Former Amateur Champs Bring Hope To American Heavyweight Scene: Witherspoon, Wilson, Arreola, Scott, Flores, More

05.12.07 - By Paul McCreath: A few years ago when American heavyweight fans were looking for their next great hope, the search was rather easy. One only had to look at the list of recent Olympic boxing champions, such as Olympic gold medal winners like George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Cassius Clay (later Ali), Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, and Floyd Patterson, who all went from Olympic fame to the world heavyweight title as pros. There was always at least one or two on the way that were fairly sure to become professional stars..

Chris Arreola Those days are gone now. America has not produced an Olympic super heavyweight champion since Tyrell Biggs in 1984. The last heavyweight champ, under 201 pounds, was Ray Mercer in 1988. With the ever increasing number of good heavyweights coming out of Europe, it has become increasingly difficult to identify good American prospects who are likely to make the big time, let alone win a title. The best hopes now are usually domestic amateur champions. While the odds of these fellows making it to the top are considerably longer than those of Olympic champs, at least there is some hope.

The past few months have seen two new faces emerge among the contenders from USA, namely Tony Thompson and Eddie Chambers. Neither one was anything special as amateurs, but as pros they have already arrived as contenders so we will not deal with them in this article. The two prospects nearest to world class would be in my opinion Chris Arreola, the 2001 Golden Gloves champion at light heavyweight, and Malik Scott, the 1999 US national champion at heavyweight. Let us have a look:

Chris Arreola (22-0, 20 KOs) - Age 26, 6'4", 229-256 lbs. Arreola has not always taken his boxing career seriously. Twice as an amateur, he left the sport for a year or two. More recently as he realized the potential for success, he has lowered his weight to around 230, although his last fight was back up at 245. He clearly needs to get this weight problem under control to progress much further. He does have the punch and the chin to go a long way. So far his best wins are a 7-round KO of fellow unbeaten prospect at the time, Damian Wills, who went into the fight at 21-0-1 and an 8th round stoppage of the 2002 Golden Gloves champ Malcolm Tann. Arreola is probably no more than a couple of fights away from the big time if he dedicates himself to better conditioning. He has the tools to be a success as a pro.

Malik Scott (29-0, 10 KOs) - Age 27, 6'4", 209-255 lbs and rising. Malik would appear to be trying to prove that you can remain a prospect indefinitely because he has made little progress these past two years. He has unquestionable technical skills and makes most of his fights look easy if a bit boring. The veteran Charlie Shufford and Kendrick Releford remain his best victims so far but he has been ready to test someone better for a long time. If he is ever going to make it, he needs to step up now. His ever increasing weight is beginning to look like a possible problem as well.It is hard to tell if he has much punching power as he does not try for KOs.

The remaining former amateur champs who have turned pro are a little farther away from the ratings but none the less there is hope. Here are the rest:

Chazz Witherspoon - (20-0, 14 KOs) 2004 Golden Gloves champion at heavyweight. Age 26, 6'4", weighing 219-236. Chazz has the right blood lines. Terrible Tim Witherspoon, former 2-time champ, is his cousin. He is one of those boxers who has no one outstanding quality but does everything pretty well. He has stayed busy since turning pro and has made steady progress without adding any well known names to his record so far. He is very intelligent and has mapped out a plan for his career, which so far is right on schedule. Chazz is probably 12-18 months away from the big time but might just turn out to be the best of all these prospects.

Jason Estrada (10-1, 2 KOs) - US national champion three consecutive years, from 2001-2003, as well as Pan-Am games champ in 2003, all at superheavyweight. Age 27, 6'1", weighing between 238-257. Jason has been called the best amateur heavyweight turned out by USA in many years, but unfortunately he has found the transition to the pro game a bit difficult. At his height and weight, he is fat and as with most fat heavies he has not shown much punching power in the paid ranks. His lone loss was in his 9th pro fight, an eight-round decision to the more experienced Travis Walker, who was 21-0-1 before their bout. Jason has since defeated Kendrick Releford over six rounds. The technical ability is obviously there. You don't win all those amateur titles without a lot of skill. What remains to be seen is if he can show the desire and dedication to get his weight under control and improve his conditioning. He has a high up side but how bad does he want it?

TJ Wilson (12-1, 8 KOs) - 2000 national champion at superheavyweight. Age 32, 6'7", 229-282 lbs. TJ made a big splash in October when he stopped the unbeaten Travis Walker in the first few seconds of the bout, but let us not get too excited. Wilson has been a pro since 2000 and has had only 13 fights. He was stopped by trial horse Willie Chapman in 2003. Two things are needed in addition to the usual skills to become a successful pro: They are regular activity and proper conditioning. He is frequently inactive and while a really big guy - 282 pounds - his weight against Walker is ridiculous. Don't expect too much from TJ. His age is also against him.

BJ Flores (20-0-1, 13 KOs)-2001 and 02 national champion at heavyweight.Age 28, 6 foot 2,weight range 202-214,record 20-0-1 with 13 KOs). BJ is stuck between two divisions, and he can't seem to decide whether he is a pro cruiser or heavyweight. Last time out he was at heavyweight, though he is obviously a bit small for this division, yet so were Chris Byrd and Evander Holyfield. Flores has good skills but will need to make a move soon after working his way through the early stages of his career with few problems. There are no big names on his record so far.

Travis Walker (25-1-1, 19 KOs) - 2003 Golden Gloves champ at superheavy. Age 28, 6'4", 238-259 lbs. Anyone who saw Travis blasted out by Wilson, will doubt he has much upside now. One fight does not destroy a career but he was not that impressive against Kendrick Releford, a 10-round decision, or in his win over Estrada. The draw was with Jason Gavern, 8-1-1 at the time, in 2005. What I like about Walker is that he stays busy and is not afraid to meet tough opponents. However, he is probably just a long shot now but he may surprise us. After all, he did beat Estrada.

Devin Vargas (13-0, 6 KOs) - 2000-2001 Golden Gloves champ at heavyweight and 2003 national champ, also at heavy. Age 25, 6'2", 217-231 lbs. Devin has been brought along very slowly but anyone with three major amateur titles is worth watching. He is not very big and has not shown a lot of power but he is young enough to add a little more size and power yet. There are no noteworthy names on his record but I would keep an eye on this one. He could be a sleeper.

The last prospect I will mention is Tony Grano (13-0-1, 11 KOs) - 2005 national heavyweight champ. Age 27, 6'2", 211-223 lbs. Tony is still at the very early stages and is being brought along carefully but stays busy. It is just way too early to tell. He has a lot to learn.

Two other Golden Gloves champions have already fizzled out as pros, Malcolm Tann, the 2002 super heavyweight champ and once a top prospect, has now lost four times, his last two by KO against Arreola and Alex Dimitrenko. The other, Rafe Butler, the 2004 champion, has also lost four times, three by KO.

There are some American prospects who were not amateur champs who may be worth watching. I am referring to fighters like Mike Marrone, Mike Mollo, or Kevin Johnson, but their chances are for discussion another day. On the whole, although the amateur and pro games are very different, success at one is a good indicator of success at the other but there are no guarantees. It will be fun to watch these guys and see what happens.

Article posted on 06.12.2007

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