10 Boxers Who Are 1 Flaw Away from Being Elite

Kevin McRae@@McRaeWritesFeatured ColumnistFebruary 3, 2014

10 Boxers Who Are 1 Flaw Away from Being Elite

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    Amir Khan has an elite skill-set, but he has one huge flaw.
    Amir Khan has an elite skill-set, but he has one huge flaw.Scott Heavey/Getty Images

    In boxing, there are many fighters who are very good.

    There are some more who are excellent, and still fewer who you can classify as truly elite.

    Floyd Mayweather is elite. Andre Ward is elite. Manny Pacquiao was, and his legions of fans hope still is, elite.

    But then, there are other fighters who never crack the conversation of the very best. They have one gaping flaw in their game that prevents them to ascending to such a lofty status. 

    Here we present 10 such fighters.

    All of them are good, some are even better than that, but all are one flaw away from being elite. 

Amir Khan

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    Amir Khan suffers from a lack of whiskers.
    Amir Khan suffers from a lack of whiskers.Eric Jamison/Associated Press

    Amir Khan has amazing hand speed, great boxing instincts and the confidence to make him one of the sport's top pound-for-pound fighters. And that's what he once looked like, until we found out that he has one serious and devastating flaw.

    Unfortunately for the 27-year-old Brit, you can't teach chin, and this has been his undoing on more than one occasion in big fights. 

    Way back in 2008, when Khan was still a rising prospect, Breidis Prescott knocked him out in the opening round. The result, while shocking, didn't derail Khan's career.

    He reeled off six straight victories, beating a slew of good fighters—including Marco Antonio Barrera, Paulie Malignaggi, Marcos Maidana and Zab Judah—before losing, under highly specious circumstances, to Lamont Peterson to close out 2011. 

    Peterson, who later tested positive for synthetic testosterone, scored a close decision after a pair of puzzling point deductions against Khan for pushing. Without them, Khan would've been awarded a unanimous decision victory, rather than the split-decision loss he was saddled with. 

    Given the circumstances, most didn't hold the loss against Khan, and he remained a big star heading into a junior welterweight title showdown against Danny Garcia in the summer of 2012.

    Garcia, then a relatively unknown belt-holder, was expected to walk in, drop his title to the better-known fighter and then fade back into obscurity.

    Except it didn't happen that way. Garcia blasted Khan, once again reminding us of his fatal flaw, and recent links that have him potentially lined up to face Floyd Mayweather notwithstanding, he's struggled to regain any sort of credibility within the boxing community ever since. 

    In his most recent fight, against, the once but not currently relevant, Julio Diaz, he was once again dropped, and he had to squeak out a narrow decision.

    Once again, his chin reminding us of why he's not an elite fighter.

     

Lucian Bute

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    Bute simply lacks confidence.
    Bute simply lacks confidence.Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

    For a long while, Lucian Bute was one of those fighters who, those in the know, ranked among boxing's best-kept secrets.

    A southpaw, who could both box and punch, he reeled off 30 consecutive victories to start his career, capturing the IBF Super Middleweight Championship and successfully defending it nine times.

    But then he stepped up to face Carl Froch—who was in his first fight since dropping the finals of Showtime's Super Six Tournament to Andre Ward—and was blasted out of the ring, almost literally. Froch entered as a heavy underdog but attacked early, often and with ferocity to stop Bute in the fifth round.

    Bute's biggest flaw, especially since the Froch disaster, has been a lack of confidence and a tendency to freeze when his opponent attacks. 

    That was on vivid display in his comeback fight—a lackluster and uninspired decision win over Denis Grachev—and even more emphatically in his recent battle with fellow Montreal-transplant Jean Pascal.

    In the Pascal affair, in particular, Bute was extremely reluctant to let his hands go. He seemed very unsteady whenever Pascal attacked, and looked very uncomfortable during exchanges. 

    He looked, in truth, like a fighter who just didn't believe in his abilities and desperately wanted to avoid being hit. More than anything, that flaw—a crisis of confidence—has prevented him from rising to the ranks of the elite fighters in the sport.

Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.

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    It's all gone downhill for Chavez Jr.
    It's all gone downhill for Chavez Jr.Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    What to make of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.?

    He clearly has physical gifts, coupled with a championship pedigree, but he lacks the most important thing for a young fighter. 

    Chavez Jr. is simply not committed to boxing, and that has prevented him from shining through in his biggest fights. 

    After capturing the WBC Middleweight Championship, Chavez Jr. secured a fight in September of 2012 with the legitimate division kingpin Sergio Martinez. His lackluster, and often times outright dismissive, attitude toward training for the fight was well documented.

    Chavez Jr. reportedly trained, not in the gym, but in his living room, and it definitely showed on fight night. He was thoroughly embarrassed, and completely non-competitive for all but the final 90 seconds or so of the 12th round. 

    Almost pulling a rabbit from his hat, by knocking down and nearly stopping Martinez, notwithstanding, Chavez Jr. showed a lack of respect for the game, and he paid for it. Testing positive for marijuana use, and subsequently being suspended post-fight, certainly did no good for his image either.

    Given that disaster, and all the resulting criticism, you'd have thought that the 27-year-old would've done all in his power to right the ship and come back stronger, but you'd have been wrong.

    In his most recent bout, he received an absolutely ludicrous, borderline criminal, unanimous-decision victory over veteran Brian Vera. It's beyond comprehension how any competent judge could score the fight for Chavez Jr., and Gwen Adair's unfathomable 98-92 scorecard favoring him stands out for a special type of scorn.

    But, believe it or not, the real drama took place before the fight. Originally negotiated as a 162-pound catchweight fight, the Chavez Jr. camp had to re-negotiate to set the limit at 168 and finally, just days before the fight, paid Vera an undisclosed sum to fight at 173-pounds after their guy couldn't make weight.

    Now these things happen from time-to-time. It's not uncommon for a fighter to miss by a pound or so. It's not professional, but it happens.

    But, to think, that days before the fight, Chavez Jr. was that far above the contracted weight, shows his lack of professionalism and why his performance hasn't matched his talent.

Peter Quillin

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    "Kid Chocolate" is personable, and he's fun to watch, but there seems to be something missing.
    "Kid Chocolate" is personable, and he's fun to watch, but there seems to be something missing.Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    "Kid Chocolate" Peter Quillin is the young, undefeated WBO middleweight champion of the world, and he's one of the most exciting and personable fighters in the sport. But there just seems to be something missing from his game that will prevent him from reaching the upper echelons. 

    Quillin is a tremendous power puncher, but technically, as a boxer, he's got some flaws. He often overcommits to his punches, leaving himself open for return fire, and his defense is best described as shoddy at times.

    His last fight, against Gabriel Rosado, was far closer than the scorecards would indicate, and Quillin found himself on the receiving end of a fair bit of punishment. He's the type of fighter who needs to make his power decisive but could struggle against a strong boxer who can blunt his offense or outgun him.

    For evidence, just look at his WBO-title-winning victory over Hassan N'Dam at the Barclays Center in October of 2012.

    In the fight, Quillin knocked N'Dam down six times—twice each in the fourth, sixth and 12th rounds—but saw himself get largely outboxed for large segments of the fight. The fight was narrow on the scorecards, at least in terms of rounds, with N'Dam winning five on all three scorecards.

    Obviously, all that matters is the end result, and Quillin's power was the decisive factor that night, but when he runs into a boxer who is just a little slicker, or can handle his power better, he could be in some trouble.

Marcos Maidana

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    Marcos Maidana gets a lot from his skill set, but he has a big flaw.
    Marcos Maidana gets a lot from his skill set, but he has a big flaw.Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Absolutely no disrespect to Marcos Maidana, who just got the biggest win of his career against Adrien Broner, but he's always going to be a step or two behind the truly great fighters in the business. He just doesn't have the boxing ability to really compete against the Floyd Mayweathers or Timothy Bradleys of the world.

    You can call "El Chino" a one-trick-pony, and that's largely true. And, believe it or not, that's not a knock.

    Maidana is a tremendous action fighter. He comes forward, attacks with abandon and has no problem engaging with heavy artillery in order to land his punches. His style can be a little shocking, and a tad overwhelming, for many fighters, but a patient boxer can handle it.

    That's why, despite his big win and his overcoming-the-odds, workmanlike demeanor, Maidana would be tailor-made for Mayweather to pick-apart, should a speculated bout between the two come to fruition. 

    Against Devon Alexander, a slick boxer who is nowhere near Floyd's level, Maidana lost every round (scorers were 100-90, 100-90, 99-91) and saw his vaunted offense completely blunted. 

    Now, that's not to say that just anyone could do that to the rugged Argentine. It takes a slick boxer, who is totally committed and defensively aware. Mayweather certainly fits all of those criteria, and probably even defines them. 

    As fun as Maidana is to watch, the fact that he isn't elite will quickly become apparent, should that fight take place.

Yuriorkis Gamboa

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    No, he isn't kicking him, but Darleys Perez did knock Yuriorkis Gamboa down.
    No, he isn't kicking him, but Darleys Perez did knock Yuriorkis Gamboa down.Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    Yuriorkis Gamboa is one of the most exciting boxers in the sport today, but that's not always for reasons that you'd want or expect. The 32-year-old Cuban, who has won a world title at featherweight and interim belts at super featherweight and lightweight, has been inactive of late, forcing him out of most fans' minds. 

    That's about to change, as a long-rumored bout with current super featherweight champion Mikey Garcia seems close to becoming a reality, according to Bob Arum. That's a very intriguing bout, but one that could expose a deep flaw that has marred, but not yet derailed, Gamboa's impressive run since defecting from Cuba

    Gamboa is not the world's best defensive fighter, and particularly when he goes on the attack, he leaves himself open to be countered. He's been put on the mat plenty of times in his career, and has tasted the canvas in each of his last two fights against relatively lackluster opposition.

    No disrespect to Michael Farenas or Darleys Perez, but those aren't the type of fighters who should be able to floor an elite-level fighter.

    Gamboa is certainly talented, but unless he tightens up defensively, he's not going to be anything more than a very good, but not great fighter. And against Garcia, a patient, powerful counterpuncher, he could find himself in some real trouble if he exposes his chin too often. 

Adrien Broner

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    That's Adrien Broner's problem-face.
    That's Adrien Broner's problem-face.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Adrien "The Problem" Broner spent a lot of time building himself up as the heir-apparent to boxing's pound-for-pound king, Floyd Mayweather. He mimicked his talking, promotional and fighting style, but when it came to in-ring performance, he fell short.

    Broner, who with three world titles in as many weight divisions, is clearly talented, but he lacks the mental game to ever become a truly elite fighter.

    What sets Mayweather apart, aside from his physical gifts, is his ability to out-think his opponent. His preparations are legendary, and he seems to continue learning while in the ring. If something isn't working, he changes it and always remains a step or two ahead.

    Broner doesn't do that, and that was on full display in his epic meltdown against Marcos Maidana in December.

    "The Problem" seemed to walk into the ring with one plan, and even that was a bad one. Broner seemed content to sit back in the hopes that Maidana, who is known for his aggressive, attacking style, would punch himself out. 

    When that didn't happen, there was no fallback plan. By the time Maidana finally appeared to tire a bit, he had already sent Broner to the canvas twice and opened up an insurmountable lead on the scorecards.  

    It was overconfidence, combined with an inability to see things going wrong and adapt, that cost Broner the fight. And, given all his comments since, there doesn't seem to be any reason to believe that mentality will change in the near future.

    And until it does, Broner will remain a pretender.

Brandon Rios

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    Rios is just not fast enough to keep up with elite fighters.
    Rios is just not fast enough to keep up with elite fighters.Vincent Yu/Associated Press

    Brandon Rios is a tough customer. In many ways he's a throwback to the brawlers of yesteryear, and he's never been shy about eating more than a few hard punches in order to land a couple of his own. And that's fine, at least, against fighters of his own caliber.

    For all the excitement, and love of fighting he brings to the ring, Rios is unlikely to ever find himself in the conversation amongst boxing's elite fighters. He can punch, that's for sure, but he gets hit a ton in return and he doesn't have the type of speed necessary to really compete with the upper-level of fighters.

    That much was on full display against Manny Pacquiao in November. The Filipino icon shredded Rios, landing almost at will, and using his speed to dominate the game and overmatched challenger. 

    Having power on your punches is a tremendous asset for any fighter, but it doesn't matter how strong you are, or how hard you hit, if you can't get your punches to the target in time. And that was Rios' problem against Pacquiao, and it will likely rear its head again whenever he steps up his competition.

    Now, that's not to say he can't give us many exciting fights, he has and will continue to in all likelihood, but his ceiling has probably already been reached. Against the Mike Alvarado's of the world, and maybe even guys a notch up from that—like Ruslan Provodnikov—he can be competitive and provide excitement.

    There's nothing wrong with that, but his lack of speed, particularly on the defensive end, will continue to hamper his development.

Tyson Fury

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    Tyson Fury appears to be a little...chinny.
    Tyson Fury appears to be a little...chinny.Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

    Tyson Fury is the boldest, brashest heavyweight to come along since, well, fellow Brit David Haye a couple of years ago. Ironic then, that the two men engaged in such a public war of words over their on-again, off-again fight last year. 

    Fury, 25, is a big boy. At 6'9" and with a massive 85" reach, he is quite the physical specimen. He's already scored wins over a couple of solid, if unspectacular, fighters—Dereck Chisora and Steve Cunningham—but his overconfidence, coupled with a somewhat shaky chin, could be his undoing once the level of opposition rises.

    Against Cunningham, in an April 2013 fight, Fury's brash, disrespectful nature almost got the best of him. 

    Pushing his foe after the bell ending the first round, Fury was felled by a massive overhand right in the second. It was an epic knockdown, but Fury was able to rebound and stop Cunningham in the seventh. 

    That, however, doesn't make it less problematic. Cunningham is a solid fighter, yes, but he's a blown-up cruiserweight who has never been known as a big puncher. And that knockdown wasn't a cheapie, it was legitimate and a bigger puncher could've closed the show.

    Fury might just be one of those fighters who are too confident for their own good. And eventually, he might run into the wrong guy. And that guy might put him down and keep him there.

Victor Ortiz

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    Against Luis Collazo, Ortiz went down, and he didn't try to get up.
    Against Luis Collazo, Ortiz went down, and he didn't try to get up.Associated Press

    Oh that Victor Ortiz.

    You can say this for him, at least, there's never a dull moment. 

    The now 27-year-old former WBC welterweight champion has a tendency to bring drama, intrigue and more than his share of surprises every time he takes his show on the road, but we might just have seen the last of him. And that's not necessarily a good thing.

    Ortiz was dropped and stopped—emphatically—by fellow former champion Luis Collazo last Thursday night at the Barclays Center. It was Ortiz's third straight defeat—all inside the distance—and came against a fighter known for his boxing skill and not his punching power.

    Late in the second round, Collazo connected with a beautiful counter right hook that placed Ortiz on wobbly legs. Initially, it didn't see like he knew whether or not he wanted to go down, but he turned his back to his foe and eventually took a knee in the corner. 

    Making no effort whatsoever to rise to his feet, he was counted out.

    This isn't the first time that there's been a perception that Ortiz quit on a fight. Fairly or unfairly, depending on where you sit, he was accused of quitting—while ahead on the scorecards—against Marcos Maidana after getting knocked down in 2009, and again after suffering a broken jaw—also ahead on the cards—against Josesito Lopez in 2012.

    Ortiz is one of those fighters who rarely come along. His physical talents are clear, but his biggest flaw is his mental game. There are times when he just doesn't seem to want to do this, and that's fine. 

    Nobody can tell you how to live your life or what to do with it. But it was this lack of desire that led to his undoing and kept him a notch or two below the very best.