Boxing in the United States is not what it once was. Not even close. It is a bit of a shame, but as an American boxing fan in my 20s, I have to accept that I was born too late to see the time when any big fight was the biggest news in sports.
The NFL and NBA now take our top-level athletic talent, and offer a more secure career than prizefighting. Maybe 50 years ago LeBron James would have been heavyweight champ, but not in today's world.
The sport of boxing however, is not gone. It has just spread out. The heavyweight division is ruled by dominant Europeans, our pound-for-pound king hails from the Philippines, and we have respected champions from Japan to Mexico to the United Kingdom.
No, boxing is not dead; it just changed its address.
That said, there are still as many great boxers from the United States as anywhere else. Big fights still take place here most often, and people from the rest of the world still tune in like they always have.
I've created a list of five young American boxers who have a chance to achieve mainstream stardom as we move into the next decade. My only requirements were that a boxer be under 30, and have already achieved a high level of success—no fresh prospects.
In no particular order...
Hometown: Youngstown, Ohio
Record: 36-1-0 (32 KO)
The Rundown: I was actually surprised to be reminded that Pavlik is only 27. His career has had so many ups and downs it makes it seem like he has been around forever. The meteoric rise to the middleweight title was nearly forgotten after a loss to Bernard Hopkins and a staph infection that left him inactive for far too long. That said, he's still a great, action fighter and a young man. Expect a return to elite status soon.
First Step: A move up to challenge Lucian Bute has been tossed around, but what everyone wants to see first is a huge fight with the next man on our list...
Record: 38-1-0 (27 KO)
The Rundown: Williams is the oldest guy in the group, and has himself in a bit of a predicament when it comes to gaining the kind of fame he deserves. He is left-handed, relentless in the ring, and has a tall, awkward style that nobody wants to see. That said, he also probably has the most respect of the group among hardcore fight fans, and just needs to get that big-time fight to bring himself into the public eye.
First Step: If he wants to make that big step right away, nothing makes sense but going back to Pavlik to make that fight happen. A rematch of his thrilling win over Sergio Martinez should happen, but it can wait.
Hometown: Palm Springs, California
Record: 25-0-0 (11 KO)
The Rundown: A great, young fighter with the whole world ahead of him. "Desert Storm" has already won four title fights (would likely have been five if not for a head-butt that caused his matchup with Nate Campbell to be ruled a no contest) and has shown no signs of slowing down. He was masterful in his recent outing with previously undefeated Lamont Peterson.
First Step: If he has his way, stepping in for Manny Pacquiao and becoming the first man to knock off Floyd Mayweather Jr. Bradley has recently expressed strong desire to get in this fight, saying he will take any test that Floyd wants, from blood to the SAT.
Hometown: Oakland, California
Record: 21-0-0 (13 KO)
The Rundown: The only American to win an Olympic gold in recent memory made a huge leap in his last fight. Beating tournament favorite Mikkel Kessler in the opening round of the super six was an absolutely massive win for such a young fighter. He seems to have the skill in the ring and the right attitude out of it to stay focused and have a long career.
First Step: Taking care of business against Jermain Taylor, and then trying to come out of the brutally difficult tournament without losing his "0" in the loss column.
Hometown: New Haven, Connecticut
Record: 29-0-0 (17 KO)
The Rundown: Dawson is already an established champion at a young age. For some reason however, he seems to lack a bit of the "wow" factor that causes fans to take notice. It doesn't help that his last four fights (two each against Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson) have been against two men past their primes.
First Step: The name that has been thrown around lately has been Canada's Jean Pascal. This would be a chance for Dawson to take on another prime light heavyweight. If he wants to take out one more of the old guard, Bernard Hopkins is still a serious challenge at 45.