Under-the-Radar Boxers to Watch in 2017
Despite such important bouts as Sergey Kovalev vs. Andre Ward, Keith Thurman vs. Shawn Porter and Terence Crawford vs. Viktor Postol, the most talked-about matchup in the mainstream sports media this past year was a potential fight between the retired Floyd Mayweather and MMA fighter Conor McGregor.
Based upon that, it's tempting to say that nearly every boxer is more under-the-radar than he deserves to be.
On the other hand, true boxing fans keep a long list of potential stars to follow. The fighters on this list are either on the verge of title fights or have recently won belts, but they have not yet garnered the kind of recognition that bigger, well-established champions receive.
Gervonta Davis, Super Featherweight
If Gervonta Davis can still be viewed as "under-the-radar," he probably won't be after next weekend. That is when he will face Jose Pedraza for the IBF super featherweight title on the undercard for Badou Jack's super middleweight unification fight with James DeGale.
That's the first big boxing show of 2017, so Davis should have the eyeballs of a lot of boxing-starved fans. Muscular and compact, there is a reason his nickname is Tank.
With a 16-0 record and 15 knockouts, he has the potential to become an exciting opponent in the next year or two for established stars now fighting between 126 and 135 pounds.
Petr Petrov, Lightweight
Petr Petrov turned professional in Spain as a teenager. Unlike many Russian natives in the sport, who developed through the nation's elite amateur system, Petrov did his apprenticeship on the edges of boxing obscurity.
But he finally started working his way into the spotlight in 2015, when he won the lightweight division of ESPN's Boxcino tournament. He stopped contenders Marvin Quintero and Michael Perez in his past two fights.
In 2017, he should be able to secure a crack at some version of the lightweight title.
Julius Indongo, Super Lightweight
Last December, Julius Indongo became the IBF super lightweight champion when he went to Russia and shocked Eduard Troyanovsky with a first-round knockout.
It's tough to consider the IBF belt at 140 pounds much of a world title with Terence Crawford still competing in the division. He beat Viktor Postol, the division's other top fighter, last July to unify the WBC and WBO belts.
But now that Indongo has claimed a belt and placed himself inside the super lightweight top 10, he could make a good opponent for Crawford during the first part of 2017.
Erickson Lubin, Super Welterweight
Serious boxing fans have been aware of Erickson Lubin since he was a teenager. He turned professional in 2013 at age 18. Now 21, he is 17-0 with 12 knockouts.
Lubin has been featured on multiple PBC broadcasts and has defeated some experienced journeymen opponents such as Orlando Lora and Daniel Sandoval. He fights in a competitive division with established stars like Canelo Alvarez, Erislandy Lara and Jermell Charlo.
But there is always room in the spotlight for a precocious young talent like Lubin.
Sergiy Derevyanchenko, Middleweight
In recent years, boxing has seen a flood of top talent arriving from the former Soviet Bloc. These are fighters who developed their crafts at the international level, competing for elite amateur teams. As professionals, they often show greater technical awareness and skill than opponents with much longer pro resumes.
Middleweight Sergiy Derevyanchenko is cut from that mold. He fought for Ukraine in the 2012 Olympic Games. Now based out of Brooklyn, New York, he is developing into a legitimate contender in a division that could use some new blood.
Last July, he jumped all over former champion Sam Soliman, dropping him once in the first and twice in the second before ending the fight in less than six minutes.
David Benavidez, Super Middleweight
David Benavidez is just 20 years old and has fought only one bout scheduled for 10 full rounds, but the lanky slugger is set to raise his profile in 2017.
Last April, he turned in a memorable knockout on a card filled with great knockouts, crushing Phillip Jackson Benson in two rounds on the Andre Berto-Victor Ortiz undercard. In August, he defeated an experienced opponent in Denis Douglin, via 10th-round TKO.
With his length, Benavidez could develop into an interesting opponent for current WBO super middleweight champion Gilberto Ramirez.
Erik Skoglund, Light Heavyweight
So far, Erik Skoglund has yet to fight outside of Denmark and Sweden, but he has been viewed as a big enough prospect to warrant bringing recognizable American names to town to test him. In December 2014, he beat aging, former champion Glen Johnson. In December 2015, he beat upset specialist and trial horse Derek Edwards.
It is hard to fully gauge Skoglund based on those two wins, but it's enough to suggest he could be a contender.
And light heavyweight is a division with the potential for a lot of good fights. A young talent like Skoglund could fit well in the mix.
Murat Gassiev, Cruiserweight
Cruiserweight is a division that is perpetually overlooked—at least in North America. But in 2016, Ukrainian technician Oleksandr Usyk broke into the sport's mainstream. He turned in a star-making performance on the December undercard for Bernard Hopkins vs. Joe Smith Jr.
Murat Gassiev could be the type of opponent Usyk will need if he truly wants to shine. Gassiev is just 23, but on Dec. 3, 2016, he knocked down Denis Lebedev in Round 5 and outlasted him for a split-decision victory, taking the IBF title in the process.
Gassiev is trained by Abel Sanchez, so he should be handy to the United States. It'd be great to see him take on Usyk in a unification bout. Like the Ukrainian, Gassiev has the height and reach for a potential move to heavyweight.