After decades of watching prospects come and go you get to a point of knowing those that will make it and those that fall short.
A few are within a whisker of grabbing a world title in 2016.
Here are a few prizefighters that should be wrapping a world title belt around their waist:
Oscar Valdez (18-0, 16 Kos)
The Arizona native now trains in the Los Angeles area and has been racking up impressive wins. His last bout against slender slugger Chris Avalos was a firecracker of a fight pitting two guys with firepower. That night Valdez beat Avalos to the punch and took him out in five rounds in Las Vegas. As a former Mexican Olympian the featherweight knows a thing or two about boxing. He’s not merely a puncher, he also has defensive tools and punching speed; a style very similar to Julio Cesar Chavez. Valdez, 25, seems ready for a world title bid and will be hard to beat. He’s managed by Frank Espinoza and promoted by Top Rank. That’s a powerful combination backing Valdez.
Antonio Orozco (23-0, 15 Kos)
Based in San Diego, California the junior welterweight was brought along slowly by management for a few years. That ended in 2015 as Orozco was matched with a couple of former world champions and a fellow contender. The San Diego fighter with a style similar to Miguel Cotto showed poise and relentless aggression in defeating all by unanimous decision. His win over the wily Humberto Soto was impressive especially after the Mexican veteran pulled his fake low blow act on the referee. Orozco, 28, is ready for prime time with his fan-friendly style and “never-say-die” attitude. It’s a very tough weight division to win a world title especially considering that junior welterweights can be very tall. But his crouching style can serve him well. He’s managed by Frank Espinoza and promoted by Golden Boy Promotions.
Jessie Magdaleno (22-0, 16 Kos)
The super bantamweight from Las Vegas built a reputation as a hard-hitting 122-pound southpaw. But in two of his last three fights Magdaleno showed he can out-box an opponent if the knockout cannot be attained. Before 2015, it was a big question whether he could win without a knockout. The question was answered when granite chinned opponents like Raul Hirales and Erik Ruiz forced Magdaleno to show off his boxing skills or go down in defeat. The Las Vegas super bantamweight was able to cruise to victory by winning every round on all three judge’s score cards. Magdaleno, 24, certainly can box or punch. He’s not tall for his weight division but being a southpaw is always an advantage, especially during a firefight. He’s promoted by Top Rank and managed by Frank Espinoza. Yes, it’s the same manager who guides Orozco and Valdez up above.
Murat Gassiev (22-0, 16 Kos)
The Russian cruiserweight looks older than his actual age but also hits harder than he looks. He has heavyweight power but not the size. If he were put against a cruiserweight world champion today he would stop him before 12 rounds ended. As a heavyweight he may need more work. But he definitely has power, speed and agility. Gassiev, 22, could grow into the heavyweight division. Now training in Big Bear with Abel Sanchez, it’s one of those cool things to see when Gassiev and Gennady Golovkin hit the heavy bags at the same time. Both explode on the bags with impressive sound effects and concussions you can actually feel in your ears. It’s raw power not experienced in other gyms. Gassiev recently signed with Al Haymon so he will be getting fights and possibly television. It could be a good thing or bad thing. Time will tell. Gassiev’s style reminds me of southpaw Vassiliy Jirov. Except Gassiev is not a southpaw. We’ll see if he has Jirov’s chin.
Manuel Avila (19-0, 8 Kos)
The tall super bantamweight from Fairfield, California may not have as many knockouts as others in the weight division, but he can hit for power. At 5’7” in height he has the height and reach advantage against almost everyone he faces. Avila, 23, defeated some solid fighters in 2015 especially a knockout win over Cuba’s Yoandris Salinas. The Northern Californian has a style reminiscent of “El Terrible” Erik Morales. With that lean physique and boxing technique, Avila fools those who underestimate his power. He can pop and could move up a weight division with ease. He definitely knows how to box and has one of the better jabs in the super bantamweight or featherweight division. Avila is managed by Kathy Garcia and promoted by Golden Boy Promotions.
Konstantin Ponomarev (29-0, 13 Kos)
Russia’s Ponomarev has decent size at 5’10” and average power for a welterweight. But he has what not all boxers possess; that’s doing what’s necessary to win. Ponomarev, 23, has many more fights than those others his age and has been tossed into the fire to see if he gets burnt. This year he faced Steve Claggett, Mikael Zewski, and last minute opponent Ramses Agaton. The welterweight from Miass, Russia defeated all three rugged prizefighters and now seems poised to challenge anyone in the division. Welterweights are loaded with talent and with four different belts available it’s comfortable to say Ponomarev will get his shot soon. He has a certain mean streak inside the ring and has shown a willingness to face anyone. He trains in Big Bear with Abel Sanchez and the Triple G team. He will get his shot. Ponomarev is promoted by Top Rank and managed by Ural Boxing Promotions. His publicist is Bernie Bahrmasel the one-man army.
Felix Verdejo (19-0, 14 Kos)
The slender Puerto Rican assassin has all the tools necessary to dethrone one or more of the current lightweight world titlists. Just give him the opportunity. His latest destruction came against Brazil’s Josenilson Dos Santos in Puerto Rico. Verdejo, 22, showed lightning reflexes in catching Dos Santos walking in with a short right cross. It was over in two rounds. Though the Brazilian had not fought in nearly two years Verdejo still electrified the crowd with the suddenness of his knockout win. It was as if Verdejo wanted to prove a point. He has a long reach for his size and great speed with power. The only test remaining will be his chin. Can he take a blow from a big hitter? Verdejo is promoted by Top Rank.
One more year of seasoning
Diego De La Hoya (13-0, 7 Kos) – He has the De La Hoya bloodlines and the speed and power to go with it. The Mexicali super bantamweight has been working on his defense more the past year. It will pay off. De La Hoya, 21, fought five times in 2015 and scored one knockout. Skills pay the bills just in case.
Jojo Diaz (19-0, 11 Kos) – Blessed with speed, agility and defense, the former U.S. Olympian could fight for a world title this year. We’ll see what his promoters decide. Diaz, 23, has that southpaw awkwardness that makes him difficult to figure out. Lately, his power has increased. He could be a super bantamweight or featherweight champion. His pick.
Saul Rodriguez (19-0-1, 14 Kos) – Knocked out Ivan Najera in one round. Najera went the distance with Felix Verdejo in a lightweight clash. Rodriguez, 22, could be ready in 2016. He has speed, aggressiveness and incredible power from both sides. You can’t teach that. Defense is coming along fast. I predict Rodriguez will be held a year to challenge Verdejo in 2017.
Jason Quigley (9-0, 8 Kos) – The middleweight from Ireland has shown to be three steps ahead in just his second year as a professional. Quigley, 24, has speed, power and the ability to box if necessary. His amateur pedigree has advanced him ahead of other middleweights. In 2017 he should be ready.