Sunday, February 18, 2024

Michigan's Next Boxing Wave

Michigan has produced several fighters who rank among the best in the sport's history, including Joe Louis, Tommy Hearns, James Toney, and Floyd Mayweather Jr. And while the cupboard has never fully emptied, with recent notables such as the Dirrell brothers, Tony Harrison, Claressa Shields and Ra'eese Aleem proudly carrying on the state's boxing tradition, Michigan right now doesn't have the number of elite boxing talents that it once did. 

Dmitriy Salita is placing much of his promotional company's future in the hands of Michigan's next crop of fighters. Salita, who resides in Michigan and has promoted several cards in the Detroit area, has become a believer in this next wave. With his new boxing series, Big Time Boxing USA, set to debut on DAZN on Tuesday, Salita intends to showcase Michigan's boxing talent to a global audience. His first event in the series will take place at the Wayne State Fieldhouse in Detroit.

Salita will have six of his fighters appearing on the broadcast (although one of them has his fight still up in the air at publication time). I spoke with Salita about each fighter and what his expectations are for them on Tuesday and the next 12-18 months. His excitement level about his crop was palpable.  

Photo courtesy of Salita Promotions

Ardreal Holmes (14-0, 5 KOs) vs. Marlon Harrington (10-1, 9 KOs): Junior Middleweights

Tuesday's main event features an all-Michigan matchup between Holmes (Flint) and Harrington (Detroit). It's a sink-or-swim fight for both in that Salita promotes Harrington and co-promotes Holmes with DiBella Entertainment. These two fighters are intimately familiar with each other, having sparred against each other throughout their careers, and there's also bad blood between them. 

Harrington is the puncher in the matchup while Holmes is a fighter who relies much more on timing and movement. Harrington's one loss was to the trickster Marquis Taylor, who we've subsequently found out to be is an excellent fighter. Holmes had a troubling performance in his last fight against Wendy Toussaint, where he was fortunate to win by a split decision in a fight that was stopped early because of a cut. In that fight, Holmes had issues handling Toussaint's aggression and physicality. 

Salita has liked how Harrington responded from his loss, stopping the undefeated Gheith Karim in the first round. Salita knows that Holmes can be tricky, but he can also be hit. Salita is very satisfied that both agreed to take the fight; they both could have gone in different directions. This fight will very much be for pride and bragging rights. 

Ali Izmailov (11-0, 7 KOs): Light Heavyweight

Izmailov is a Russian light heavyweight based in Detroit who has already established himself on the national scene with an impressive win over Charles Foster on ShoBox last year. Trained by John David Jackson, Izmailov is physically imposing, hits hard, but also has a solid boxing foundation. 

He fights Britton Norwood (13-4-1) on Tuesday and the bout is expected to be of the showcase variety. Izmailov is already 30 so his future is now. Salita has had difficulty finding opponents who will fight him. He's hoping that Izmailov's performance on Tuesday can lead to bigger opportunities in the light heavyweight division, but he understands that Izmailov might need to go the sanctioning body route to get a notable name to face him. 

Joseph Hicks (9-0, 6 KOs): Junior Middleweight

Hicks qualified for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team, but like a few others didn't wind up representing the country in 2021 due to the pandemic-related politics associated with the 2021 Games. Despite Hicks' amateur pedigree, he didn't start his professional career until early 2022. Hicks is already 30 and Salita is trying to move him quickly; he fought five times in 2023. 

Although he lives in Lansing (and is originally from Grand Rapids), Hicks trains with Kay Koroma out of Las Vegas. Interestingly, although middleweight is a relatively barren division in terms of top-flight prospects in the U.S., Hicks and his team have made the decision to drop down to junior middleweight for Tuesday's fight. He faces Argentina's Ricardo Ruben Villalba (20-10-1), who isn't supposed to win, but this fight will be an opportunity to determine how Hicks does at the new weight class. 

Salita likes Hicks' strong work ethic and amateur pedigree. He regards Hicks as a high-character person (Hicks was due to captain the 2020 U.S. Olympic team). Salita believes that Hicks' desire and willingness to do whatever it takes will help separate him from other fellow prospects as he moves up the ranks. 

Joshua James Pagan (9-0, 4 KOs): Lightweight

Although Pagan's power isn't a major facet of his game, he possesses a strong amateur pedigree, where he won the 2021 USA Nationals. Salita has become more of a believer in Pagan in every fight. Pagan has already beaten three undefeated fighters. Trained by his father, Pagan has a very strong boxing foundation. He has recently spent time in Miami working with Herman Caicedo, trainer of Luis Ortiz, Michel Rivera, and others, and earned rave reviews. 

Pagan, from Grand Rapids, was supposed to face undefeated Detroiter Dwane Taylor (7-0, 7 KOs) on Tuesday. However, Taylor had a late sparring injury. As of publication, Salita is still looking for a replacement opponent. Pagan may or may not appear on the card. Either way, Pagan will be a featured fighter on Salita's shows. 

Da'Velle Smith (7-0, 6 KOs): Middleweight

Dearborn's Smith has quickly established himself as one of the hardest hitters in the Detroit area. And Salita doesn't mince words regarding Smith's power potential, proudly relaying that several old-timers on the Detroit boxing scene told him that Smith might be the biggest puncher from the city since Tommy Hearns. 

Smith, 23, didn't have a notable amateur background and still possesses a rawness in the ring. In addition to his power, he's a surprisingly good athlete. He still rushes his work a little bit. 

Salita calls Smith his "blue-chipper," and thinks that he could rise fast in the middleweight division. He fights Argentina's Rolando Mansilla (19-13-1, 9 KOs). Smith is expected to win without too much trouble, but the hope is that he creates a highlight-reel type of statement. Like Pagan, Smith also went to Miami recently to work with Caicedo. Smith trains out of the Kronk gym and Salita believes that he could beat several top middleweight prospects right now.  

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of
He's a contributing writer for Ring Magazine, a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
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