ESPN’s Boxing Star Index: Devin Haney, Ryan Garcia and more ready for the next step

Boxing

Boxing’s top stars are easy to spot.

Canelo Alvarez, Tyson Fury and Errol Spence Jr. are just a few of the names that are recognized in and out of the sport. Gervonta “Tank” Davis is also entering that category after carrying another big event this past weekend virtually on his own.

To find the next crop of stars, we’re introducing the Star Index. The voters tasked with creating ESPN’s pound-for-pound list were asked to judge some of the sport’s top male and female fighters based on four weighted criteria. Each voter ranked fighters on ring skills, potential, marketability and drawing power, with the latter categories weighted more heavily.

What makes the Star Index different from the pound-for-pound list is that it doesn’t merely try to measure the quality of fighters, regardless of their weight class. Instead, the formula tries to account for many of the factors that truly turn a fighter into a star.

For those such as Ryan Garcia, the No. 1 fighter in this year’s Star Index, his commercial appeal outpaces his resume, which also explains why he has garnered so much buzz throughout his career.

Other fighters such as George Kambosos Jr., have shown they can compete and win belts but are lacking in other key categories that make stars. Having a mix of all the right things is crucial when it comes to being a prizefighter.

Given the volatility of the sport and how quickly things change, next year’s Star Index surely could include popular fighters who just missed the cut, like Tim Tszyu, Jaron Ennis, Regis Prograis, Vergil Ortiz, Edgar Berlanga and others.

Fighters who have headlined pay-per-view cards were excluded from consideration.

Here’s a look at who made (and missed) the cut.

1. Ryan Garcia, lightweight contender
ESPN Composite Index: 4.43
Record: 22-0, 18 KOs

Stock evaluation: For years, the boxing industry has been infatuated with Garcia. The 23-year-old amassed a legion of social media followers before he ever came close to sniffing a title. He has 8.8 million followers on Instagram, a medium he absolutely dominates with content like his “Body Shot Challenge.” In 2021, he became co-owner of MARLOWE, a men’s skincare brand. Most recently, he appeared alongside Portland Trail Blazers star (and massive boxing fan) Damian Lillard in a Gatorade commercial. Very few athletes carry Garcia’s mainstream appeal. And that’s what being a star is truly about.

X-factor: Of all the fighters who made this year’s Star Index, Garcia’s ring skills were ranked the lowest by the voters. But the reason he’s No. 1 on the list is why he has been highly touted by many in the sport. Since Garcia became a notable pro, all the things surrounding his persona have outsized his ring credentials. If Garcia proves that his work with the gloves matches the glamor, his star power could be transcendent.

What’s next: Garcia wants to establish himself as one of the top lightweights in the world. This requires moving up his competition level, which started in 2020 before Garcia went on a hiatus to address his mental health. He has agreed to terms to face Javier Fortuna, a former junior lightweight champion. After that, he wants perhaps the hottest name in boxing — “Tank” Davis.


2. Naoya Inoue, unified bantamweight champion
ESPN Composite Index: 4.25
Record: 22-0, 19 KOs

Stock evaluation: The Japanese star is nicknamed “Monster” for a reason. The 29-year-old is an absolute menace in the ring. Despite being a bantamweight, he carries significant power that has produced some highlight-reel stoppages and some big wins against established veterans such as Juan Carlos Payano and Nonito Donaire. When it comes to his ring skills, Inoue earned the highest marks of any fighter on the Star Index ballot. Inoue signed a co-promotional deal with Top Rank in 2019, an indicator of his potential to one day be a top draw in the United States.

X-factor: There’s no doubting what Inoue can do inside the ring. But the ability to truly gain traction outside of boxing’s diehard fans remains the biggest question mark. The partnership with Top Rank Promotions should give him more exposure, which should lead to a growing fan base that translates to big fights in big venues.

What’s next: Inoue has another big matchup against the legendary Donaire, a future Hall of Famer. A win will confirm Inoue’s greatness and defend his spot on the consensus pound-for-pound list. But becoming a bigger attraction in the United States will be key. (Watch the fight live on ESPN+, 5 a.m. ET).


3. Shakur Stevenson, unified junior lightweight champion
ESPN Composite Index: 4.18
Record: 18-0, 9 KOs

Stock evaluation: Stevenson continued his ascent in the boxing landscape with a recent victory over Oscar Valdez to become a unified junior lightweight champion. The 24-year-old from Newark, New Jersey, is already a two-division titlist. Star Index voters believe Stevenson’s technical abilities are very comparable to Inoue’s and that these men are capable of becoming two of the purest fighters in the sport. In 18 professional fights, Stevenson hasn’t been challenged once.

X-factor: In a bit of a surprise, Stevenson was considered among the least marketable fighters among those on the Star Index. The post-fight altercation following his drubbing of Oscar Valdez probably didn’t help matters much. That low rating could also be tied to his lack of power. Even though he’s been dominant and dropped very few rounds on the scorecards in his last five fights, he has just four knockdowns and two stoppages during that span. But Stevenson definitely has the charisma. It seems like it’s only a matter of time before he turns more heads.

What’s next: Stevenson has reeled off strong back-to-back wins; first, a victory over Jamel Herring and then a title defense against Valdez. If Stevenson moves up to lightweight, there are many lucrative fights to be made. Fights against the winner of George Kambosos Jr. vs. Devin Haney, Gervonta Davis, Vasiliy Lomachenko and Ryan Garcia could be in the near future.


4. Teofimo Lopez, former unified lightweight champion
ESPN Composite Index: 4.03
Record: 16-1, 12 KOs

Stock evaluation: There are two ways to look at Lopez’s spot in the Star Index. The optimistic outlook suggests Lopez is viewed favorably despite being thoroughly beaten by Kambosos last year. He is still very marketable and built himself into an attraction with good performances in high-leverage Top Rank events. However, one could also argue that Lopez could have pushed Garcia for the top spot had the momentum in his career not stalled out.

X-factor: Following his big win over Lomachenko, Lopez was on his way to becoming the undisputed champion (no, the WBC franchise belt does not count) and potentially being boxing’s top rising star. But after his upset loss to Kambosos, Lopez has to prove himself as someone who can become a two-time champion. That is very much up in the air, especially since Lopez has yet to mark a date for his return and is approaching a year-long layoff.

What’s next: Lopez was recently at Top Rank’s headquarters in Las Vegas to discuss ending his hiatus. The quality of competition for his first fight since the Kambosos defeat will speak volumes about his trajectory. Lopez has had just two fights since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.


5. George Kambosos Jr., unified lightweight champion
ESPN Composite Index: 4.01
Record: 20-0, 10 KOs

Stock evaluation: Kambosos was one of the best stories in 2021. He went from an unknown, mandatory lightweight challenger to the one holding three of the four belts in the 135-pound division. He came prepared to win in his November 2021 bout against Lopez. Afterward he made the media rounds and maximized his introduction into mainstream boxing. When he returned to his home country of Australia after defeating Lopez, he received a hero’s welcome.

X-factor: It’s one thing to become a champion, but keeping the belts is an entirely different matter. Kambosos will have his hands full with Haney in their battle to become the undisputed lightweight champion. Even after last year’s upset win, Kambosos still has to prove he can sustain his current trajectory as one of boxing’s rising stars. That also coincides with another of his bigger challenges — being a fighter that gets top billing as the “A-side” attraction. The Star Index voters were not big believers in Kambosos’ drawing power.

What’s next: Kambosos hasn’t been afraid to take on big challenges. The fact he’s fighting Haney, who has claimed to be avoided for a few years, shows he’s willing to fight the best. He could also prove that boxers who take legitimate risks in the ring could have massive commercial upside.


6. Josh Taylor, unified junior welterweight champion
ESPN Composite Index: 3.98
Record: 19-0, 13 KOs

Stock evaluation: Yes, Taylor won a very controversial decision over Jack Catterall in February in a fight in which many believe Taylor was gifted a victory in his native Scotland. But prior to that, Taylor built himself into one of the top 140-pound fighters in the world. In 2019, Taylor defeated Regis Prograis in a thrilling fight to win the World Boxing Super Series junior welterweight tournament. He then beat Jose Ramirez last year to become the undisputed champion. He’s a fan-friendly fighter and, at 31, still has plenty of good years left.

X-factor: Taylor’s star power has been a bit of a question mark. The 2021 fight against Ramirez was at the Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, a small venue, and it wasn’t a sellout. The Catterall title defense was in Scotland, where he naturally draws well. For Taylor to become a more lucrative fighter, he needs to solidify his spot as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. That might be his best route to turning into a major draw.

What’s next: Taylor was recently stripped of his WBA belt after he opted not to make a mandatory defense against the unknown Alberto Puello. According to ESPN’s Mike Coppinger, Taylor is eyeing a move to welterweight, which presents many appealing matchups. Wins against some bigger names could improve his star status.


7. Devin Haney, lightweight champion
ESPN Composite Index: 3.91
Record: 27-0, 15 KOs

Stock evaluation: There are plenty of debates about Haney’s status as the legitimate WBC champion, since he was given the belt after Lomachenko was named the WBC’s “franchise” champion in 2019. That caused a lot of confusion and debate that is still ongoing. But Haney remains impressive inside the ring. His last three victories are against solid opposition — Yuriorkis Gamboa, Jorge Linares and Joseph “JoJo” Diaz.

X-factor: Even as Haney has entered the top crust of lightweights, he has always seemingly had to prove himself. The fact that the undisputed title fight against Kambosos is a bigger draw in Australia than in Las Vegas, where Haney resides, speaks to his lack of drawing power. For Haney to blossom into a true star, it’s going to take more than becoming a champion. He’ll need to resonate with fans — one of the sport’s tallest tasks.

What’s next: Haney’s fight against Kambosos is the start of a two-fight, co-promotional deal with Top Rank and Lou DiBella, sources told ESPN’s Mike Coppinger. If Haney can become the undisputed champion in arguably the hottest division in the sport, it will provide a massive career boost.


8. Mikaela Mayer, unified women’s junior lightweight champion
ESPN Composite Index: 3.90
Record: 17-0, 5 KOs

Stock evaluation: Mayer is part of the big rise in women’s boxing over the last 12 months. Top Rank started to feature Mayer during the pandemic. She moved up from being the top fight on the undercard to headlining cards, starting with her win in November 2021 over Maiva Hamadouche to win the IBF and WBO junior lightweight belts. Mayer is among the tier of fighters below the likes of Claressa Shields, Amanda Serrano and Katie Taylor. But Mayer’s marketability is really why she cracked the Star Index. Of those who made the top 10, Mayer ranked only behind Ryan Garcia in that category. Mayer also has a sizable following on social media with nearly 153,000 Instagram followers.

X-factor: Mayer has already taken a key step in being featured in main events, which is a major feat in the female fight game. But The Hangar in Costa Mesa, California, isn’t a large venue at all, and the fight didn’t sell well. Mayer has to find a way to convert her following and potential into true stardom.

What’s next: Stirring the pot is a tested way to increase one’s profile. Mayer and Alycia Baumgardner, the WBC’s junior lightweight champion, have traded barbs on social media before and after their upcoming bout was finalized, according to ESPN’s Michael Rothstein. That kind of build-up, in addition to a win, can propel Mayer to the next level.


9. Jaime Munguia, middleweight contender
ESPN Composite Index: 3.84
Record: 39-0, 31 KOs

Stock evaluation: Munguia, a former junior middleweight titleholder, is probably one of the more polarizing fighters on this list. But despite the discourse surrounding the 25-year-old, he still carries plenty of potential. He’s coming off a TKO victory against lackluster opposition (no offense, D’Mitrius Ballard). He has good punching power and has endeared himself to his Mexican fan base. Munguia is one of Golden Boy’s top prospects.

X-factor: Munguia had an 18-month stretch that ended in 2019 where he beat some good fighters — Sadam Ali, Liam Smith, Takeshi Inoue. But after a majority draw against Dennis Hogan, a fight in which he was fortunate to avoid a loss, one could argue Munguia’s opposition level has either plateaued or dropped off. He will have to work himself into position to be a true contender, especially now that he’s moving up to super middleweight.

What’s next: Munguia has been in discussions to face Daniel Jacobs in a catchweight bout, according to ESPN’s Mike Coppinger. Jacobs, a fading former middleweight champion, will be a good challenge for Munguia, especially if he plans on winning a belt anytime soon.


10. Conor Benn, welterweight contender
ESPN Composite Index: 3.80
Record: 21-0, 14 KOs

Stock evaluation: Benn, 25, has made noise after stacking quality wins in the United Kingdom. In the last two years, he has beaten Sebastian Formella, Adrian Granados, Chris Algieri and Chris van Heerden. The English fighter’s popularity in his home country allowed him to build his career without appearances in the United States. It says as much about Benn as it does the U.K.’s growing influence in the sport.

X-factor: Benn recently entered the conversation as one of the world’s top welterweight contenders. He is still unproven against some of the tougher names in one of the sport’s top divisions, which includes Terence Crawford, Errol Spence Jr., Keith Thurman, Yordenis Ugas and Eimantas Stanionis. Beating better fighters in the United States could elevate his status.

What’s next: Benn needs to make a big push toward a welterweight title, especially as younger fighters such as Jaron “Boots” Ennis and Vergil Ortiz Jr. put pressure on established veterans in the division. The old guard can’t avoid the up-and-comers for much longer.


Biggest snub: David Benavidez

Let’s go ahead and address it head-on. Yes, Premier Boxing Champions didn’t land any fighters on the Star Index. One of boxing’s top companies has several names that are already considered stars and don’t qualify for consideration. (Spence, Jermell and Jermall Charlo, Andy Ruiz Jr., Deontay Wilder and Erislandy Lara, among others.)

Benavidez earned the most votes of any PBC fighter. However, it’s easy to argue he should have gotten more love. Benavidez, a former two-time champion, is ESPN’s No. 2 super middleweight, trailing only Canelo Alvarez. In fact, his recent dominance of David Lemieux signaled he’s not only ready for another title shot but could give Alvarez and other former champions a tough fight, at the very least. Benavdiez’s omission from this list is an absolute stunner.


Biggest surprise: Jaime Munguia

To be blunt, Munguia’s inclusion was almost just as surprising as Benavidez’s snub. Munguia, a former 154-pound champion, still has a lot of potential and carries good name recognition, especially among boxing’s hardcore fans.

But performances in recent years, including a string of fights against inferior opponents, have left many wanting more from Munguia and Golden Boy Promotions. It’s time for Munguia to show more in his career, even if he did enough to sneak into this year’s Star Index.

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