Thursday, January 27, 2022

Twelve to Watch for 2022

With the new boxing year now underway, I made a list of current fighters whom I love watching ply their trade. I then separated my list into two categories: champions or former champions in the first bucket and those who have yet to fight for a title in the second grouping. This article will cover 12 fighters from this second group; many of them are poised to have a big 2022. 

There's no real rhyme or reason or consistent theme for the boxers who appear on this list (although they all have fewer than 20 professional bouts), just fighters who have caught my eye. I won't say that these 12 are the best at anything yet, but they all have intriguing potential, solid skill sets and are generally entertaining in the ring. Some of these names will be more familiar to you than others, but all are worth keeping tabs on. And with that, here's the 12.    

Ra'eese Aleem (19-0, 12 KOs, junior featherweight, Age 31, USA)

Photo courtesy of Amanda Westcott

Aleem opened eyes last year with a masterful performance against Vic Pasillas, although he did have a more challenging fight against rugged opponent Eduardo Baez later in the year. Even though he's not a young fighter (31), he was still fighting on club shows as recently as two years ago. But as he has demonstrated in his past three fights on Showtime, Aleem possesses world-class talent. More than that, he can be a stylistic nightmare. Comfortable switching stances even during the middle of a combination, Aleem has an unpredictability that will make him competitive with anyone in the junior featherweight division. He has knockout power in both hands and features choppy movement that doesn't fall into regular patterns. One thing he needs to watch out for is a problem that many movers face: over-movement. He tries to do so many things at times, especially in close quarters, that he can find himself out-of-position for straight shots and counters.   

Jared Anderson (11-0, 11 KOs, heavyweight, Age 22, USA)

Anderson is the best heavyweight prospect in America. And although that sounds like high praise, it isn't. He might be the only one who could actually win a title. But being the best of a mediocre bunch isn't why he's on this list; Anderson has earned it. In multiple training camps with Tyson Fury, Anderson, by all reports, has given the heavyweight champion great work. He has stopped all 11 of his professional opponents, but he has more than just one-punch power. He features a relentless body attack that is uncommon for a young and tall (6'4") heavyweight. In addition, he's very comfortable fighting out of each stance. He also throws punches in combination and doesn't load up on one shot. As he hasn't gone past the sixth round yet, Top Rank needs to test his endurance this year. Anderson has tons of heavyweight tools, but he still has a few rungs to go up the ladder. There's no rush, but let's hope we can see some real progress in 2022.  

Felix Cash (14-0, 10 KOs, middleweight, Age 28, UK) 

Photo courtesy of Queensberry Promotions

The middleweight division has been lackluster in recent years. It's thin and the top guys haven't been in a rush to face each other. Those looking past the familiar names in the division might be interested in this potential sleeper. Cash was a solid amateur in the UK, has a great professional trainer in Tony Sims and has disarming power. In 2021 he knocked out fellow undefeated British prospect Denzel Bentley in three rounds. Cash can box and punch and has power from all ranges. It remains to be seen how he fares against superior athletes or those who try to muscle him on the inside, but make no mistake, he knows how to handle himself in the ring. Expect Cash to get an opportunity against a top-15 fighter in 2022. He could move fast – the division is weak and everyone is on the hunt for fresh faces.  

Charles Conwell (16-0, 12 KOs, junior middleweight, Age 24, USA)

Photo courtesy of Amanda Westcott

We don't often think of recent U.S. Olympians as wrecking balls in the ring, but that's what Conwell is. With a swarming style similar to Shawn Porter and Tim Bradley, but with more power than both, the 2016 Olympian is poised for big things in the sport. 2021 was mostly a marking time year for him with two fights against non-descript opponents; however, the junior middleweight division could soon have a bunch of titles available in the near future. Conwell could have some significant opportunities in the next 18 months. There are a couple of in- and out-of-the-ring concerns regarding his advancement. His defense still needs to be tightened up on the inside and his management (Split-T) is going through a variety of issues at the moment. Hopefully he will have a clear direction and at least one fight of real significance in 2022.   

Keyshawn Davis (4-0, 3 KOs, lightweight, Age 22, USA)

Davis is one of the more unusual prospects I've seen in recent years. He places his punches with patience and utmost care. Despite having athleticism and power, he's not in any rush in the ring. He seems wise beyond his years. A silver medalist in the Tokyo Olympics, Davis has also been a frequent sparring partner for champion Shakur Stevenson. Even with only four professional fights, Davis has pedigree, polish, and a number of veteran fighter skills. It will be interesting to see if he does possess the types of youthful flourishes that create new boxing fans. Does he have a killer instinct? Does he know when to turn on the jets? They say that youth is wasted on the young, but sometimes the young aren't burdened by caution. Let's see what's in store for Davis. To say that I'm intrigued by Davis is a massive understatement. 

Sebastian Fundora (18-0-1, 12 KOs, junior middleweight, Age 24, USA)

Photo courtesy of Esther Lin

The 6'5" southpaw junior middleweight (although he might actually be taller) is no longer a secret in boxing circles. Having been featured prominently on several PBC broadcasts over the last few years, Fundora is a unicorn in boxing. There's just no one like him in the sport. Not only is he five inches or so taller than almost everyone in the division, he also loves to fight inside and mix it up. Despite looking like a toothpick in the ring, he's actually a banger and a bruiser. He has deceptive toughness and physicality. But being unique isn't the same as being unbeatable. He had a draw with Jamontay Clary in 2019 and Sergio Garcia gave him a really hard time in his last fight. It's clear that Fundora would rather face brawlers than more disciplined and technical fighters. He has periods where he sometimes zones out and loses focus. He's rumored to face Erickson Lubin next in what could be one of the best fights in the first half of 2022.  

Bakhodir Jalolov (9-0, 9 KOs, heavyweight, Age 27, Uzbekistan)

The Tokyo Olympics super heavyweight champion, Jalolov has a powerful left hand, a sharp right hook and a natural ability for combination punching. The southpaw uses range well and can move, but some have questioned his gas tank, even in amateur three-round fights. He's still at least two years away from title contention, but he could move up the ladder fast. In 2022 he's going to need real opponents who will force him to go rounds. His knockouts and ring IQ will take him far, but more will be needed to round out his entire package in the ring. He's one of the best heavyweight prospects in the sport and he possesses an intriguing mix of power, skills and ring smarts.   

Frank Martin (15-0, 11 KOs, lightweight, Age 27, USA)

Martin opened eyes in 2021 by knocking out Jerry Perez in a battle of unbeaten prospects. Martin has also already fought in 2022, stopping veteran trial horse Romero Duno in four rounds on New Year's Day. Martin is highly skilled. A southpaw with great feet and excellent boxing acumen, he has power in both hands and the ability to land different punches for knockout blows. Fighting out of Derek James' gym in Dallas, Martin can box, but he has a nasty streak as well. Through 15 professional fights, Martin has barely lost a round. He's going to be a nightmare to outbox and he can hurt opponents too. Martin's recent opponents have been capable, but he's yet to face a solid combination puncher or a supreme athlete. We still need to see how good his defense is. His offense is already there.  

Artem Oganesyan (12-0, 10 KOs, junior middleweight, Age 23, Russia but fights out of Canada)

For those looking for a fighter who's a little off-the-grid, let me suggest Oganesyan. When doing research for a Ring City piece last year, Oganesyan hit my radar, and I became enthralled with his abilities. A southpaw with great feet, he's fantastic off the back foot, but he also can be aggressive when the situation calls for it. He's a pure boxer with pop, featuring hand speed, smooth movement and a high Ring IQ. Oganesyan isn't aligned with a huge promoter and didn't even fight in 2021, but he's certainly another of the young guns at 154 lbs. who could soon become a major factor in the division (Conwell and Fundora are also on this list). It's still to be determined just how big of a puncher he is. His knockouts are more a product of the accumulation of clean blows than one-punch finishing ability.  

Jesse "Bam" Rodriguez (14-0, 10 KOs, junior flyweight, Age 22, USA)

Rodriguez has footwork that may be on par with Lomachenko's, except it may even be more purposeful. Possessing speed, athleticism, power, a large punch arsenal and expert accuracy, Rodriguez is a young fighter who has genuine pound-for-pound ability. Trainer Robert Garcia has called him the best fighter in his gym and while that might sound like hyperbole considering Rodriguez's relative inexperience, let's not discount it either; he could be that good. Rodriguez is an aggressive southpaw with a rock-solid boxing foundation. Although he's definitely a knockout puncher, he doesn't force stoppages. His abilities have overwhelmed opponents to this point. It's still not clear if he's going to settle at 108 or 112 lbs., but he has the talent level to win a world championship in either division. It's going to come down to the sanctioning bodies for him, since champs won't be lining up to give him an opportunity. 

Gary Antuanne Russell (14-0, 14 KOs, junior welterweight, Age 25, USA)

Photo courtesy of Esther Lin

Yet another southpaw on this list, Russell mixes in blinding hand speed with significant punching power and spite. A brother of Gary Russell Jr.'s, Antuanne has a strong amateur pedigree, and seems to be more offensively-minded than his brother. In a perfect world Russell would be more active; he had only one fight in 2021 and one in 2020. I think that the only thing that Russell needs to improve on is his punch accuracy. He could sacrifice a little bit of speed to hit the target more frequently. A natural combination puncher, he could have even more success if he places his punches a little more carefully. He's a prime candidate to win a junior welterweight belt once Josh Taylor leaves the division.  

Dalton Smith (9-0, 7 KOs, junior welterweight, Age 24, UK)

Photo courtesy of Mark Robinson

Smith represented Great Britain in various amateur tournaments and in the World Series of Boxing. Trained by his father, Grant (who also corners champion Sunny Edwards), Smith has an impressive boxing foundation. And what separates him from many prospects in the UK is that he can really punch. Watching him in the ring, he fights like a guy with far more seasoning than just nine professional fights; his poise is one of his best qualities in the ring. The challenge for Smith is to ensure that he is moved correctly. Matchroom had difficulties developing their 2016 Olympians appropriately and the hope here is that Smith can move fast, but not too fast. He still needs to face more opponents who will provide genuine resistance and will be in the ring expecting to win. Matchroom's matchmakers are going to be essential in his development. Let's hope that they get this one right. The talent is there.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

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