The Pugilist

The Brits who should step up in 2014 – and those who should step down

TO STEP UP:

Frankie Gavin

British and Commonwealth welterweight kingpin Gavin turned pro to fanfare appropriate for Britain’s only amateur world champion, and his Olympic weight-making disaster was quickly forgotten. But what else has been forgotten is how excited we all were back in 2009 when Gavin turned over, as in recent years he has trundled to several dull points wins over inferior opposition, and has occasionally looked vulnerable. Nobody is doubting his talent, but he’s starting to look like a bored boxer, and the only remedy for that is a serious step up in opposition in 2014.

Chris Eubank Jr

The son of “Simply the Best” is one of the nation’s best-known boxers thanks to his famous dad and having fought in front of the terrestrial television cameras of Channel 5 since his first pro bout. Yet, this same exposure has also contributed to a stop-start apprenticeship. After nine contests in his first 13 months, often against opponents of a higher caliber than is usual for a prospect’s formative days, middleweight Eubank appeared just three times in 2013. He impressed in the latter two bouts and is clearly ready for either a higher standard or a busier timetable this year – or, preferably, both.

Hughie Fury

Fury is only 19 and ordinarily that would grant a prospect a stay of execution on judging his progress. But inevitably people are judged by their own proclamations, and Hughie, cousin of world-ranked Tyson Fury, has the stated ambition of becoming the youngest ever world heavyweight champion.

If he is to fulfil this unlikely goal and take a major belt at a younger age than record-holder Mike Tyson, who bagged the WBC strap at 20 years and four months, Fury has until February 2015 to do it. That means a hugely busy 2014 and a vast step up from those he’s beaten so far.

Larry Ekundayo

Ekundanyo made a huge impact when he entered the 2012 light-middleweight Prizefighter tournament with a mere two-fight ledger, and went on to win the whole thing. Not only that, but he showcased a raft of skills that had spectators marking him out as one of the country’s finest prospects.

Unfortunately, his “breakout” night also granted him instant membership to the “Who needs him?” club, and he has struggled to capitalise. In the 14 months since winning Prizefighter, Ekundanyo has fought just once. At 31 and 6-0, he needs a big push this year.

TO STEP DOWN:

Danny Williams

Williams’ undignified late-career descent gathered pace in 2013, one insignificant victory aside, as he continued his policy of “have gloves, will travel – and will probably lose”. He’s not the first and won’t be the last formerly world-level boxer to trade his name in for paydays and beatings in the twilight of his career, but Williams is a particularly sad case.

He was last seen in Britain in 2010, losing quickly to a then-unproven Dereck Chisora in what looked to be the natural end of his career. But he has collected frequent-flyer miles since, fighting in nine countries but winning just one of his past 11 bouts. Worse still, in his most recent contest, he was outscored by a journeyman with a meagre 8-45-6 record. Surely that will be sufficient embarrassment for a man who has beaten Mike Tyson and challenged for the world heavyweight championship. Let’s hope so.

Larry Olubamiwo

I cannot condone Olubamiwo's relicensing last year after a mere 18-month ban for testing positive for a pharmacy-full of performance-enhancing drugs. That Olubamiwo was beaten by club fighter Jason Gavern in his return showed that he hardly improved when 'clean'. While the Board may have treated Olubamiwo lightly, the Gavern result – in November’s UK v USA heavyweight Prizefighter tournament – will hopefully convince him, and any promoters, that he is no longer a viable pro boxer.

Audley Harrison

Staying with the heavyweights, surely the end has come once and for all for a man who has reinvented himself more times than Madonna. Despite the defeats and disappointments that have marked a career, Harrison’s charisma and sense of unfulfilled potential still had people backing him as recently as April, when he met US knockout specialist Deontay Wilder.

But Harrison was crushed quickly and, at 41, he finally seemed to realise that his ship had sailed, and announced his retirement. However, this was quickly retracted and a comeback was announced weeks later. He hasn’t fought since but continues to insist he will box on. Unless he wants to be a journeyman, there are precious few avenues left.

Shane McPhilbin

Perhaps McPhilbin was always an unlikely champion, and a beneficiary of circumstance, but he was always competitive and eager, with his fights against the likes of Leon Williams and Enzo Maccarinelli in particular providing great theatrics. So it’s a shame to see the former British champion hit a losing streak, going 0-6-1 since dropping the belt. But more important than the stats is the apparent lack of desire from a man who used to be well up for a ruck. When you lose your appetite, it’s time call it quits.

Bheki Moyo

There isn’t anything more important than the stats in this case. Welterweight Moyo is an inglorious 0-64-2. Yes, yes, I know, journeymen are the backbone of the sport, and all that. But notice I said “sport” – putting pretty much any pro boxer in against a man who’s gone winless in 66 bouts just isn’t sport.

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Last Year:

In 2013, I called for Nathan Cleverly, David Price, Tony Bellew, George Groves and Gavin to step up. As you can see from this year's list, Gavin continued to tread water, but all the others satisfied my curiosity and chanced their hands in true world-class company. However, all but Groves were soundly beaten in doing so - Cleverly against Sergei Kovalev, Price against Tony Thompson (twice) and Bellew against Adonis Stevenson. Groves also lost, but actually gained in defeat after his sterling effort against Carl Froch.

Williams also topped the ‘step down’ list last year, but failed to heed the call. Harrison came in at number 2 and, a Prizefighter success aside, remains in much the same position this year. Robin Reid did not resurface in 2013, while Jason Booth and Enzo Maccarinelli defied my scepticism with good performances, the latter even winning the Commonwealth 12st 7lb title.

Oliver Fennell | BoxRec News