Aussie boxing expert Anthony Cocks writes about what boxers to keep an eye on in 2019
It’s that time of year when we look back over the past 12 months and forward to the new year. In my annual review of Aussie boxers, I list the ones to watch by division in 2019. To keep things interesting, I have decided not to nominate the same boxer in my column twice. I have also included a review of the previous year’s nominee to see how close – or far – I was from the mark.
WELTERWEIGHT: ‘Gelignite’ Jack Brubaker 15-2-1 (7)
Cronulla’s Brubaker had just two fights in 2017 but he showed his class in both of them. In May the 27-year-old outpointed vastly more experienced Englishman Tyrone Nurse 35-5-2 (7) over 12 closely-contested round to claim a unanimous decision victory by scores of 115-113 and 116-112 twice. The natural-born entertainer returned to action in December to score an eight-round unanimous points victory over heavy-handed Indonesian Larry Siwu in a fun and fast-paced contest.
Now managed by MTK Global and coached by Graham Shaw who masterminded Daniel Geale’s two world championship wins at middleweight, Brubaker believes he has the right team in place to take him to the next level.
LAST YEAR: Kris George 14-2 (8)
After an easy first-round KO of Maximilliano Leonel Scalzone 16-3-1 (12) of Argentina in March, George jetted off to England to face Josh Kelly in June in defence of the Commonwealth 147-pound crown he won against Brubaker in 2017. The Kelly fight ended at the close of the seventh after the game Queenslander suffered two suspected broken hands and a broken jaw. Put simply, George who was outclassed by the better man. Persistent injuries cruelled his career, but the young family man has a successful fishing business to run in his native Toowoomba. Maxboxing wishes him all the best in retirement.
JUNIOR WELTERWEIGHT: Liam ‘The Prodigy’ Paro 15-0 (11)
Paro is arguably the best prospect in Australia. There simply isn’t anything the talented 22-year-old does wrong. That shows up in his results, with the rising star dispatching three increasingly better opponents across the course of the past 12 months.
Paro walked through the underqualified Kurt Finlayson in three in February, smashed Sebastian Bytyqi in two frames to seize the vacant WBO Youth title in May, then skilfully broke down Robert Tlatlik before stopping him in the seventh stanza of their scheduled 10-round bout in October for the interim WBO Asia Pacific title.
Paro remains one of the hottest prospect in Australia and continues to improve with each and every outing under the auspices of coach Alfie Di Carlo. Next up is a return to his native Mackay in North Queensland where he will face Italian 140-pound champion Massimiliano Ballisai 22-5 (12) over 10 in February.
LAST YEAR: Darragh ‘Super’ Foley 15-3-1 (8)
Things went from good to bad to worse in 2018 for 30-year-old southpaw Foley. The year started brightly for the Sydney-based Irishman with a clear-cut 12-round points victory over NABA champion and WBA number 10 Steven Wilcox 19-3-1 (5) of Canada. Foley surprised many by outboxing the boxer at The Star casino in Sydney, claiming the win by scores of 117-111, 118-110 and 116-112. Five months later he had to settle for a technical draw against Chris Jenkins in Glasgow, Scotland after an accidental headclash opened up a cut over Jenkins’ right eye in the second round before the fight was halted by the ringside physician after the third. The WBA number five ranked 140-pounder returned to the UK to face Akeem Ennis Brown 12-0 (1) at York Hall in London in December where he lost a 10-round unanimous decision by scores of 93-97, 92-98 and 94-96 in a bout for the vacant IBF European title. Foley has since been dropped from the rankings and now faces a rebuilding year in 2019.
LIGHTWEIGHT: Dee Dee ‘The Silencer’ Hobbs 8-0 (5)
Dee Dee Hobbs had stiff competition here with Jacob ‘The Flamingo’ Ng 9-0 (7) having a breakout year and rank novice Francis ‘The Removalist’ Chua 6-0-1 (2) scoring the upset of the year against WBO number three ranked contender Kye MacKenzie 20-2 (17). In the end it was Hobbs’ tough and gritty performances – often outside her natural weight class – that earned her the nod.
The softly-spoken Hobbs, who works in a car wrecking yard between fights, is a classic seek-and-destroy fighter not afraid to wear a shot to land two back. Her bloody eight-round war with New Zealand’s Baby Nansen 7-4-1 that she won by unanimous decision at 130-pounds in December was a late contender for Australian Fight of the Year. In July she destroyed the previously unbeaten Aimee Addis 4-1 for the vacant Australian junior middleweight title in a single round while in April she gave away almost 10-pounds to Arlene Blencowe 4-5 (2) defeating her by split decision over six. Add Hobbs to the list of people you don’t want to run into in a dark alley at night.
A world title shot beckons in 2019 with WBO champion Rose Volante 14-0 (8) firmly in Team Hobbs’ sights. IBF and WBA 135-pound boss Katie Taylor 12-0 (5) from Ireland is another obvious target.
LAST YEAR: Kye ‘Mr Frenzy’ MacKenzie 20-2 (17)
This was looking a smart pick up until the last day of November when WBO number three 135-pounder MacKenzie was shockingly upset by six-fight novice Francis ‘The Removalist’ Chua 6-0-1 (2). Perth southpaw Chua – who turned professional just 18 months earlier – took the MacKenzie fight on short notice on the undercard of Jeff Horn’s KO1 victory over Anthony Mundine at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium and stole the show with his unlikely 58-56, 59-55 and 56-58 victory.
Perhaps we should have seen this coming. MacKenzie had to pick himself up off the canvas in his tougher-than-expected TKO7 win over Filipino Mark Bernaldez 17-2 (12) in Perth in October after scoring and easy fourth round TKO over Emiliano Martin Garcia 16-3 (13) of Argentina in Sydney in January.
Make no mistake, MacKenzie is tough and he can definitely punch. But he can get reckless at times and neglect his defence in the heat of battle. Although his world title dreams have been derailed for now, at 26 there’s plenty of time for MacKenzie to rebuild and shore up his defence ahead of what I hope will be another run at a world title in late 2019. The kid is nothing short of exciting to watch.
SUPER FEATHERWEIGHT: Liam Wilson 3-0 (2)
Former amateur star Wilson looked to have bitten off more than he could chew when he chose to challenge undefeated Australian 130-pound champion Brent Rice 8-1 (2) in just his third pro fight after two easy first-round blowouts. But the 22-year-old Wilson showed his class, boxing a patient fight to outpoint the reigning champion by unanimous decision over 10 rounds by scores of 97-92, 96-93 and 97-92.
With more than 100 amateur starts under his belt the hard-hitting Wilson turned pro after representing Australia at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast last year where he lost in the quarterfinals. Trained by Benny Harrington at All Star Boxing in Brisbane, the 5-foot-9 Wilson is a huge super featherweight and enjoy a significant size and strength advantage over most of his opponents.
Wilson has been called “the real deal” by former WBO welterweight champion Jeff Horn and likened to former world champ Ricky Hatton by his coach Harrington, who highlights his aggressive body attack as one of his best assets.
It’s too early to tell where the ceiling is for the ultra-competitive and ultra-aggressive Wilson, but he appears to be on a fast-track to the top. Get on-board this train early, it’s going to be one hell of a ride.
LAST YEAR: Billy ‘The Kid’ Dib 43-5 (24)
The 33-year-old Sydneysider had his last roll of the dice in 2018 when he squared off against Tevin Farmer 28-4-1 (6) for the vacant IBF super featherweight title in Sydney in August. The light-punching Philly southpaw has a deceptive record – his four losses and a draw all came within his first 12 pro fights – and he showed his class to comprehensively outbox the former IBF featherweight champion to win by scores of 118-109, 119-108 and 120-107. Dib, who remains one of the standout Aussie boxers of the past 15 years, announced his retirement in the wake of the loss.
FEATHERWEIGHT: Jai Alexander 9-0 (6)
The Mornington pug faced his first opponents with winning records in 2018 logging three wins and keeping his undefeated record intact. Alexander moved straight from four rounders to a 10-round bout with his fifth round stoppage of knockout artist Isaias Santos Sampaio 22-15 (22) in March, dropping the Brazilian journeyman twice in the fourth before he retired at the midway point on the bout.
Alexander’s breakthrough fight came in July when he comprehensively outboxed former Australian bantamweight champion Robert ‘Trigger’ Trigg 3-3-1 (1) over the 10-round distance by scores of 97-93 twice and 98-92. Alexander, who was narrowly defeated by Luke Jackson at the national amateur titles in 2012, has been in camp with the world-rated Moloney twins Jason and Andrew in 2018 and is only continuing to improve with every outing.
LAST YEAR: Nathaniel ‘Cheeky’ May 20-1 (11)
Bunbury’s Nathaniel May had a rough start to the year when his highly-regarded trainer Peter Stokes passed away from cancer. A smooth boxer with natural athleticism and a decent whack, May relocated to the United States to train with Freddie Roach at the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, California. In his sole outing last year, the 23-year-old outpointed Ruslan Berchuk 11-10 (3) in an eight-round bout at the Titanic Exhibition Centre, Belfast, Northern Ireland in October by a score of 79-73. A more active 2019 would be well received.
SUPER BANTAMWEIGHT: Luke Boyd 5-0 (5)
Australian super bantamweight champion Luke Boyd fought just once in 2018, claiming the scalp of former world title challenger Tanawat Phonnaku 31-12-1 (19) by first round knockout in Sydney in July. The 31-year-old Thai veteran, who went 12-rounds with WBA super flyweight champion Kohei Kono of Japan in a world title tilt in 2016, lasted just 57 seconds against the Sydneysider.
The 31-year-old Boyd turned pro four years and has struggled with activity during that time, but he did score an impressive sixth round knockout of former national champion Robert ‘Trigger’ Trigg in late 2016 in a fight he was losing on all three judges’ scorecards.
Boyd was an accomplished amateur, representing Australia at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the bantamweight division where he lost to two-time Olympian Khumiso Ikgopoleng of Botswana in the opening round.
With the dearth of boxers in the lighter weight classes in Australia the big-punching 122-pounder would do well to look Asia, particularly Japan, to further his career. With his sort of fight-ending power, Boyd is always a chance against anyone.
LAST YEAR: TJ ‘The Power’ Doheny 20-0 (14)
2018 couldn’t have gone better for the Sydney-based Irishman. After despatching Mike Oliver in the States in two rounds in March, Doheny trekked off to Japan to challenge IBF 122-pound champion Ryosuke Iwasa 253 (16) at the legendary Korakuen Hall in Tokyo. The 32-year-old southpaw troubled the champion all night, running away with the win in a close but clear-cut decision by scores of 116-112, 117-112 and 115-113. Astutely managed by Melburnian Mike Altamura, Doheny has signed on with Matchroom Boxing USA and will make his first title defence under the promotional firm’s banner on the undercard of WBO middleweight champion Demetrius Andrade’s inaugural title defence against Artur Akavov at New York’s Madison Square Garden on January 18 against an opponent to be named. Doheny is targeting a title unification bout with WBA 122-pound boss Daniel Roman 26-2-1 (10) later in 2019.
BANTAMWEIGHT: Mark Schleibs 10-0 (6)
Like most emerging boxers Schleibs has been brought along slowly as he begins his career in the pro ranks facing a mixed bag of journeymen and part-timers with losing records as he builds his ledger and adjusts his style to that punch-for-pay game.
October saw the undefeated Melburnian take a big step up in class when he was matched with Australian bantamweight champion Robert ‘Trigger’ Trigg 3-3-1 (1) on a Team Ellis Boxing promotion. Mt Gambier’s Trigg, 25, had never been defeated at 118-pounds, while Schleibs has never been beyond the fourth round and had never defeated a boxer with a winning record. All that changed after 10 scintillating rounds that saw the national crown swap hands.
Schleibs fought like the champion, getting stronger as the rounds progressed as he boxed and banged his way to a comprehensive points victory by scores of 100-90, 97-93 and 98-91. Look for Schleibs to continue to improve as his level of opposition increases in 2019.
LAST YEAR: Cherneka ‘Sugar Neekz’ Johnson 10-0 (5)
Johnson managed just two fights in 2018 after a scheduled bout in India was pushed back before eventually falling through. Although her level of competition wasn’t great last year Johnson did what she had to do, winning both bouts by stoppage in the early rounds. Now trained by Sam Labruna – whose stable includes world-rated Michael Zerafa, Blake Caparello and former world champ Susie Ramadan – you can expect to see more of ‘Sugar Neekz’ this year starting with a six-round bout on the undercard of the intriguing light heavyweight clash between Caparello and Reagan Dessaix at the Melbourne Pavilion on February 22.
SUPER FLYWEIGHT: NONE
Unfortunately this is where the list peters out. There simply aren’t enough boxers in the lighter weight classes in Australia to populate this part of the list without doubling-up on previous years’ nominations. Hopefully by next year we see some new blood coming through at 115-pounds and below.
LAST YEAR: Brock Jarvis 15-0 (14)
The Jeff Fenech-trainer Jarvis kept his KO streak alive in 2018, knocking out three opponents to make it 14 straight stoppage wins since his lone points victory in his six-round pro debut three years ago. In March the sharp-punching 21-year-old annexed his first title as a professional when he stopped Indonesia’s Hamson Lamandau 10-2-1 (7) in three to claim the vacant WBC Asia Boxing Council Silver bantamweight title in Sydney in a 10-round bout. This was followed by a first-round blowout of Thai Warapon Chanchara 0-2 at the Ambassador Hotel in Bangkok in July. The following month Jarvis walked through Yotchanchai Yakaeo 26-14 (21) of Thailand in 1:37 on the Dib-Farmer undercard in Sydney in August. It’s clear that Jarvis’s backers are keen to develop their charge slowly, so expect only incrementally increases in his level of opposition in 2019.
In case you missed part one in this two-part series covering the heavyweight to junior middleweight divisions, you can read it here: www.maxboxing.com/news/news/aussies-on-the-rise-2019-part-one