Over the years, Philadelphia has produced many men that have made great contributions to the sport of boxing both inside and out of the ring. From Bernard Hopkins and his improbable title run, to George Benton molding champion after champion, to Russell Peltz setting the bar on how to promote a show, this city has been a consistent producer of boxing history. As of right now, our commission is one of the best in the business, our fans base is among the strongest and the local scene is one of the most active in the world.
While we here in Philadelphia hold all of these outstanding credentials, something is missing and that is the fact that we have no world champion to call our own.
With that being said, there is a long list of young talent coming through the ranks, all of whom either hail from the City of Brotherly Love or earned their stripes in the fight game boxing at venues such as the Blue Horizon, New Alhambra or the National Guard Armory.
It is said that a "Philadelphia Fighter" refuses to quit, gets back up when knocked down and is dangerous at all times. We have quite a few of these types out there now but do any of these guys have the other intangibles needed to become champion of the world? In this article I will examine the list of fighters with Philly roots and also give my prediction on who will have a long title run.
When I was asked to take on this assignment, I thought of our past champions and what made them great. I thought about how amazing it was that a young Tim Witherspoon earned the right to fight for the title after only 16 pro bouts and put Larry Holmes to the test in a close, split decision loss.
What might have been more impressive is that the Terrible One rebounded from such a heart breaking loss to become a two time world champion.
I thought about the stories old timers tell about Matthew Saad Muhammad, how he would thrill the crowd and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Then I thought, maybe there is someone flying under the radar like a young Jeff Chandler, who with only two amateur fights would eventually go on to on to become considered one of the greatest at 118 lbs of all time and a member of the boxing hall of fame. I thought about all of the impossible situations B-Hop was stuck in over the years, only to finish his career on top.
I realize that the game has changed from what it was back in the day. Instead of fighting and beating the best out there, today it is played with careful matchmaking. A lot depends on who you are associated with, if the fighter can attract an audience.
In the new wave of boxing I really like Rock Allen’s chances of being our next big thing; what is not to like? All the pieces are in place as in the ring his style is fan friendly yet disciplined. He can box, he can punch, he is fast and has excellent defensive skills. He has an extensive amateur background which allowed him to travel the world and face off against some of the best competition on the planet.
Since turning pro in 2005, Allen seems to be completely dedicated to the sport evident by his participation in 10 fights over the past calendar year. He is trained by Brother Naseem Richardson, so family is always close by; he is on the Golden Boy Promotions roster so you know he will get the right fights.
He is familiar with the spotlight, fighting on the undercards of stars Hopkins, De La Hoya, and Shane Mosley, among others. On top of it he is a class act. Who can match that? I say by the middle of 2008, Rock will be putting the world on notice and make a long run as welterweight champion of the world.
While Rock Allen is my pick to be the best of the bunch, we still have lot of others to cheer for as well. Most of these fighters have very good chances of winning championship gold. Here is a rundown of boxers with Philly roots doing their thing at home and beyond, all of whom have hopes of becoming Philly's next champion.
Starting off in the heavyweight division we have Blue Horizon poster boy Eddie Chambers. The Pittsburgh born but Philly bred heavyweight is 27-0 with 15 KO's and is finally starting to test the outside waters as he was recently in Vegas as the co-feature for the Paul Williams - Sharmba Mitchell debauchery.
As of right now, there is nothing scheduled for "Fast Eddie", but with the division in desperate need of a blood transfusion, don't be surprised to see him pop up somewhere soon. The fans outside of Philly have heard the name and are itching to see what he is all about. Wouldn't a televised dustup against Brian Minto make sense? These are two PA natives with some recognition, but both are in need of a real name opponent on their resume to move up the ladder. If Chambers can pass a test like Brian Minto, it is quite possible that he can go on to win a title in the heavyweight division.
The same goes for Malik Scott, 25-0 (10). He has been piling up the wins against journeyman types as he awaits a chance to step up and make a splash on the scene. The Champ’s Gym alumnus has an outstanding amateur background and Main Events Promotions in his corner, so it is almost certain that he will at least get a shot, although he seems to be on their back burner right now. Bet on ’08 being the year for Malik Scott.
Chazz Witherspoon, 15-0 (9), is starting to generate a loud buzz on the local scene. He is surrounded by people who know what it takes to make a champion and is already becoming a big draw when he steps in the ring. Yes, I know he Terrible Tim’s cousin but this is no Frank Stallone type of deal, Chazz has earned his stripes on his own. He has the skills, the smarts and the team to do something sooner rather than later.
Don't write off tough guy Gerald Nobles, 24-1 (19), just yet. “The Jedi” is returning from his two year, um, hiatus and just signed up with Silverhawk Promotions. Nobles in considered one of the hardest punchers in the game evident by his 19 KO’s in 24 wins. His lone loss came via DQ against WBA champ Nikolay Valuev because he tried to soften the big guy up with low blows one too many times. Silverhawk is a promotional company on the rise and they plan on using Nobles as a headliner right away. Who knows what will happen here?
The gem of the lot could be Minnesota powerhouse Joey Abell, 9-0 (9), who has been earning his stripes as a Philly fighter out of the Blue Horizon in 2006. This monster of a man has been running roughshod over the competition and winning these notoriously tough fans over with his big, exciting knockouts. While “Minnesota Ice” is still in the early stages of his development, he is already selling out arenas and could be something special soon. He has the knockout power that boxing hasn't seen in quite some time. It remains to be seen if he has the boxing skills to match.
In the cruiserweight division, Southwest Philly native Steve “USS” Cunningham, 19-0 (10), is still early in his pro career, but he has already stepped up and beaten some of the top contenders in the division. He gets his long awaited title shot this November in Poland against Krzysztof Wlodarczyk to fight for the IBF Cruiserweight strap. This has been a long time in the making for Cunningham who had two other title fights fall through since the beginning of the year, most notably a unification bout against division kingpin O’Neil Bell.
To travel to an opponent’s homeland is a risky proposition but “USS” is hungry and more than capable of pulling off the win. No matter how well he performs, I think Cunningham needs to score a knockout because, let’s face it, when an American goes overseas to fight for a title, especially against the hometown kid, you don't want to leave the fight in the hands of the judges. Whatever the result, you can expect to see Steve in against stiff competition in a very under rated cruiserweight division. Let’s hope he enters the ring as a champion.
Another cruiserweight that makes a lot of noise inside and outside of the ring is Simon “One Punch” Carr, 4-1 (3). Fresh off of an eight year penitentiary stretch, "One Punch" made his long awaited ring debut in 2006 spent most of his rookie season exciting crowds and knocking people out on the Philly circuit. The goal was to take it to a national audience in the not so distant future but a recent setback at the National Guard Armory might have put a halt to those plans for the time being.
Simon is still early in his pro career and this could serve as a valuable learning experience. Carr seems to be very dedicated to his profession and this is a major test to see if he really means what he says about his desire to be a world champion. He has overcome harder times than suffering a loss in the ring and I am positive we have not seen the last of the South Philly slugger. No matter what, I think he can have a long career in this town because he has knockout power that fans love. If he can put together a long winning streak, I think that his power combined, with his marketability, can get him to the next level.
There are a couple of good looking prospects in the light heavyweight division. After solid rookie campaigns in 2005, the Philly fans were able to watch Max Alexander, 12-1 (2), and Chucky Cavallo, 11-0 (3), continue to learn their craft this year at various locations around the city. If we were still in the days of Bobby "Boogaloo" Watts and company, these two would be getting ready to square off any day now. But this is the new school of boxing and it probably won't happen unless Russell Peltz puts together a CN8 pay per view card going for $10 a pop.
Max started off hot in ’06, winning his first seven contests and was in position for a shot at the PA state title until he found himself on the wrong end of one of the biggest knockouts in recent memory. It will be interesting to see how he bounces back from this setback. Will the mental effects be too much to and overcome or will he show the heart of a champion and bounce back strong? Time will tell, hopefully we can see him back in the ring soon.
While Max has most of the division's attention, Cavallo slowly but surely build his record up to an impressive 11-0 mark and got a taste of national exposure when he capped off an ESPN Wednesday Night Fight card in August. Cavallo is a little rough around the edges in the ring but he seems to be a tough kid with good power in his gloves. Look for him to slowly increase the level of competition throughout the next year.
While title shots are not eminent for these two light heavyweights, both have the potential for solid careers in the ring and with the right breaks, who knows what could happen.
Also on the light heavy scene, a guy who has made a couple of pit stops in the area this year and scored some crowd pleasing knockouts is Berry Butler, 21-12 (18), who is now the #1 contender and mandatory challenger for Montell Griffin’s USBA title. Best of luck to the “Killa B” who helped make cards at the Blue Horizon and in Trenton enjoyable. Hopefully we will see him again.
It wasn’t long ago that Yusef Mack, 22-1 (14), was on the verge of being a major player in the super middleweight division. His loss to Alejandro Barrio on Friday Night Fights silenced all of that talk for now. Call me crazy but I think we will be hearing from him again. He is too good to go out like he did on ESPN. He has all the tools to get right back in contention in an open super middleweight division.
Unfortunately for Yusef, most of the good super middleweights fight overseas and a couple of American kids have jumped ahead of him in the rankings. For now, it should be back to the basics. Forget Calzaghe and Lacy for a minute and concentrate on what made you a regional champion. When he is on his game, few can beat Mack.
Philly also has LaJuan Simon, 15-0 (9), in the mix, banging out victories all over the country. A couple more good performances could have him in the hunt for gold as well. Omar Pittman, 12-3 (7), ended 2005 on a sour note but has bounced back to win three straight in ’06. He may be a bit of a long shot but does have a punchers chance.
Throughout time, the best part of Philly boxing has been its middleweight division and nothing has changed in this department as Willie Gibbs, 20-1 (16), has a slim lead in a deep pack of hopefuls. Anthony Thompson, Randy Griffin, Saeed Hawkins, the Mitchell brothers and even the much ballyhooed but untested Tyrone Brunson are all within striking distance of each other in the rankings and close to earning contender status.
Wouldn't it be great if one of these guys got the shot and took out Jermain Taylor? I think that is instant qualification for Philly Hall of Fame. On the road to Taylor, a couple of these guys may have to bang it out against each other. Gibbs has recovered from a 2004 setback to become the USBA Champion. He just secured a showdown on HBO against tough as nails Edison Miranda for sometime in December. A win here shoots him right to the top of the division.
Anthony Thompson, 22-1 (16), is right in there too, rebounding from his sole loss to Grady Brewer to win his last seven contents, although not all of them were in an impressive manner. "The Messenger" did look good in his last fight and will be featured heavily on Top Rank’s Thursday Fight Night on Versus (formerly OLN).
It is time for the Messenger to step up; he has fought a long list of nobodies. The Mitchell brothers moved to Florida but "Murder" and "Homicide" have only one combined loss this decade. They aren't getting any younger so if they are going to make a move it better be soon. Silverhawk has their back and one of the two could be a surprise in the division.
Randy Griffin left the local scene in 2002 and has been racking up the wins all over the country, the same holds true for Saeed Hawkins. While all of these fighters are immensely talented, it seems to me that Jermain Taylor is going to be on the throne for a long time and it doesn't help that the division runs very deep in good young talent. These fighters could wear themselves out on the way to the top.
One of the favorite choices for next great Philly champ is Harry Joe Yorgey, 16-0, a junior middleweight who at 28 years old seems to have finally beaten the injury bug and has his career riding in the fast lane. While some might harp on the time lost, I say timing is everything and if Yorgey is going to make a move, he should do it soon. The big names in the division are dropping like flies due to guys retiring or suffering from old age, which basically leaves Cory Spinks and Kassim Ouma as the only established fighters in the weight class. If Yorgey can knock off a couple of the undefeated prospects standing in his way, a title shot could be in line in the not so distant future.
Because those money grubbers at Comcast won’t service my neck of the city, I have to deal with satellite cable. This means no Phillies, no Sixers and worse off, it always goes out when it rains. The one and only positive thing I can say about having DirectTV is that I catch a lot of smaller boxing cards around the country. Derek Ennis is a fighter who happens to pop up every once in a while and let me tell you, his style is made for the tube. He is an action fighter that brings it from the opening bell. He is the type who will beat an opponent up, get dropped and get back up to win. Ennis, who started his career fighting out of the Armory and Blue is now 10-0 (7) and climbing his way up the light middleweight ladder.
I also have to give props to Terrence “Heat” Cauthen ,who fought at the Blue a few times this season. While he is one of my least favorites to watch, I always give credit where it is due so I will take this time to say congrats on recently signing the promotional deal with Silverhawk and also on the big win in October, which crowned you the new USBA Junior Middleweight Champion.
In the welterweight division we have my pick Rock Allen, 10-0 (7), who is young and on the rise. This division also has Miguel Figueroa, 24-5 (14), a very good fighter but is very inconsistent and likes to stay inactive for long stretches. These are two of the worst ingredients for making a champion. With that being said, when he steps into the ring, Figueroa is fun to watch.
Thought to be as good as gone a month ago, now there are loud whispers that Miguel will be taking on Andre Berto as the co feature for the HBO televised Taylor-Ouma dustup. Combine a big win on a national stage with having J. Russell Peltz on your side as promoter, anything is possible. The time has come for Miguel Figueroa to step up or step aside as a prize fighter.
While we are speaking of welterweights, I have to give a shout out to Doel Carrasquillo, 7-3 (5), a fighter who they keep bringing as the “opponent” but he just keeps pulling off the upsets via early knockout. This fringe Philly fighter has gone 4-0 with 4KO’s in 2006. If anyone wants to find out what their young welterweight is made of, come see Doel because he brings it every time out.
Demetrius Hopkins, 24-0-1 (10), is steadily climbing the junior welterweight ladder, has beaten the rest and is now ready for a serious test. While it is uncertain who he will fight next, names like Emmanuel Augustus and Junior Witter have been thrown around for an HBO BAD headliner and could show the world just how far along D-Hop is.
The knock on D-Hop is that his fights can be downright boring for long stretches but to his credit, four of his last five have ended in knockout highlighted by a murderous right hand in his last fight that left Michael Warrick out cold for an extended period. D-Hop is knocking on the door and it may not be long before he is mixing it up with a Ricky Hatton or Jose Luis Castillo
In the lightweight bracket, Philly is represented by the roller coaster ride known as Zahir Raheem. He has shocked the world in the past but also has found himself on the wrong end of controversial decisions more than once. After years of sitting on the promotional backburner, Raheem, 27-2 (16), was taken off the bench in 2004. The Z-Man responded by giving a young Rocky Juarez the fight of his life. Unfortunately, suspect officiating cost the North Philly native a win as he was deducted three points for alleged holding.
This left Raheem out of sight for over a year until he was brought in as the hand picked opponent for Erick Morales in his tune up bout for Manny Pacquiao. In what was supposed to be quick and easy work for Morales turned into a nightmare as Raheem dismantled one of the top pound for pound fighters of the last 25 years.
This win earned him a shot at the WBO lightweight title against Acelino Freitas back in April and the world was expecting fireworks. This fight turned out to be a complete dud and Zahir was on the wrong side of a close split decision loss. We haven't heard from the Z-Man since but there are still possibilities for him. A fight with Juan Diaz has loads of potential due to the contrast in styles. The same goes for Diego Corrales. Either way, we know Raheem is capable getting the big win, the question now is will he ever get another opportunity to do so? Let’s hope so because there are plenty of good fights to be made there.
Another fighter coming up the ranks of the lightweight division is Georgia native Ramazan Palyani, 14-0 (8), who started his career on the Philly circuit but has spent the past year beating some of the best opposition available overseas. Razzamatazz will be returning to Philly in November fighting at the New Alhambra fighting for the PA State lightweight title against Ray Narh in what promises to be a slugfest.
While these are the vets of our fighting city, we also have some talented young pups waiting in the wings who could very well make it on this list next year. Mike Jones, Gabe Rosado, Latif Mundy, and Kassim Wilson are a few on the Philly circuit who recently turned pro and are on the rise.
The same goes for Jamie Morales, who only has five pro fights under his belt but already has fans and media talking about his action packed style and always seems to steal the show. Eric “Outlaw” Hunter has the potential as well but has participated in only one fight over the past year.
Former amateur standout Tiger Allen is undefeated in a couple of pro bouts and has been keeping busy over the past year giving good work as a sparring partner for some of the biggest name middleweights in the business. Tiger is another fighter that could make a lot of waves in the near future. Stay tuned when it comes to these fighters.
All of these names, all this potential. So what we don’t currently have a fighter lighting the world on fire, the bottom line is that Philly is still number one when it comes to professional boxing. So with all of these options, who do you think is going to be the next great Philadelphia champion?