank, so the opportunities will come to his way, sooner rather than later.