Prospecting for gold: Finding future stars an inexact science
By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor
All things considered, it's a good thing I'm a writer.
Though message-board contributors and e-mailers frequently suggest I take up house painting or grocery bagging for a living, this is really the only legitimate form of work I'm qualified to do.
In fact, I shudder sometimes when pondering the professional path I might have taken had it not been for my seventh-grade English teacher -- Robert Rycombel -- who scribbled a grade onto a 1981 composition with the counsel, "You might want to think of this as a career, pal."
To paraphrase Olympic hockey hero Mike Eruzione, one classroom in either direction at Edward Town Junior High School and I've have been selling insurance.
But one thing's for sure... I'd never have made it as a futures trader.
Oh sure, I've been a sports fan all my life and I like to entertain myself with the idea that I can spot trends and identify Hall of Famers years in advance, but the truth of the matter is that my wife, Danielle, is the brains of the family when it comes to that skill.
Give her 20 dollars and a Daily Racing Form and she'll parlay it into a mortgage payment.
Give me the same stake and I'll be back to bleed the ATM within 15 minutes.
Same goes for fantasy football and baseball, where the success you'd think would follow a 20-year sportswriter instead seems destined for foes' girlfriends who forecast results on color schemes and helmet designs more so than pre-draft player evaluations.
My only redemption -- and a periodic one at best -- comes in boxing.
Since I started covering the sport several years ago, I've made a semi- concerted effort to veer off the path of only interviewing/covering established fighters to try and catch a prospect or two before they make a truly big splash.
And as with most things, some attempts go better than others.
For every 140-pound Miguel Cotto that I had reaching the pound-for-pound elite ahead of the curve in 2005, there's a cruiserweight Eric Fields -- who was stopped by Ola Afolabi for his first loss within days of talking to me in early 2008.
And for each Andre Berto that I connected with before he reached double-digit fight totals in early 2006, there's a Lanardo Tyner -- who dropped a one-sided decision to Mike Arnaoutis just hours after telling me "It's my first big chance. He's already had his. It's my turn now."
It's an inexact science... to say the least.
Still, it's not without reward.
I was reminded of that fact Saturday night courtesy of HBO as I watched Timothy Bradley take another step toward acclaim with a clear-cut -- if not exactly devastating -- decision win over welterweight Luis Carlos Abregu.
"It's just my team, my people and me," Bradley said.
And while I won't claim to have discovered the unbeaten Californian, I was indeed a fair distance ahead of the pack in featuring him in a May 2008 column in which he boasted to still be driving a Toyota Tundra pick-up truck with "the regular stock rims."
"It's just my team, my people and me," Bradley said, a couple weeks after his across-the-pound upset of Junior Witter for the WBC junior welterweight title. "That's the way it was before and that's the way it'll stay. I don't like to live a flashy life. I'm comfortable living below my means, and I'll keep doing that because it'll keep me hungry.
"Broke fighters are the ones who make it."
Upon hearing Max Kellerman sing his praises from Rancho Mirage, I felt like a proud papa.
I get a similar buzz each time Andre Ward gloves up on Showtime for another round of the Super Six tournament at 168 pounds.
I caught the 2004 Olympic champion's star on the way to the Cayman Islands two summers ago, as he prepared for a bout with Jerson Ravelo that would get him to 16-0 as a pro.
And while he impressed me that night while steel drums played near the Royal Watler Cruise Terminal ring, I became more enamored after chatting with him the next morning in a hallway as he fielded intermittent autograph requests outside a hotel gift shop.
Because many labeled him too green to seriously threaten the super middle elite, I was one of just a handful to pick him to upset Mikkel Kessler in the opening round last November.
Now, with Allan Green's unwilling carcass in the rear view mirror, he's the favorite.
"That's where I want to be different," he said in June 2008, replying to claims he was being brought along too slowly. "My goal isn't simply to win a championship and be finished. I want that to be the start of the process. I could've tried to get a title shot right away and finagled my way into a championship, but I want to earn it the right way and then hold on to it for a while.
"I'm absolutely not just a shooting star."
This week's title-fight schedule:
IBO cruiserweight title -- Perth, Australia
Danny Green (champion) vs. Paul Briggs (unranked)
Green (29-3, 26 KO): Third title defense; Unbeaten in 17 fights above 168 pounds
Briggs (26-3, 18 KO): Third title fight; Lost two title shots at 175 pounds
Fitzbitz says: "Green's too big, strong and active for a rusty, comebacking foe." Green in 9
WBA light heavyweight title -- Lemoore, Calif.
Beibut Shumenov (champion) vs. Viacheslav Uzelkov (No. 2 contender)
Shumenov (9-1, 6 KO): First title defense; Unbeaten in United States (5-0, 3 KO)
Uzelkov (22-0, 14 KO): First title fight; Stoppage wins in nine of last 10 fights
Fitzbitz says: "Styles make fights, but Uzelkov whipped a foe Shumenov barely solved." Uzelkov by decision
Last week's picks: 1-0 Overall picks record: 209-72 (74.3 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons is a veteran sports columnist who's written professionally since 1988 and covered boxing since 1995. His work is published in print and posted online for clients in North America and Europe. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at www.twitter.com/fitzbitz.