Ranking the 10 Best Late Bloomers in Boxing Today

Kevin McRae@@McRaeWritesFeatured ColumnistJuly 15, 2013

Ranking the 10 Best Late Bloomers in Boxing Today

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    Boxing is unique. 

    You can spend years toiling in obscurity, with nobody knowing who you are, land a perfect punch and make yourself an overnight superstar. It's the nature of the beast in a game that turns on a dime and where fortunes rise and fall as quick as it takes for a punch to land.

    The annals of boxing history are full of stories, and fighters, that play out this claim. It's rare in baseball or football for a player to suddenly become a star in their 30s or 40s. But in boxing, it happens all the time. A lot of that has to do with the difference between individual and team sports, but also with the sometimes random nature of a sport where the main goal is hitting a guy harder than he hits you.

    It's almost never too late to make your name in boxing. These 10 men play that out perfectly. They are the 10 best late bloomers in the sport today. All of these men have accomplished great things in their careers, but they've all taken the hard road.

     

10. Guillermo Jones

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    Guillermo Jones has been a professional for more than 20 years now, but he has only recently emphasized how dangerous he is as a fighter.

    Jones (39-3-2, 21 KO) won his first world championship, the WBA cruiserweight title, by defeating Firat Arslan in 2008. Remarkably for Jones, who had unsuccessfully challenged for a world title on three other occasions, his first title came when fighting 52 pounds above the weight where he started his career in 1993.

    He's managed to hold onto the title since, despite only fighting three times in five years and successfully defended it against Denis Lebedev in Russia earlier this year. It was a very impressive performance, and it resulted in the Russian challenger seeing his face brutally rearranged before succumbing, mercifully, in the 11th round.

     

9. Ishe Smith

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    Ishe Smith (25-5, 11 KO) came onto the scene in 2000 as a high-level prospect. He won his first 14 professional bouts before signing up to appear on the ESPN series The Contender.

    In his opening contest, Smith easily defeated fellow unbeaten prospect Ahmad Kaddour by unanimous decision. But he was beaten in his very next bout by Sergio Mora in a bout with widely divergent scorecards.

    After The Contender, Smith's career sputtered along the tracks with little direction. He was close to calling it quits before signing with Floyd Mayweather's The Money Team Promotions earlier this year.

    Mayweather was able to secure Smith what was most likely his last shot at gold, and the 34-year-old didn't let it slip away. He defeated Cornelius "K9" Bundrage, who ironically also made his name on The Contender, by majority decision to claim his first championship. 

    Smith was so overcome by emotion, after winning the IBF junior middleweight title, that he could barely even speak in the ring after the fight.

     

8. Peter Quillin

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    Peter "Kid Chocolate" Quillin toiled in relative obscurity, for the better part of eight years, before finally breaking out as a star in the middleweight division.

    Quillin (27-0, 21 KO) emerged last summer when he easily defeated former unified junior middleweight champion Ronald "Winky" Wright on Showtime. He dropped his opponent in the fifth and dominated him en route to a unanimous decision.

    That victory propelled Kid Chocolate to his first world-title challenge last October, for the WBO middleweight championship, against Hassan N'dam at the Barclays Center. 

    Quillin dropped his foe six times in pounding out a unanimous decision for his first world title. He returned to the ring earlier this year and impressively blew out the rugged Fernando Guerrero in seven rounds. He's established himself as a star, and he has the ability to make some serious noise in the middleweight division.

7. Guillermo Rigondeaux

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    If you appreciate the subtleties of boxing, such as defensive prowess and counterpunching, then Guillermo Rigondeaux is your man. The 32-year-old Cuban former amateur standout's defensive acumen has drawn favorable comparisons to Floyd Mayweather, and he put on a defensive clinic in his last bout.

    Rigondeaux (12-0, 8 KO) dominated Nonito Donaire with stunning ease. The Filipino, former pound-for-pound entrant, was never able to get anything going on offense with any consistency. Rigo was simply too quick, and his defense too strong, for Donaire to handle. 

    The result shocked many pundits who felt that, despite Rigo's impressive amateur career, he was reaching too high in facing Donaire with just 11 professional fights under his belt. So much for that logic.

    His style might not win him many fans, if that matters to him, but he is the definition of a late-blooming professional fighter. 

6. Adonis Stevenson

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    Adonis Stevenson turned pro, just days after his 29th birthday, in 2006. It's extremely rare for boxers to start that late and even more unusual for them to meet much success.

    But let's just say Adonis Stevenson shattered that mold—literally. 

    A protege of the late Emanuel Steward, many decided to give up on Stevenson (21-1, 18 KO) after he was knocked out by journeyman Darnell Boone in 2010. It was a bad, bad loss and raised serious questions about how far he could go.

    Stevenson responded well to the defeat by stringing together seven consecutive knockout victories, including avenging the loss to Boone, earning a shot at light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson.

    Just one minute into the opening round, Stevenson landed a missile left hand that nearly knocked "Bad" Chad out of Montreal. The fight was over, as quickly as it started, and Stevenson captured his first world championship at the age of 35 with just six years experience in the bank. 

5. Carl Froch

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    Don't get me wrong, Carl Froch was quite accomplished in his native England before he became a blip on the radar screen of American fight fans. He was the British and Commonwealth super middleweight champion before most people on this side of the pond had ever heard his name.

    "The Cobra" was 31 years old before he captured his first world championship, however, winning a unanimous decision over Jean Pascal in 2008. It was that same title that Froch would successfully defend, in spectacular fashion, by stopping Jermain Taylor five months later.

    Froch (31-2, 22 KO) dropped two fights in the Super Six tournament, to Andre Ward and Mikkel Kessler, but established himself as one of the better fighters in the sport in the process.

    He recently avenged his defeat against Kessler, unifying the WBA and IBF 168-pound titles, and hopes to get a chance to do the same against Ward.

4. Gennady Golovkin

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    Gennady Golovkin has gone from little-known middleweight belt holder to the most feared puncher in the sport in less than a year. And all it took was a string of spectacular, and devastating, knockouts. 

    Golovkin (27-0, 24 KO) is a frightful puncher. He is extremely methodical and precise, and when he lands clean, you can hear it a mile away. He's been anointed as the middleweight heir apparent, or even the king of the mountain depending on who you ask, despite only emerging as a star in his early 30s.

    GGG is a force of nature, and there are few fighters out there who seem enthusiastic about facing him in the near future. But there are big fights literally all around him with everyone from Sergio Martinez and Andre Ward to Canelo Alvarez as possible options.

    All he needs to do is keep winning, seemingly no problem, and the public will clamour for those matchups. 

     

3. Juan Manuel Marquez

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    Juan Manuel Marquez spent much of his career as your typical high-risk, low-reward type of opponent. He was mostly avoided by the bigger-named fighters—including fellow Mexican legends Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera—and worked off the radar for most of his career.

    Marquez didn't get a huge break, complete with big-time press exposure, until he faced Manny Pacquiao in 2004 when he was already 31 years old. And that fight nearly ended as fast as it began.

    Pacquiao dropped Marquez four times in the opening round. It looked as if Marquez would become nothing more than the latest victim of the Filipino buzz saw who, at that point, was becoming the dominant force in the sport.

    But Marquez rallied and won the majority of the remaining rounds to earn a draw. This fight was the opening salvo in a four-fight, and possibly counting, series that most recently saw Marquez score a spectacular knockout last December.

2. Sergio Martinez

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    Sergio Martinez didn't even fight in the United States until 2007 when he was 32 years old. Up to that point, he had spent his entire career bouncing between his native Argentina, Spain and England. 

    His first big fight on American soil came in 2009 on HBO against Kermit Cintron. In the fight, Martinez was absolutely robbed of victory on two occasions. He should've been awarded a seventh-round knockout—generally that's what happens when a punch lands and the referee reaches the count of 10—but for some absurd reason, referee Frank Cantore allowed Cintron to convince him the fight should continue.

    Martinez was then robbed of a clear decision win, and instead, settled for a draw. In his next big fight, he ran into trouble on the cards again when he lost a majority decision to Paul Williams in a fight many felt he won. 

    But all's well that ends well. "Maravilla" would go on to defeat Kelly Pavlik and capture the middleweight championship in his next fight. It was off to the races from there.

    He knocked out Williams in their rematch, and he has successfully defended his title six times. That's not bad for a guy whom nobody ever heard of until 2007. 

1. Bernard Hopkins

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    Bernard Hopkins is the ultimate late bloomer. In fact, he seems to just keep blooming and blooming and blooming. 

    At the tender age of 48, Hopkins has twice become the oldest man to win a world championship while frequently defeating men nearly half his age. He's an ageless wonder, and he shows absolutely no sign of slowing down. 

    The list of men he's beaten just since turning 40 is absolutely astounding. But people forget that it wasn't always this way for the man known as "B-Hop." A combination of a sometimes boring style and an ornery personality kept Hopkins from being a marketable attraction for much of his career.

    All that changed when he dominated and stopped Felix Trinidad to win Don King's middleweight championship tournament in 2001. At that point, Hopkins was only 36 and yet to emerge into his prime as a fighter. Since then, he's become known as a freak of nature who takes Father Time to school every time he steps into the ring.

    Regardless of whether or not you like him, Bernard Hopkins is the standard-bearer for late bloomers in boxing.