10 Fighters with Impressive Records Who Have Yet to Be Tested
Aside from blue-chip pitching prospects like Stephen Strasburg, nothing in sports gets protected more carefully than an undefeated boxing record. Unlike team sports with leagues or the UFC, which sets the fights for the vast majority of high-level MMA fighters, in boxing each match is a separately negotiated business deal.
Boxers, or, more often, their handlers and promoters, pick their opponents. A talented prospect with smart boxing people behind him can spend years racking up almost-sure-thing wins. Meanwhile the zero in the L column accrues value like a savings bond, with the interest rates largely determined by how impressively those victories get collected.
Eventually, of course, the magical zero has to be risked in a legitimate way. But a fighter's handlers usually aren't going to cash the chip in short of some kind of title fight or eliminator.
It creates a strange dynamic in the sport, where fans often have to wait far too long to see a promising talent in a truly competitive matchup.
For example, probably the top up-and-comer in my area of central New York is Ryan McKenzie of Verona, N.Y., a 12-0 light heavyweight with 11 stoppages. I've seen him fight four times in the past year or so, and only once against anybody who could remotely be considered a fellow prospect, 7-2 Eric Watkins. His other three opponents had a combined record of 16-32-3.
This kind of handling is standard, and given the brutal realities of the sport, it is largely justifiable. If a guy is going to make a living entertaining us by getting punched in the face, we shouldn't begrudge him shrewd handlers.
I want to address ahead of time a few undefeated fighters who I suspect might show up in the comments section: Javier Fortuna, Leon Santa Cruz, George Groves and Thomas Oosthuizen will all surely be tested more seriously in the future, but for the level they are at in their careers right now, they have all faced legitimate talent.
Canelo Alvaez, as well, is not on this list. I would agree with anybody that his resume does not support the kind of hype he receives from his massive fanbase. But, for a 22-year-old fighter, he has compiled a very impressive resume.
You could argue that WBA middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin has not been tested, but I consider that more of a testament to what a rare talent he is and the fact that not a lot of people are lining up to fight him. He has fought top-10-rated opponents and former world title contenders.
Milan Melindo: 28-0, 11 KOs, Flyweight
Milan Melindo is a talented 24-year-old flyweight from the Philippines with a 28-0 record and 11 KOs. While he seems to lack the power necessary to become a true star in the lower weight classes, there is no doubt that he appears to be in the early stages of a nice career.
He has already worked his way into a lot of top-10 rankings at 112, and now it's time for him to challenge one of the dangerous fighters ranked above him.
The most experienced fighter Melindo has fought so far has been Muhammad Rachman, who was 62-6-5 when they clashed in 2009. You have to give credit to a young fighter taking on a veteran with over 70 fights just weeks after he turned 21, but it probably didn't take the Amazing Kreskin to predict that the 37-year-old Rachman wasn't going to have the reflexes to handle Melindo's speed.
Melindo's last time out he earned a majority decision victory over 19-4-1 Jean Piero Perez. He has never faced another undefeated prospect.
Alexander Bakhtin: 30-0, 11 KOs, Junior Featherweight
Russian junior featherweight Alexander Bakhtin has fought nobody I've ever heard of, but that says more about my lack of familiarity with the Eastern European boxing scene than it does about the level of talent he has been up against.
Still, he's never fought another undefeated Eastern European star. He's had a handful of opponents with only one to three losses, but more often he's fought much less experienced fighters with records of 11-4 or 6-3, or else well-traveled trial horses with records of 33-20.
At 31, with this kind of record, he's overdue to take on somebody ranked at least somewhere near the top 10, even if it means going on the road for a chance to do it.
Still, the fact that Bakhtin remains relatively unknown in the U.S. is not really his fault. There can't be a lot of promoters lining up to bring in a 122-pound fighter with only 11 stoppages. At the same time, promoters are going to be wary about bringing him in as an opponent for their own guy.
Bakhtin is a skilled boxer. He works the jab almost like a mini Wladimir Klitschko, but at a faster, junior featherweight speed, turning it over at the end and making it almost like a hook at times. He has very slick in-and-out movement and controls distance well.
I doubt he'd be an easy night for many fighters at 122. It would be interesting to see him matched against anybody ranked at or near the top 10.
Gary Russell Jr.: 21-0, 13 KOs, Featherweight
Undefeated featherweight Gary Russell Jr. has the sheen of a superstar in the making, and the dangerous southpaw could very well be the sport's breakout star in 2013. But at this point, the 24-year-old has yet to test himself against an opponent worthy of his immense natural gifts.
This is pretty much a case of a young fighter who is simply too talented for the traditional prospect curve. Russell only started scheduling 10-rounders at the very end of 2011. Since November of that year, he's had three and they have lasted seven rounds total.
In 2012, he fought 23-2 Christopher Perez and 20-2 Roberto Castaneda. Those are a couple of respectable opponents, prospects who are maybe transitioning to gatekeeper status, and they were expected to possibly give Russell some problems.
They didn't. Neither one made it out of the third round.
The only way for Russell to be properly tested is to have him fight a top-10 featherweight. He already has the kind of star power to make that fight happen on the best possible terms for him, so expect to see it in 2013.
Denis Shafikov: 31-0-1, 17 KOs, Junior Welterweight
I believe 27-year-old Russian junior welterweight Denis Shafikov has the potential to become a star fighter in the U.S. market, in the same way Gennady Golovkin seems set to do. He lacks the larger GGG's monster power, but he is a relentless pressure fighter with an exciting, brawling style.
The 140-pound weight class is loaded with talent, so if Shafikov could build a larger international reputation, the fights should be there for him. I think he would make an exciting matchup with Lucas Matthysse.
Kell Brook: 29-0, 19 KOs, Welterweight
Undefeated British welterweight Kell Brook is another fighter on this list who could end up taking the next step on the road to stardom during 2013. But that next step will have to include stepping up his competition and fighting somebody with the potential tool kit to stand up to his explosive style and athleticism.
Brook is coming off an IBF title eliminator win over Hector David Saldivia, who was 41-2 coming into the fight. It's a big victory in his career, but it's hard to view Saldivia as any sort of worldbeater. He's a fringe contender who has been stopped quickly in all three of his losses now, and his 41 wins have been racked up against journeymen and trial horses.
Brook looks like he could be one of the most exciting players in the always exciting welterweight division. Expect him to emerge as that kind of fighter in 2013. He was set to challenge Devon Alexander later this month for the IBF belt, until Alexander injured his arm.
When and if this fight ends up happening, expect it to be much more exciting than Alexander's title win over Randall Bailey last November.
Leonard Bundu: 28-0-2, 9 KOs, Welterweight
Italian welterweight Leonard Bundu has actually fought some very good European prospects. But a fighter at his age, 38, and with his record should have fought some bigger names by now in the U.S. or England.
Bundu turned pro late, already past 30, after an extensive amateur career. I doubt he has the kind of power to be a serious threat at the top of the pro game, but I can foresee his career playing out in a predictable manner.
Expect him to keep out-boxing less experienced prospects until he finally manages to maneuver his way to some sort of world title shot.
Damian Jonak: 35-0-1, 21 KOs, Middleweight
Polish middleweight Damian Jonak fights often, though not always against very high-level competition. Just last year, as he surged past the 30-0 mark, his opponents included a fighter with a record of 7-6.
Jonak nearly always fights in Poland, though. He has an all-action, pressure style and no doubt sells tickets at home.
At 29 years old, the time would seem to be ripe for a step up in competition, and perhaps a trip abroad. The middleweight division is always among the most competitive in the sport, and there is no shortage of big fights waiting for a charismatic fighter like Jonak.
Pawel Kolodziej: 30-0, 17 KOs, Cruiserweight
Maybe it's not entirely accurate to say that 32-year-old Polish cruiserweight Pawel Kolodziej has yet to be tested. Back in 2008 and 2009, he fought a pretty tough three-fight string against 18-1 Jozsef Nagy, 18-2 Laszlo Hubert and 29-1-1 Roman Kracik.
So, maybe it's more accurate to say that he is overdue to be tested again. Since beating Kracik, he has spent the last three-plus years marking his time against opponents who have conclusively demonstrated that they are beatable.
Kolodziej isn't getting any younger and should try to finally challenge for a world title in 2013.
Francesco Pianeta: 28-0-1, 15 KOs, Heavyweight
Francesco Pianeta looks to me like a future Klitschko opponent. The undefeated heavyweight is an Italian who grew up in Germany. If Wlad were to fight him this summer, fans in America would shrug and ask "who?" but the promoters will have no problem selling out the joint again in Hamburg.
Last year, Pianeta beat Oliver McCall and Frans Botha, which would have been reasonably impressive if he had done it before the turn of the last century. His other most notable opponent was Albert Sosnowski, with whom he drew in 2009.
Andrzej Wawrzyk: 26-0, 13 KOs, Heavyweight
Polish heavyweight Andrzej Wawrzyk is another developing contender for the Klitschko brothers sweepstakes. The Polish people love prize fighting, and now that Tomasz Adamek is on the way down, they will be hungry for a new hero to arise.
The 25-year-old Wawrzyk would seem to fill the niche. He's a big, legitimate-sized heavyweight who moves well.
Whether or not Wawrzyk is likely to fight another top heavyweight contender anytime soon is a different matter. In boxing-mad Poland, he could easily keep padding his record in front of sold-out crowds while waiting for just the right payday to come along.