With the MMA world back in full swing, what better time than now to look into the top five prospects to keep an eye on in the years to come.
Daniel Geale’s victory over Anthony Mundine was not just important for the Tasmanian’s career, it might also be crucial for Australian boxing’s new wave.
Boxing in this country has long suffered from a vacuum after the retirements of Jeff Fenech and Kostya Tszyu. A sport that was so popular in the decades before has faded fast.
An influx of professionals after the Sydney 2000 Olympics, and the arrivals of Anthony Mundine and Danny Green helped sustain it over the past decade or so. ‘The Man’ has had every fight of his shown on pay-per-view, an example of his notoriety, which is no mean feat. And his tit-fot-tat rivalry with ‘The Green Machine’ has kept local boxing interest simmering along.
But at 37 and 39 years of age respectively, their days as the doyens of Aussie boxing are done. They both still have star power, but their best fights are behind them.
It’s time for a new brigade to take centre stage.
At 31, Daniel Geale is not exactly new but the Mundine fight has introduced him to a whole new audience. Clean-cut, respectable and a good role model, it is now up to him to seize that momentum and take the next step as he battles for more world titles.
Joining him on that podium is a clutch of current world champions, hungry young fighters and established veterans.
Billy Dib is the IBF featherweight world champion and has just one professional loss from 36 fights. He has teamed up with US rapper 50 Cent and wants to reconquer America. His last two fights have fallen through, but with his promoter’s star power he will generate buzz.
Will Tomlinson is the IBO super featherweight world champion and is undefeated. He is expected to fight in Melbourne in April but is keen to have a crack at the US.
Rounding out the 57.2-59kg ranks is talented challengers in Richmond’s featherweight Joel Brunker, Queenslander Corey McConnell and super featherweight Paul Fleming, who is also a member of the Billy Hussein stable, along with Dib.
At lightweight, Australia has two former world champions on the comeback trail – the globally respected Michael Katsidis and the ex-IBO champ Lenny Zappavigna.
Chad Bennett is one of Australian boxing’s great stayers. The Novocastrian has been in the fight game since 1999 but his big moment has finally arrived, with a world title shot in the wings. It would be just rewards for the 39 year old light welterweight.
Sam Soliman is the number two-ranked Australian middleweight and has an earned a shot Geale’s IBF title with a historic come-from-behind-win over Felix Sturm in Germany on Sunday. Like Lazarus rising from the canvas, Soliman came back from a second round knockdown to defeat Sturm on points.
The reward for the 39 year old with the awkward style is a date with Geale to see who is our best middleweight.
Others to keep an eye on are Jarrod Fleticher and Jamie Pittman.
Moving up the weight classes and cruiserweight Brad Pitt has all the tools to earn a world title shot. The imposing Melbournian with the famous name has an undefeated record and it’s now his time to shine.
At heavyweight Lucas Browne, Mark de Mori, Soloman Haumono and Alex Leapai are vying to be our best big man in the ring.
We also can’t forget multiple world champion Vic Darchinyan and the plethora of amateurs who have recently joined the professional ranks like Luke Jackson, Damien Hooper, Cameron Hammond Ibrahim Balla.
It’s these fighters and others that we should be championing and supporting. It’s the gyms like Grange Old School Boxing and Bodypunch, and trainers like Graham Shaw and Billy Hussein, that are the future.
Boxing has been under attack in recent years from many things – poor cards, too many different world titles, dodgy decisions, lousy fights, reduced media coverage and a lack of credibility.
The growth of mixed martial arts and other sports in the intensively competitive Australian market has combined to turn up the heat.
But boxing at its best is a wonderful sport, a globally popular pursuit that captures the imagination and still inspires many. It may have suffered blows in this country but it is not yet down for the count.
It might not be able to restore all of its past glory, time will tell, but there is still plenty to cheer and be proud about in Australian boxing.
Follow John on Twitter @johnnyddavidson