by Paul Magno
This Friday on the season opener of ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights, two outstanding prospects, Yuriorkis Gamboa and Odlanier Solis, will be highlighted. Both happen to be products of the Cuban Boxing machine and both are expected to make big waves in the sport. Here’s a list of the Top 10 active Cuban fighters who could make a splash in ’09.
1) Yuriorkis Gamboa (Featherweight): 12-0 (10 KO)- El Ciclon de Guantánamo has been creating a buzz in the sport since defecting from the Cuban national team in 2006. Some have compared him to an angry Meldrick Taylor while some have referred to him as a mini-Mike Tyson. Whatever comparison you like, there’s been no doubting his talent, pedigree and desire as he has easily plowed through a solid list of veteran fringe contenders.
Outlook for 2009: This year will be pivotal for Olympic Gold Medalist Gamboa. If he gets by fringe contender, Roger “Speedy” Gonzalez, this Friday, he will take on tough Elio Rojas for an Interim title and, possibly, the supremely tough and tested Oscar Larios by the end of the year. 2009 is expected to be the year that places Gamboa among the elite of the sport.
2) Joel Casamayor (Lightweight): 36-4-1 (22 KO)- Roller Coaster doesn’t even begin to describe “El Cepillo’s” last 18 months or so. He followed a very disappointing and controversial win over Jose Armando Santa Cruz with a high-octane KO of Michael Katsidis, only to be brought back down to Earth again by being KO’d in 11 by Juan Manuel Marquez. When a 37 year-old boxer loses a big fight, the temptation is always to write him off, but fighting 10 1/2 dead-even rounds with a top 5 pound 4 pound fighter doesn’t tell the story of someone who wants to be finished just yet.
Outlook for 2009: With his Golden Boy connections and an absolutely stacked Lightweight division, expect Casamayor to get a fair shot to be back in the mix at 135.
3) Juan Carlos Gomez (Heavyweight): 44-1 (35 KO)- Excellent Cruiserweight who probably had the goods to be an all-time great at that weight. Since moving up to Heavyweight, he’s been solid against fringe fighters on the European circuit. He has the tools to be a top Heavy, but it remains to be seen whether he can make that big move from a top 20 guy to a top 3 force.
Outlook for 2009: After winning 2 title eliminators, Gomez looks to be finally getting his shot at the WBC title against Vitali Klitschko. By the middle of the year we should know just where Gomez’s high-water mark at Heavyweight is.
4) Odlanier Solis (Heavyweight): 12-0 (8 KO)- While the world is looking to the flashy David Haye or the bone-crushing Chris Arreola to save the Heavyweight division, people may be overlooking the most logical choice of savior. “La Sombra,” an Olympic Gold-Winning teammate of Gamboa, is a charismatic, well-schooled technical fighter who is beginning to show signs of solid power. The one chink in his armor is that he carries around too much weight and needs to get better control of his training and eating habits.
Outlook for 2009: Solis will keep moving forward, beating club-level opposition and possibly step up his opponent level by the end of the year. A busier fighting schedule may make it easier to control his weight.
5) Yan Barthelemy (Bantamweight): 6-1 (0 KO)- This Olympic Gold Medalist and teammate of Gamboa and Solis has struggled to adapt to the pro game. While possessing all of the tools and discipline to thrive, he is lacking in power and agression and needs to make some major changes in technique if he wants to become a successful pro. He does hold 2 amateur wins over Gamboa and an Olympic Gold Medal, so his career is definitely salvageable.
Outlook for 2009: Continue to work on his power game and ditch his amateur instinct to fight off the back foot and throw pitty-pat arm punches.
6) Richard Abril (Lightweight): 10-1-1 (5 KO)- Solid all-around boxer who lost a close and controversial split decision to Breidis Prescott in ’08. Good, maybe even world-class, skills, but has to be more active. He’s fighting in the right division to become a seasoned pro, but he has to stay busy.
Outlook for 2009: Keep fighting on the Florida club circuit and hopefully a rematch with Prescott or a shot at Amir Khan by the end of ’09.
7) Yoan Pablo Hernandez (Cruiserweight): 17-1 (10 KO)- Good, ambitious Cruiserweight and former Cuban National Champ who tried to bite off a bit more than he could chew last year by facing former world champ, Wayne Braithwaite. The 24-year-old southpaw was TKO’d in 3, but he came back with 3 more wins before the end of the year.
Outlook for 2009: Nobody can accuse Hernandez of taking the easy road. He’s scheduled to fight fellow Cruiserweight prospect Aaron Williams later in January. A win could mean a title shot by the end of the year.
8.) Damian Frias (Jr. Wlterweight): 15-1 (7 KO)- Southpaw Jr. Welter who just upped his stock by winning the WBC FECARBOX Light Welterweight title.
Outlook for 2009: Will make the first defense of his title on January 16th and will be pushing for some more exposure in an already crowded 140 lb. class.
9) Elieser Castillo (Heavyweight): 30-6-2 (17 KO)- Reached the zenith of an inconsistent career with back to back wins over Lawrence Clay Bey and Corey Sanders in 2003. Castillo, at this point, is talented enough to be considered a top-shelf journeyman, but little more.
Outlook for 2009: Will follow the blueprint of the last few years: beat a club opponent and then hope for an upset against a better-regarded foe. He’s talented enough to surprise, so his opponents better not take him lightly.
10) Jose Antonio Izquierdo (Lightweight): 17-4-1 (14 KO)- Mexico-based former Cuban stand-out brought his 380-8 amateur record to the pros, but has yet to establish himself as anything other than a competent opponent. Seems to have settled into the role of opponent for younger fighters like Alex de Jesus and Anthony Peterson
Outlook for 2009: At 31 years of age and after having lost 4 in a row, Izquierdo better turn his ship around or he will become a professional stepping stone.
(For The BTBC’s TV schedule and other information about this Friday’s card, click here: http://www.btbc.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=tv&action=display&thread=393&page=1 )