In the fifth installment of our weekly feature Rising Stars in Boxing, Kid Hersh and Matt Andrzejewski zero in on two promising prospects with different backgrounds. One is a former Olympic teammate of Andre Ward who is making steady gains in a pro career that was late getting started. The other is a young man from Cajun Country who burst on the national scene in his 32nd pro fight with a sensational knockout and now must prove that he wasn’t a one-hit wonder. Kid Hersh gets us started with a look at Mason Menard.
Rising Stars MASON MENARD
“Rock Hard” Mason Menard made quite the splash on “ShoBox” back in April when he upset the odds and knocked undefeated Eudy Bernardo out cold in the second round. He most definitely took this writer by surprise. It was a real eye-opener for the viewing audience as it left almost everyone wondering “Who is Mason Menard?”
Menard is from Rayne, Louisiana, and started boxing at the age of eight. He had 82 amateur fights and took a Bronze Medal in the 2007 U.S. Nationals as well as participating in the 2008 Olympic Trials at 132 pounds before turning professional in 2007 when he was still just a teenager.
One has to wonder just why it took 30 wins for Menard to get exposure on television. Perhaps it was the specter of his third professional fight where he was knocked out in the very first round by Carl McNickles. You did have to wonder if he learned his lesson, seeing as how in his fourth and very next fight against Blake Franklin he came out gunning for the knockout and suffered a knockdown in the first round when he was leaning in too far on the inside from his over-aggression. He would bounce back in that fight to get the knockout only a minute later but it was another shaky fight in only his fourth professional outing as he came dangerously close to starting his professional career 2-2.
Menard’s opposition heading into the Eudy Bernardo fight this past spring was subpar. Tapes are not easily found but Menard did say in an interview with Lafayette, Louisiana television station KATC TV-3 that he was not fighting at 100 percent for the vast majority of his career. It is well known that many boxers fight injured but Menard told of how he was fighting “with one and a half hands” from 2008 to 2014 until he had surgery on his right hand to fix two displaced metacarpal bones in 2015, further saying “I made it through that many fights until I couldn’t take the pain any longer.” This explains the gap in recent bouts but make no mistake that “Rock Hard” is ready to get back in the ring – with two fight dates lined up for this coming month.
Mason seems like a very soft spoken guy. The few interviews circling around out there show a mild-mannered southern boy that just dreams of making it big in boxing. He is quick to point out that he lives a clean and healthy lifestyle as he doesn’t indulge in the greasy food characteristic of cooking down south.
What does all this mean though? It’s very interesting to this writer that what we have of Mason Menard out there shows two polar opposite fighters. We have his early pro fights where he struggled to stay on his feet against tepid opposition and then we have his latest fight where he catapulted himself onto the scene with a devastating knockout against a well-regarded opponent. Only time will tell where Rock Hard Menard belongs as pertains to the world class level but it should be very exciting to find out. Thus far one thing is for sure: he creates excitement in his fights and that can go a long ways, win or lose. – KID HERSH
Rising Stars RAYNELL WILLIAMS
Raynell Williams can be thought of as the forgotten US Olympian. A member of the 2008 US Olympic team, Williams turned pro in 2013 after a failed bid at the 2012 Olympics. The 27 year old lightweight southpaw has amassed an early career pro record of 11-0 with 5 of those wins coming by knockout.
A native of Cleveland, OH, Williams enjoyed a very successful amateur career including the aforementioned trip to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. In addition to the spot on the Olympic team, Williams was also a 2007 US National Champion. He competed in the World Series of Boxing and in total amassed well over 100 amateur wins. Some of his victims in the amateurs included current prospects such as Damon Allen and Toka Kahn-Clary.
After winning his first ten fights against relative unknowns, Williams stepped up in opposition in his national television debut in February against veteran Gabriel Tolmajyan. Tolmajyan is a tricky fighter who has tested and beaten undefeated prospects in the past. Williams boxed effectively against Tolmajyan and dominated the veteran with surprising ease for the first seven rounds of the scheduled eight round fight. His fast hands and slick counterpunching ability mesmerized Tolmajyan. However in the final minute of the fight, Williams was caught with a straight left that had him badly hurt. He showed tremendous heart and instinct in willing himself to make it to the final bell. Despite the struggles at the end of the fight, Williams’ dominance early was more than enough to earn him a wide unanimous win against a solid skilled veteran.
Williams is fundamentally sound and his deep amateur experience shows as he is very adept at setting his opponents up to be countered with his quick hands. As a matter of fact, his natural counterpunching skills are probably his best trait inside the ring. Williams also will work combinations behind a very sharp and accurate right jab. He is a sharp accurate puncher and very good at making his opponents miss and making them pay.
There are two questions surrounding Williams as he steps further up in competition. Does he possess enough power to keep top level fighters at bay and how will his chin hold up against better fighters? He is certainly not a power puncher but many fighters have won titles who did not possess natural punching ability. The chin is a question but he has shown tons of heart in making it through those moments when he has been buzzed.
Williams may not be getting a lot of attention at the moment from the mainstream boxing media but he is a solid prospect. His speed and skills are apparent when watching him fight. At the age of 27 and with his amateur background, I expect we will soon be seeing Williams in bigger fights. – MATT ANDRZEJEWSKI
Rising Stars / Picture: Mason Menard