Now Who Is The Number One American Heavyweight Prospect?
09.12.08 - Paul McCreath: Until the last weekend in November there was fairly strong agreement among the fans that Chris Arreola was the best young hopeful among the American heavies.Matched with another good prospect Travis Walker, it figured that the winner would be a clear #1. Well Arreola came through as expected and scored a convincing 3rd round KO after being down himself in the second round. That certainly eliminated Walker from the picture but it did not give Chris the boost one would expect. Since the fight the many comments on various threads on ESB have clearly shown that there has been a mass exodus of supporters who think that Chris is the next big thing..
Most of the criticism comes from the fact that he weighed 254 and 1/2 pounds for the fight and appeared very flabby. The thinking is that if he lacks the discipline to get into good shape for an important TV fight like this, does he have the work ethic to do what is necessary to become a top fighter? Others thought he looked very sloppy. This may be a bit unfair to Chris. He is after all a slugger not a fancy boxer. It is a matter of style. He did what he needed to do to win and it worked. Maybe we should not quibble about success. At any rate he remains unbeaten after 26 fights with 23 KOs. All 4 alphabet bodies have him rated anywhere from #8 to #4. The Ring ratings that are generally considered more accurate do not rate him in their top 10. I think we can agree that while he is still a good prospect there are a few question marks now and his stock has slipped somewhat.
Another fighter that has been called by some of his fans the best prospect on this side of the Atlantic is Kevin Johnson. Kevin is unbeaten as well and basically untested. He has one early draw against a favored Timor Ibragimov over 4 years ago. His strong points are his good size, mobility, fast hands and a fine jab.His weakness is a lack of serious KO power. He has only 8 stoppages in 22 fights. He has shown some signs of improvement in this area while winning his last two fights by KO. It should be remembered that while power punching is a major asset for a heavyweight it is not the only way to the top. Chris Byrd is proof of that.
When assessing Kevin a lot of fans confuse skills and potential with popularity. Kevin is not popular and his style is boring. This has very little to do with his chances for success. It will be difficult for him to get meaningful fights because he represents a high risk for low reward option. He can make you look bad but he is not a well known name. His best bet will be to keep winning until he finally gets an eliminator match. It won't be by popular demand but it will present him with the opportunity to advance. The WBA already has him at #5. That seems to be jumping the gun but it will eventually open the door for Kevin to get a big fight.
I don't see Kevin ever beating any of the current champs but he may be able to get into the picture when these belt holders are gone. A genuine top 10 rating should be in his future if not a title.
Jason Estrada is still another young fellow who was expected to go places because of his fine amateur record. He was a 3 times national champion at superheavyweight. As a pro he has had his problems including an early career loss to Travis Walker. Adjusting to the different style of fighting in the professional game has been difficult for him. While he still has the skills that made him a champion before turning pro he is lacking in power like Johnson and has weight problems like Arreola. He has only 3 KOs in 15 wins in the paid ranks. Although he is still progressing I believe he is close to his ceiling now and will not go much further. He outpointed veteran pro Derek Bryant last time out.
Malik Scott and Devin Vargas are two former amateur stars who remain unbeaten as pros but whose careers appear to have stalled. Both have been inactive lately and Scott has been a pro for 8 years without breaking through as a contender. I don't think now that either one will amount to anything. Some might mention that Eddie Chambers should be in here somewhere. I now consider Eddie to be a fringe contender rather than a prospect. He has already fought two eliminators defeating Calvin Brock and losing to Alex Povetkin. He might be America's best heavy right now but his lack of size and power probably mean he won't progress much farther at least at heavyweight. Perhaps at cruiser his chances would be better. Both Scott and Chambers have meaningless 6 round bouts scheduled this coming weekend against easy opponents. Neither fight is expected to do much to further the career of either one.
There is one dark horse that may be worth watching. Do you remember Travis Kauffman?Rated the number one superheavy in the country before going pro Travis lost a year out of his boxing career while sorting out legal problems. He is back and now sits at 14-0 with 11 KOs. He is 23 years old and stands 6 foot 3 and weighs around 220 to 230 pounds.He is still untested but has won 4 KOs in a row since returning to the ring. This past weekend he stepped up a bit against former prospect Malachy Farrell who was 16-1. Farrell was looking good until defeated in a dreary TV match in April of last year against Mike Marrone. He would have answered some questions about Kauffman but unfortunately he showed up hog fat so we learned very little.After both visited the canvas in the first round Travis stopped Farrell in the 3rd. We will need a stiffer test before we can properly evaluate Travis but that knockdown raises some concerns.
The only other possible prospects with promise enough to mention here are all former amateur stars who have just recently turned pro. Ashanti Jordon 7-0 and Jonte Willis 4-0 were both among the top 5 amateurs in the country a couple of years back and Tor Hamer, Nate James and Deontay Wilder have all won their first fights. Hamer and James were both national Golden Gloves champs while Wilder was both a Golden Gloves and national champion as well as an Olympic bronze medal winner at 201 pounds. Wilder might be the best bet but we are looking at a very long term project here. He is only 23 years old but 6 foot 7 and barely over 200 pounds. He will have to fill out as he matures and that should be no problem. If there is one thing American heavies do well it is put on weight. I see Deontay progressing very slowly and carefully much like Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. has done and for the same reasons.He really has very little amateur experience in spite of the notable honors he has won. I expect he will be a good 4 years before he makes a serious move but the man we will see then will be much different from the boy we see now.There is a lot of potential here.
In summing up I would be inclined to say the best prospect in America is either Johnson or Arreola and I lean a bit towards Johnson. If you want a dark horse to bet on pick Kauffman and if you want a long term guy go for Wilder but don't count out Hamer or James either. As far as the chances of any of these fighters winning a world title belt is concerned I must admit they are not great. There are just so many good Europeans coming along now but who cares as long we get to see them?
Who would your pick be as the best young American? Remember now this is not a popularity contest. It is about potential.