Boxers Who Are 1 Win Away from Being Elite
Every fighter I will be discussing here is ranked within his division's top 10. In a sense, then, they are all elite fighters.
But there are different kinds of elite. There is elite compared to the vast majority of professional fighters, and then there is elite compared to other contenders.
Beyond that, there is pound-for-pound, box-office elite.
All six of these fighters have the potential to take big leaps in their careers during 2017. Some of them, at least, will be involved in major fights in the second half of the year or in 2018.
6. Gervonta Davis
Last month, Gervonta Davis captured the IBF super featherweight title by stopping previously unbeaten Jose Pedraza in Round 7. It ran the 22-year-old phenom's own record to 17-0 with 16 KOs.
That makes Davis a "world champion," at least on paper. But that is nonsense.
Remove Davis from the waters long ago muddied by alphabet-soup trinkets and you can see him more clearly for what he is: an extremely exciting young contender. His nickname, Tank, fits him. He is a highly athletic, physically powerful fighter.
At just 22, he has a huge upside. It's not impossible that we will be talking about him as one of his division's elite talents by the end of 2017.
5. Oscar Valdez
This spring, Saul Alvarez vs. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. will be the biggest fight on the Mexican boxing calender. There is no title on the line for this catchweight bout, but the winner will walk away with something more valuable than an alphabet-soup belt—bragging rights in the boxing-crazed nation.
But when we look back in another decade or two, Oscar Valdez might very well be remembered as the greatest Mexican fighter of this current generation. The two-time Olympian looks like a proper heir to Juan Manuel Marquez, an aggressive counterpuncher.
Valdez knocked out Matias Rueda for the vacant WBO featherweight title last July. Rueda was an opponent of no distinction, a mere sacrificial lamb flown in from Argentina for the occasion. It is promotional hyperbole to refer to Valdez as a world champion at this point.
But if Valdez can get a shot at another belt-holder, like Leo Santa Cruz or Gary Russell Jr., he could suddenly become one of the sport's top stars.
4. Demetrius Andrade
It's easy to see the business sense of making a fight like Canelo Alvarez vs. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. It should be a blockbuster at the box office.
In a perfect world, of course, Canelo would be defending his lineal claim to the middleweight title against Gennady Golovkin. In a slightly less than perfect world, Alvarez would be defending his WBO super welterweight title against Demetrius Andrade.
Andrade is a superstar waiting to happen. The former Olympian is a crafty southpaw with a classic puncher's build—long and angular. But stars like Canelo do not appear anxious to face him
Hopefully, 2017 will be the year that Andrade gets the sort of fight that allows him to establish his rightful place in the sport.
3. Gilberto Ramirez
In a sense, Gilberto Ramirez is already an elite fighter—at the very least, he is elite within the super middleweight division. He captured his WBO version of the belt by defeating Arthur Abraham, a future Hall of Famer and longtime belt holder.
But he is still in the spotlight's shadow. Badou Jack and James DeGale have monopolized the headlines at 168 pounds so far this year, fighting to a draw in their unification bout last month. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., who is not half the fighter Ramirez is, will be the one fighting on pay-per-view against Saul Alvarez, come May.
But Ramirez has the kind of talent and charismatic style that will not be denied forever. Sooner or later, he will get the fight he needs and develop into a major star.
2. Anthony Joshua
Last year, Anthony Joshua emerged as a true contender in the heavyweight division. He captured a meaningless IBF trinket last April when he stopped Charles Martin, the least qualified "world champion" in heavyweight history. Joshua followed up on that by knocking out Dominic Breazeale in June and Eric Molina in December.
It was a great year for the young fighter despite his contemptible "championship" belt. His next career step should transform him into one of boxing's biggest stars.
In April, Joshua faces Wladimir Klitschko, the greatest heavyweight of this century. Joshua should knock the aging legend out.
1. Errol Spence Jr.
You could argue that Errol Spence Jr. has already demonstrated elite talent by knocking out Chris Algieri and Leonard Bundu last year. Bundu went the distance with undefeated WBA welterweight champion Keith Thurman. Algieri finished on his feet against Manny Pacquiao.
But Algieri and Bundu are very much second-tier contenders. For his next fight, Spence will hopefully face one of the division's true stars.
The IBF has ordered a February purse bid for Spence and IBF welterweight champion Kell Brook. Still, that doesn't mean the fight will happen.
Brook looked fit at 160 pounds against Gennady Golovkin last year. It would be surprising to see him again below 154 pounds.
Either way, 2017 should be the year Spence gets an opponent who can truly test his remarkable boxing gifts.