Boxing: How to Identify Heavyweight Prospects
03.05.07 - By Paul McCreath: As an old-timer who has spent more than 50 years closely following heavyweight boxing, one of my greatest pleasures, in addition to watching the actual fights of course, has been to try to spot the prospects as early as possible and follow them throughout their development into contenders or champions. I usually spot them within five fights of when they turn pro. They are mostly not true prospects at this stage and out of every 100, I start to track only four or five will ever amount to anything.
Article posted on 03.05.2007
The fun comes in trying to determine which five will make it. I have developed a few theories that I use to try to separate the really promising ones from the ones who will fall by the wayside. Today, I will share them with you. By using my methods, you will rarely be surprised when a new contender arrives on the world stage.
One of the best indicators of future greatness, I think, is success at the amateur level. In the unpaid ranks, an Olympic medal of any kind is often a good sign of future success in boxing. Joe Frazier, George Foreman,and Lennox Lewis were all gold medal winners and prospects from the day they turned pro. Even this level of success does not guarantee greatness, as Tyrell Biggs and Audley Harrison have shown us, yet they were still interesting to watch for a time.
Next to the Olympics, the World boxing Championships are a strong source of good talent. Ruslan Chagaev, Sergei Liahovich, Sinan Samil Sam and Luan Krasniqi, all won medals at this level, though, not all were gold. The European championships or the Commonwealth Games and Pan American Games have also turned out some good fighters over the years. The winners of national championships, especially American, Russian, or Cuban fighters are often future good pros as well. Obviously, watching the medal winners of any of these completions is a good starting point for identifying young guns but not all are amateur stars. You can also find them by consulting the records of all world heavyweights and looking for any you don't already know who have won their first few fights. Another way, is to watch the preliminary results every week and look for names that keep popping up as winners. A quick look at boxrec.com will give you lots of information you will need.
After you have identified a young fighter who might be a prospect, how do we tell who is most likely to make it big? Well, size is important. While boxing champions come in all shapes and sizes, as Chris Byrd and Nicolay Valuev have shown us at both extremes, there is a more or less ideal size. This has changed over the years as fighters get bigger all the time. Today, I like to see a young fighter at about six-foot-five, give or take an inch and around 225-230 pounds. Keep in mind, nearly all heavies put on weight as they mature, so I prefer to see them slim at this stage. If they are already 240-250, they are likely fat and lazy and not a true prospect. I have known a few fat contenders but none of them were fat to begin with.
Age is another important factor. While today fighters are turning pro later than in the past, younger is still better. Keep in mind, if they are only 18-20, it will likely take them longer to reach their peak. Age 22-24 seems about right but some are as old as 30 and still make it. Matt Skelton was around 36 when he started. Of course, the older ones will have much shorter careers.
A fighters connections with a manager, trainer or promoter is very important. For instance, Manny Steward keeps a small stable of fighters and does not waste time with lost causes. If Manny trains him, the fighter is usually a good prospect or contender, if not a champion. The three top European promotional boxing outfits, Frank Warren, Sauerland, and Universum, all make it a practice of signing young fighters as early as possible and developing them as house fighters on the undercards of their big promotions. Here again, they don't waste time. If they sign a fighter, it is best to keep an eye on him. In the U.S., this practice is not as common. Don King and Bob Arum tend to sign fighters after they reach at least fringe contender status. Arum doesn't bother much with heavyweights at all.
One of the most misleading things to observe is a fighter's record. You would think that a boxer with a 25-0 boxing record would be a prospect, but actually, unless he is already well known, he probably isn't. A fighter normally will take about four years to reach contention. If he is not already rated highly after 25 fights, he likely never will be. He is just padding his record with easy wins. On that subject, it is perfectly normal to have a few soft touches in the first year or so as a pro. The important thing is to be able to look at his record and see that he is succeeding against ever improving competition, especially after the first year. Don't worry about a loss or two, as long as he isn't getting outclassed by tomato cans. A lot of knockouts, obviously, is generally a sign of power and a good thing, but not absolutely necessary. Again, remember Chris Byrd. Some boxers are slick but not very powerful.
Finally, if you can find out about his character, that will tell you a lot about him. Is he clean living and hard working or is he a drinker and maybe into drugs? Does he listen and learn or does he think he knows it all? These things are a little harder to find out but listen and read all you can about the fighter. A fighter with frequent periods of inactivity is a bad sign.
Of course, nothing beats seeing for yourself. Often these young fighters appear on the undercards of televised boxing cards and now we have Youtube as well. Better still, go to the fights in your area. Everything helps. You may wish to keep notes and records of the fighters you are following. You will get a great kick out of occasionally seeing a fighter you have been tracking for a couple of years suddenly start to attract attention worldwide. Everyone else is surprised, except you, of course. I hope you will have as much fun with this as I have.
As a follow-up article coming soon, I will talk about some of the unknown young guns that I have been keeping an eye on.
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