Predicting the Next Wave of Breakout Boxing Stars

Kevin McRaeFeatured ColumnistSeptember 18, 2013

Predicting the Next Wave of Breakout Boxing Stars

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    News flash, Floyd Mayweather is eventually going to retire.

    When he does, there will be a gaping hole in boxing's penthouse, and there will be tons of guys looking to step in and fill that void. 

    There will be many pretenders, many usurpers to the throne and possibly even a few guys who have a shot. Now that's not to say that they'll have the same type of crossover success that Mayweather has enjoyed in his career. 

    He's the type of personality—and draw—that comes along once in a lifetime. But boxing will move forward. It always does, and these fighters have the best chance of emerging as the sport's next breakout stars.

Canelo Alvarez

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    OK, I know what you're thinking. Even in defeat on Saturday night, Canelo Alvarez has already proved to be a star.

    That's true, but he warrants inclusion for the simple fact that he is still just 23 years old and has years of fighting ahead of him. Think about that for a second. We're talking about a fighter here who, despite his experience, hasn't even reached his physical peak yet. 

    That's a scary proposition for anyone thinking of getting into the ring with him in the near future. Especially if he learns from his many mistakes against Mayweather. 

    Canelo has immediately stepped into one of the toughest, but also most rewarding, positions in the sport—he's the big star from the fighting-crazed nation of Mexico. That's a tremendous amount of pressure, but he seems to relish the attention and is very comfortable with his rockstar status.

    Boxing always seems to do well when you have a world-class Mexican champion at—or near—the top of the sport, and Alvarez is certainly that.

Danny Garcia

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    It's not often that a defending champion enters the ring as a huge underdog, but that's exactly the situation Danny Garcia faced this past Saturday night.

    Lucas Matthysse was just too tough, too powerful and too imposing for Garcia to possibly emerge from the ring with his unified junior welterweight title intact. 

    So much for that logic. 

    Garcia not only won the fight, but he did so by going into Matthysse's wheelhouse and refusing to back down. It was an extremely impressive performance, and it bodes well for his future as a fighter and an attraction. 

    "Swift" is now the undisputed top dog at 140 pounds, and he'll enter the Mayweather conversation before long. That could do wonders for his career, even if he'd be a massive underdog again if that fight were to come off.

Adrien Broner

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    Love him or hate him, Adrien Broner has already accomplished a lot in the sport of boxing, and he's just 24 years old.

    "The Problem" from Cincinnati is undefeated in 27 professional fights and has already captured world championships at super featherweight, lightweight and welterweight. That's a pretty impressive haul.

    Now it's true that there are many knowledgable observers of the sweet science who aren't yet sold on Broner. His mouth often outpaces his actual performance in the ring, and he acts a little too much like Mayweather for a fighter who is nowhere near that level. 

    Broner was fortunate to earn a—harder than expected—split-decision win over Paulie Malignaggi in his last bout, and even his idol Mayweather chimed in and said he had a lot to learn after the fight.

    But he's still young, and he is learning. It's unfair to expect a young fighter to immediately know how to handle all that's been thrown his way, but in fairness, he does bring a lot of it on himself. 

    His talent is undeniable, and he is highly marketable. Remember, marketable isn't the same thing as likable. There is room in this sport for a villain, and Broner is certainly making a play to fill that spot. He'll get a chance to prove his mettle later this year when he is expected to defend his welterweight title against the rugged Marcos Maidana.

Keith Thurman

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    There was a point when Keith Thurman was one of boxing's better kept secrets. But after knocking out fellow undefeated prospect Diego Chaves this past July, that is no longer the case. 

    Thurman is the definition of a power puncher. He likes his fights as short as possible and has knocked out 19 of the 21 men he's faced, and 15 of those have come in the first three rounds. 

    It's a good thing he doesn't get paid by the minute, or he'd need to find a new occupation.

    The 24-year-old has thunder in his punches, but he proved against Chavez that he can also box a bit. It's not often that Thurman finds himself in there with a fighter who is able to withstand his attack, but he showed the ability to adapt and break down an opponent.

    With the win, he captured the relatively meaningless interim WBA welterweight title. It's largely a trinket for him, but it's something that will assure him of a meaningful fight sooner rather than later.

    And when he gets it, watch out.

Leo Santa Cruz

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    What's not to love about Leo Santa Cruz? 

    He's young, aggressive and has the type of fighting style that—if marketed properly—could help bring boxing back to the masses.

    This guy is a dynamo in the ring. Once the bell rings, he starts throwing punches from every possible angle, and he doesn't stop until his opponent goes down, quits or both. 

    Santa Cruz recently captured a second world championship, in as many weight divisions, by absolutely destroying Victor Terrazas and leaving him with an eye that swelled to the size of a baseball.

    It was an extremely impressive beatdown of a world-class champion, but what can we say? That's just how Santa Cruz rolls.

    If only Abner Mares hadn't been stunningly knocked out by Jhonny Gonzalez. That could've been a barnburner of a fight. But that leaves this inevitable question: Gonzalez vs. Santa Cruz, anyone?

Mikey Garcia

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    Mikey Garcia heralded his arrival to the upper echelons of boxing with a stunningly lopsided technical decision victory over Orlando Salido in January. He dropped the rugged Mexican twice in the opening frame, and once in the third and fourth rounds, to capture the WBO featherweight championship.

    He would lose the title—on the scales—before his next fight, an equally lopsided knockout of former champion Juan Manuel Lopez. 

    Garcia is a pretty low-key guy. He's not flashy outside the ring, but once he gets inside, he becomes an animal. 

    What make him so dangerous is not just his power, but how precise he is about using it. He throws every punch with bad intentions, and he lands it exactly where it was intended. 

    Garcia will be 26 before the year is out, but he's just now coming into his own.

Omar Figueroa

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    Omar Figueroa stands at the top of Golden Boy Promotions stable of young, talented fighters. He's a true fighter and seems to enjoy every second of every round he's in the ring.

    The 23-year-old has the type of all-action, little defense style that will put him in compelling matchups going forward. He has a ton of power—17 knockouts in 22 victories—but he's more than capable of winning a boxing match. 

    Granted, that'd be a huge disappointment to him, but sometimes it's necessary. 

    Part of what makes him such a compelling fighter in the near future is his willingness to basically eat whatever his opponent throws his way in order to land his own punches. For further proof, see his most recent fight with Nihito Arakawa. 

    That one was 12 rounds of pure brutality, and if his opponent had any sort of punching power, Figueroa could've found himself in some trouble. 

    It'll be interesting to see how he adapts as his competition level rises, but right now he's must-see TV.

     

Edwin Rodriguez

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    People slept on Edwin Rodriguez for a long time, while all he was doing was putting other fighters to sleep in the ring.

    "La Bomba" is just now emerging to the mainstream and, largely due to Andre Ward's dominance, has only recently become a known factor in the 168-pound title picture.

    Rodriguez absolutely blew the doors off the usually durable Denis Grachev in his last bout, winning by brutal first-round stoppage. It was the type of performance that announces your arrival, and already it appears to be paying dividends for his career.

    Ward is clearly, and rightfully, the recognized champion at 168 pounds. That's the type of respect you earn when you clear your entire neighborhood and leave yourself with few legitimate challengers. 

    Suddenly, there is tremendous interest in matching a returning Ward—he's been on the shelf since last September with an injured shoulder—with Rodriguez before the year is out.

    Ward says he's already signed his end of the contract for a November bout, but Rodriguez and his camp remain skeptical. It might be too soon, but it's the type of fight that can get you noticed, even if you lose.

Austin Trout

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    Austin Trout has made a name for himself in his past two fights. Not bad for a fighter who had a hard time securing meaningful bouts, even when he held a share of the 154-pound world title. 

    Trout captured the WBA junior middleweight title in 2011, but he had to travel to Mexico to do it. He defeated Rigoberto Alvarez—Canelo's older brother—but still found it difficult attracting big fights and fighters.

    We learned why when he faced Miguel Cotto at Madison Square Garden last December. Trout was widely expected to become the latest man to fall before Cotto in his adoptive hometown—he was undefeated there prior to this bout—and in the process cede his title to the better known fighter.

    But Trout dominated Cotto—winning a wide unanimous decision—and setting up another high-profile bout with fellow champion Canelo Alvarez.

    Trout came up just short that night, in a fight that was widely considered closer than the official scorecards, but he still has the style to give anyone at junior middleweight fits. The division is currently one of the deepest in boxing, and there are plenty of intriguing matches available.

Carl Frampton

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    This one is a nod to our friends across the pond.

    Carl Frampton is young, undefeated and has a personality built for boxing stardom.

    He currently holds the European Boxing Union super bantamweight title, but he's in line to receive a world championship shot in the not-too-distant future. 

    Don't put it past him to cash it in either. 

    Frampton is extremely talented, and while it's true he will soon need to step up his opposition, he seems ready to take that next step. His biggest win to date—over Kiko Martinez—suddenly looks a whole lot better, given that Martinez captured the IBF super bantamweight title in his last bout.

    If everything goes as expected, Frampton could well find himself challenging Martinez for that title in the near future.