With another easy victory on March 2 over Vyacheslav Gusev to help keep his undefeated record intact, boxing fans continue to wait for talented featherweight Gary Russell, Jr. to break through his comfort zone and take the division by storm. He is not the only undefeated prospect who can benefit from overcoming such an issue that could potentially limit a fighter’s upside.
Russell (22-0, 13 KO’s) was anointed 2011 ‘Prospect of the Year’ by Ring Magazine, ESPN and Sports Illustrated. After fighting six times in 2011 and getting in some work against experienced journeymen, the Al Haymon-managed Russell has since only fought three times for a total of sixteen rounds against soft opposition rather than continuing to build upon his resume and activity level.
There is no denying Russell has all of the makings to be a future star in this sport with his two-fisted punching power, blinding hand speed and pin-point accuracy. However, unless the 24 year-old starts stepping up the quality of competition, his talent is at risk of being squandered.
Former kickboxing champion Chris Algieri turned his attention to boxing in 2008 at the age of 24, putting his athletic skills on display while building an undefeated record of 16-0 (7 KO’s). Considered “The Pride of Huntington”, the Long Island-based Algieri has never fought any further than Brooklyn, with his last five consecutive fights taking place at The Paramount Theater in his own backyard.
Algieri’s promoter, Joe DeGuardia of Star Boxing Promotions, believes the development and signing of talented local fighters and entering them in fights at area venues is “the only way” to establish a positive connection with the public and build the sport. While that may very well be true given the legion of fans who have consistently come out to fill The Paramount to cheer for the 29-year old Algieri and his brethren of Long Island fighters, it might not be the most effective way to develop a world champion caliber career.
While this highly disciplined 5’10” light welterweight possesses solid boxing skills and is a very good combination puncher, one can’t help but wonder if Algieri’s being done a disservice by not gaining experience beyond the comforts of home. To this point, no one knows (including Algieri himself) how he would fare as a visitor forced to fight in front of a hostile crowd or how well he can adapt to a different environment. This type of experience can be just as valuable as the level of opposition faced, as it not only helps to expand a fan base but also builds confidence and depth.
Twenty-eight year old welterweight Kevin Bizier (20-0, 14 KO’s) is plagued by a similar issue, becoming the latest Canadian fighter who seems content to not venture outside of Quebec. During a recent telecast of ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights” series where Bizier defeated a stationary 40-year old Nate Campbell at the Bell Centre, ringside commentator Joe Tessitore remarked that one doesn’t need to leave Montreal to have a successful boxing career. This may be an accurate statement if the goal is to simply make a decent sum of money, but it could limit potential to reach or maintain world championship status.
Two examples of this are Lucian Bute and Jean Pascal, who both reside in Laval, Quebec. Former IBF light heavyweight champion Bute faced a good deal of scrutiny and criticism for fighting primarily in Montreal throughout his career, making eight of nine title defenses in Quebec and one in his native Romania. The only other time he travelled abroad to defend his title was last May against Carl Froch in Nottingham, United Kingdom where Bute was thoroughly destroyed in five rounds, suffering his first professional loss.
After winning a number of fringe championships while fighting exclusively in Montreal, Pascal made his first trip abroad to face Froch in Nottingham to challenge for the WBC super middleweight belt in December 2008, losing a unanimous decision. It would be the last time the Haitian-born Pascal stepped foot outside of Montreal, where he later claimed the title in June 2009 and successfully defended it three times before the worldly Bernard Hopkins paid him a visit. Hopkins fought Pascal to a draw in Quebec City in December 2010 and won a unanimous decision in the rematch five months later in Montreal.
There are lessons to be learned by the heavy-handed Bizier who could benefit from spreading his wings and not playing it as safe as those who came before him. It’s called a “world championship” for a reason.
Also playing it safe has been heavyweight Deontay Wilder. A 2008 Olympic bronze medalist, the snail-like pace at which the 27-year old has been brought along is rather startling. Standing at 6’7″ with an 84″ reach and knocking out all 27 of his opponents to date, Wilder appears to have the physical tools to help re-establish the presence of a legitimate US heavyweight in the sport. The quality of his opposition has kept him stuck in neutral, however. While knockouts in boxing are forever cherished, many observers are of the opinion that Wilder is merely form over substance.
A prospect who seems to have re-pointed a promising career in the right direction is middleweight J’Leon Love who improved to 15-0 (8 KO’s) with a hard fought unanimous decision over Derrick Findley last month. It was the second of three most recent fights where the 25-year old Love was pitted against a brawler who attempted to bull rush and smother the former amateur standout. Love showed very good poise and composure in resisting the bait, keeping to his game plan of boxing and moving.
It marks a corner turned in this young man’s career whose 2011 consisted of four fights against opponents who were below .500, sporting a dreadfully combined record of 15-54-7. Now promoted by Mayweather Promotions and working out of Mayweather Boxing Club in Las Vegas under the tutelage of Floyd Mayweather Jr. and family, the Michigan-born Love has wisely been starting to put tough fights on his resume to best prepare himself for future challenges.
Preparation comes in many forms. Hopefully, these prospects will be ready in every sense when their time comes to answer the “big-time” bell and move up the ranks.
Various records from BoxRec.com
Newsday.com, “Huntington boxer Chris Algieri defeats Jose Peralta Alejo”
FightHype.com, “J’Leon Love: I Needed The Rounds Under My Belt…May 4th, I Will Be On the Card”