The Top Boxing Prospects from the 2014 Commonwealth Games
The Commonwealth Games don't make a huge splash on the international boxing scene, but in recent years they have been part of the learning process for several world champions.
When Daniel Geale and Darren Barker contested the IBF middleweight title last year, few commentators noted that this was a clash between two Commonwealth gold medallists from 2002, the duo having triumphed at light welterweight and welterweight, respectively.
At the same games, the future world light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal took gold for Canada in the light middleweight division.
Four years later, another Canadian light heavyweight champ to be, current WBC king Adonis Stevenson, took silver, losing to Jarrod Fletcher in the middleweight final. Fletcher, the present-day Australian contender, had beaten James DeGale in the semis.
It is too early for the Class of 2010 to have made its mark in the pros, but Callum Smith stands out as being the most hyped of that group for now.
With the exception of DeGale, none of the mentioned boxers won medals at either the Olympics or World Championships, proving the Commonwealth Games can showcase future champions who otherwise slip through the cracks.
The 2014 games in Glasgow, Scotland, were a triumph for the traditional home nations—England topped the table with five gold medals and two more, Northern Ireland won two golds from an incredible total of nine, with hosts Scotland winning a respectable four medals including two golds.
Given that this was the first games to be contested under the new amateur boxing rules, which more closely resemble the professional code (the most conspicuous change being the removal of headgear), it might be expected that the bouts will provide a better guide to the potential of the competitors than before.
Here are the top boxing prospects from Glasgow 2014.
6. Efe Ajagba
Weight class: Super heavyweight
Efe Ajagba is the most speculative inclusion on this list, and the only top prospect not to claim gold in Glasgow. He was eliminated in the semi-final stage by Australian big man Joseph Goodall, who himself was bested by Joe Joyce.
However, Joyce was stopped in Round 1 twice in major competitions last year—the European Championships in Belarus and the World Championships in Azerbaijan, and not even against the best opposition.
Although the English winner looked to have come on well since then, the questions about his punch resistance will continue to be asked.
Furthermore, Joyce is nearly 29, and at these games he was to some extent a man competing against boys, like previous super heavyweight winner Audley Harrison, who never quite cut it in the pros.
The silver medallist, Goodall, 22, looked a little small for the professional heavyweight ranks, which leaves the 6'5" Ajagba as the standout pick.
Historically, the best African boxers come to the Commonwealth Games, show promise and then largely disappear, but if there is one division where an overseas promoter might take a chance, it's the heavyweights.
Ajagba displayed good skills and notable power in Glasgow, and at 20 years old he is very young for a heavyweight. With proper development he could easily pack another 20 pounds onto his sizeable frame, which would make him a formidable test for pretty much anyone.
5. Scott Fitzgerald
Weight class: Welterweight
Success as a professional, especially in monetary terms, can hinge on more than just boxing ability. Resembling a clean-cut version of Arturo Gatti—and with his literary name—Scott Fitzgerald has star potential.
Fitzgerald did not enter Glasgow as a particularly highly rated talent but seemed to rise to the occasion after a tough scrap with New Zealand's Bowyn Morgan in the quarter-final.
In his final against Mandeep Jangra of India, the Englishman twice decked the eventual silver medallist and forced a standing count to boot, making his win perhaps the most emphatic of the championships.
Over recent years the Welshman Fred Evans, who was refused a place in Glasgow because of a criminal conviction, has dominated the British amateur welterweight scene, winning silver at London 2012.
With Evans sidelined, Fitzgerald took advantage of a wide-open field to power his way to gold.
Already Fitzgerald has received a huge reception in his hometown of Preston, and the suggestion that he might have a large potential fanbase is likely to attract offers from promoters.
Fitzgerald may not be quite as polished a prospect as some of the other gold medallists, but with his ability to find a way to win and pick the big shots as he did against Jangra, he has a bright future as an entertaining performer.
4. Josh Taylor
Weight class: Light welterweight
Josh Taylor was the top performer for his native Scotland at the games, winning every round on his way to gold in the light-welterweight division, four years after taking silver at Delhi 2010 as a lightweight.
At that time, Taylor was somewhat overshadowed in the British team by Tom Stalker, the 2012 Olympic captain, but with Stalker turning pro last year, Taylor has now stepped out into the limelight.
Taylor has the stated goal of winning a medal at the next Olympics, Rio 2016, but could yet decide to go professional on the back of this win and the attendant publicity.
Scottish pro boxing is in the doldrums right now with former world champion Ricky Burns' career seemingly on the downside.
Taylor would have benefited from being on Burns' undercards to build exposure, but now that Scottish boxing is likely to experience a two- to three-year wait for another big show, there is less incentive to rush his decision.
If Taylor stays at light welterweight going forward and, at 5'7", he probably should, he could well compete against Stalker again down the line, as well as Olympic gold medallist Luke Campbell, who is currently at lightweight.
With his classy skills, the Scot could certainly succeed as a pro, but to reach the real heights, he will likely need to conquer a domestic scene that is bubbling up nicely.
3. Paddy Barnes
Country: Northern Ireland
Weight class: Light flyweight
Paddy Barnes captained the Northern Ireland team, which garnered an almost unbelievable nine medals in Glasgow.
In doing so, he became the first man from his country to retain a Commonwealth gold, having won in the same class in Delhi.
That achievement is slightly less impressive than it sounds because few gold medallists hang around in the amateurs long enough to launch a defence of the Commonwealth crown.
Barnes already has two Olympic bronze medals (2008 and 2012) in the bag and won gold at the European amateurs at Moscow 2010.
With Carl Frampton drawing big crowds in Belfast with Barry McGuigan's Cyclone Promotions, it would make a lot of sense for Barnes to go pro and operate in his slipstream, the opposite scenario to Taylor and the decline of Burns.
But Barnes has stayed amateur so long that it would be no surprise to see him lining up in Rio, even though that would make him 29 before turning over, an advanced age, especially at the smaller classes.
The light flyweight division is not very lucrative in general, but there is one big-money fight for Barnes—a rematch with Chinese sensation Zou Shiming, with whom he drew in the 2012 Olympic final before being eliminated on the controversial countback rule.
2. David Nyika
Country: New Zealand
Weight class: Light heavyweight
In terms of performances, perhaps David Nyika would not be ranked so highly, but you have to take into account his age, just 18 when he topped the podium, although he has since turned 19.
The decision to award Nyika gold over the popular underdog Kennedy St. Pierre of Mauritius was booed, but the crowd in the stands didn't have a good enough view to realise that most of St. Pierre's crude attacks were failing to land.
St. Pierre has stopped his previous two opponents in the tournament, but the 6'3" Nyika, who had four inches of height on the Mauritius man, showed good head movement and athleticism to avoid getting caught by any truly damaging shots as he took a 3-0 points win.
Nyika was the youngest gold medallist at the games and the first New Zealander to win Commonwealth boxing gold since 1990.
Having started boxing only five years ago, the 19-year-old has made rapid progress, and if he can keep improving so impressively, the sky is the limit.
Boxing in Australia and New Zealand is at a high at the moment with the likes of Geale, Fletcher and Sam Soliman competing at the top level, followed by good prospects such as Robert Berridge and Joseph Parker.
Even so, a talent like Nyika would likely benefit from moving to Europe or the U.S. to continue his education, as those boxing hotbeds would expose him to high levels of technical skills, which would add to his natural athleticism.
1. Antony Fowler
Weight class: Middleweight
With the exception of Barnes in the less competitive light flyweight division, Antony Fowler was the only boxer listed here to enter Glasgow with a major medal in his collection—he took bronze at the 2013 World Championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
As such, Fowler was a clear favourite to scoop middleweight gold, which, like Taylor, he did without dropping a round across five gruelling fights in just eight days.
Perhaps his best performance came in the semi-final when he defused the threat of the big-punching Namibian star Benny Muziyo, who had blitzed his way through the tournament up until then.
Given his youth and proven pedigree in global competition, Fowler is probably the best pick for a Rio 2016 winner, provided he is not lured into the professional ranks before then.
The pro British middleweight scene is packed with young talent, headed by the European champion Billy Joe Saunders (26), with John Ryder (26), Nick Blackwell (23) and Chris Eubank Jr. (24) also in the mix.
At 23, Fowler is old enough to challenge those guys, and coming from Liverpool, such a hot fighting city at the moment, there could be good money for him in some of those matchups.
Fowler has a style that should be well-suited to the pro game, and he is well on the way to eclipsing his famous cousin, Robbie Fowler, the former Liverpool FC goal machine.
Whether he goes for gold in Rio or the lure of gold in the pros, Fowler is certainly one to watch in the coming years.
Stats from Glasgow 2014's official website.