Who’s next: Timothy Bradley Jr. picks the future standouts in every boxing division

Boxing

Last year’s list of promising boxers in each weight division showcased a remarkable six fighters who have risen to become world champions.

Tim Tszyu, whose skill and relentless pressure dominate the junior middleweight division, has had success forged by his precision and punch placement. Janibek Alimkhanuly is an explosive southpaw with skills within the middleweight realm and is a champion still waiting to be challenged, holding down two world titles. Rolando “Rolly” Romero is known for his fierce, explosive style in the junior welterweight division. Robeisy Ramirez, a skilled and agile featherweight champion, recently lost a battle against Rafael Espinosa that was a candidate for fight of the year. Jai Opetaia, the dynamic southpaw force, reigns over the cruiserweight division.

And let’s not forget Ginjiro Shigeoka as he continues to show his destructive punching power and is now wearing the IBF strawweight strap.

While these champions shine brightly, others on my last list have lost, like Ra’eese Aleem and Joet Gonzalez. Still, some remain hungry for their shot at glory, like undefeated heavyweight contender Jared Anderson and junior welterweight Arnold Barboza.

And now in the new year, more fighters are on the brink of seizing their moment and stamping their names into boxing history.

Let me introduce my class of 2024 of boxing’s hidden gems, from the powerhouse division, the heavyweights, to the 105-pound weight class. Among these names, you’ll find a mix of familiar faces and rising talents who dream of making a life-changing impact. Each individual on this list possesses a blend of skill, determination and undeniable potential, making all of them contenders in their respective weight classes. Keep a keen eye on these fighters, as each talent has earned a spot on Bradley’s exclusive “Hidden Gems” list.


Heavyweights (200+): Agit Kabayel

Record: 24-0, 16 KOs – Age: 30 – Stance: Orthodox – Height: 6-foot-3

Kabayel’s size reminds me of the heavyweights of yesterday. The fighter from Germany defied the odds in a spectacular showdown on the “Day of Reckoning” card in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Dec. 23, against the highly regarded and then-undefeated knockout artist Arslanbek Makhmudov, a 6-foot-5 Russian powerhouse. Despite the height difference, Kabayel showcased his finesse and strategic prowess, executing a game plan that was focused on keeping Makhmudov off balance with exceptional lateral movement and lightning-quick reflexes, to evade and outmaneuver Makhmudov’s brutal assaults. The result: a fourth-round TKO victory. In this extraordinary display, Kabayel’s skill, decision making, punch placement, consistency and mental toughness shone through. His ability to outthink and outmaneuver Makhmudov solidified his status as a true force within the division.


Cruiserweights (200 pounds): Muslim Gadzhimagomedov

Record: 3-0, 2 KOs – Age: 26 – Stance: Orthodox – Height: 6-foot-4

Russia’s Gadzhimagomedov is a skyscraper in the cruiserweight division, with impressive size and height. His successful amateur career of over 100 fights, highlighted by international medals, set the stage for his professional career. Known for his ability to control the distance and fight tall, Gadzhimagomedov combines strategic ring positioning with the ability to make quick adjustments mid-fight. His versatility is evident in his smooth transitions between offense and defense, making him an unpredictable and challenging opponent. The decision to fight at cruiserweight, despite being a heavyweight in the amateurs, may give him an advantage against smaller opponents, heightening his ability to take a punch and utilize his size and strength effectively. Gadzhimagomedov’s arrival in the professionals brings a mix of anticipation and promise for exciting bouts in the not-too-distant future.


Light heavyweights (175 pounds): Oleksandr Gvozdyk

Record: 20-1, 16 KOs – Age: 37 – Stance: Orthodox – Height: 6-foot-2

Gvozdyk, the 2012 Olympic bronze medalist representing Ukraine and former unified light heavyweight champion, has made a surprising return from retirement, driven by a strong belief that he still has more to offer to the sport. Despite his age, Gvozdyk is looking to gain confidence through the examples of boxing legends such as Archie Moore, Bernard Hopkins and Antonio Tarver, who competed at a high level well into their late 30s, 40s and even 50s in this very weight class. Although some may view Gvozdyk’s chances to win a title as a long shot, it’s worth noting that both of the current champions in the division are in their mid- to late 30s. Gvozdyk has already faced Artur Beterbiev, the unified champion who is 39, and Dmitry Bivol, the WBA titleholder who is 33. While it may take Gvozdyk perhaps three to six fights to reach peak condition, his exceptional boxing skills, including impressive hand speed, footwork and ring intelligence, give him a solid foundation to build on to overcome lost time. Despite his loss to Beterbiev in 2019, Gvozdyk seems to be in a great place, confidence-wise. His determination and Olympic pedigree make a solid case for a successful journey back to a world title opportunity.


Super middleweights (168 pounds): Christian Mbilli

Record: 25-0, 21 KOs – Age: 28 – Stance: Orthodox – Height: 5-foot-8

Mbilli, of Cameroon but now based in Canada, epitomizes the seasoning of an aggressive fighter with no retreat. His approach is urgent and violent. Mbilli looks supremely focused from my viewpoint, capturing my attention and captivating fans with his hard-hitting, swarming style. As a must-watch talent, Mbilli shows a relentless search for knockouts matched with sound inside fighting skill, great stamina and explosive punching power, all housed in a sculpted physique. His offensive abilities speak for themselves, sometimes at the expense of leaving openings when he has overcommitted or overreached. Mbilli thrives on the offensive, using his jab to gather his and his opponent’s rhythm, and relentlessly targeting the body with combinations. His ringcraft is sharp. His technique of cornering opponents and forcing them to fight in close quarters is second to none. He’s often overlooked, but Mbilli is a resilience-dominant threat to any fighter in the division.


Middleweights (160 pounds): Meiirim Nursultanov

Record: 20-0, 11 KOs – Age: 30 – Stance: Orthodox – Height: 6-foot-0

Nursultanov, who hails from Kazakhstan, honed his boxing skills in a local boxing school before relocating to Oxnard, California, in pursuit of becoming a world champion. His extensive background as an amateur and professional boxer secures his spot among the rising divisional threats. With a masterful ability to control opponents from any positional quarters, he confidently delivers single and double right-hand counters while employing a high guard for defense. Fearlessly engaging in close combat, he executes 3-4-punch combinations and remains unfazed by any oncoming offense. Renowned for his resilience and strategic patience, Nursultanov has exceptional technical abilities and fundamentals, making him a puzzle in the ring.


Junior middleweights (154 pounds): Vergil Ortiz Jr.

Record: 20-0, 20 KOs – Age: 25 – Stance: Orthodox – Height: 5-foot-10

Look out for Ortiz, a force not to be underestimated, who has transitioned from 147 pounds to the 154 weight class, a move necessitated by health concerns that have only enhanced his mental toughness and physical gifts. His innate ability, strength, explosive power and remarkable charges set him apart as a true behemoth in the ring. With the ability to unleash relentless combinations with maximum force, his aggressive approach is nothing short of terrifying for any opponent. Maintaining a fast tempo, Ortiz, of Dallas, seamlessly transitions from countering off his back foot to dominating from the front, showcasing his stance as an aggressive, forward-moving fighter and a sharp finisher. His multifaceted skill set presents many obstacles for all contenders in the division, establishing him as a sure threat to anyone who dares to face him.


Welterweights (147 pounds): Giovani Santillan

Record: 32-0, 17 KOs – Age: 32 – Stance: Southpaw – Height: 5-foot-8

Forged by determination and relentless grit, Santillan sits just outside the door of the welterweight frat house, looking through the windows and watching everyone else partake in the feast. He waits for an opportunity to join them, craving an invitation to get inside. Sometimes, seizing success demands that a fighter break down the door with a spectacular performance hard to ignore. In his most recent battle against Alexis Rocha, Santillan showed that kind of tenacity, leveling up by embracing Rocha’s style with a combination of volume, pressure and courage. Santillan’s blend of blunt force, boxing intelligence and crafty maneuvers from his southpaw stance, fueled by his determination to no longer go unnoticed, has genuinely transformed this fighter from San Diego, California, into a name that will be mentioned within the welterweight division in 2024.


Junior welterweights (140 pounds) – Gary Antuanne Russell

Record: 17-0, 17 KOs – Age: 27 – Stance: Southpaw – Height: 5-foot-10

As a left-handed fighter, Russell, of Capitol Heights, Maryland, enjoys the advantage of being uncommon, catching orthodox fighters off guard. Yet, when you add Russell’s exceptional skill set, lightning-fast hand speed and potent power to the mix, it becomes clear that he poses a challenge for a wide array of boxing styles. Whether they are counterpunchers, boxer-punchers, slick pure boxers or bruisers, they will all find themselves troubled by Russell’s prowess. The word “intensive” perfectly encapsulates the potential of one of the premier 140-pounders in the world. His moment is on the horizon as he patiently awaits the right opportunity to make a spectacular entrance into the upper tier of the division. The finest fighters are not only quick in the ring but also versatile in their tactics, and the most beloved fighters are those who bring an aggressive approach from the get-go, and these attributes perfectly describe Russell.


Lightweights (135 pounds): Raymond Muratalla

Record: 19-0, 16 KOs – Age: 27 – Stance: Orthodox – Height: 5-foot-8

Enter “Danger,” the moniker adopted by Muratalla, of West Covina, California, a composed and powerful boxer-puncher on a remarkable four-fight knockout streak against increasingly challenging opponents. His consistent success is a testament to his deep understanding of his identity and abilities. It often takes years for athletes in combat sports to truly grasp and refine their approach. Many fighters achieve this level of self-awareness only after claiming a world championship title, which increases their confidence. However, Muratalla’s mindset is that of a true champion, reflecting the dedication and sacrifices he has made over the years. His remarkable discipline and technical talents showcased in each bout solidify his well-deserved place on this list. His calm, patient and quiet demeanor complements his skills, enhancing his ring awareness. Every contender in the 135 division should look around for Muratalla.


Junior lightweights (130 pounds): Henry Lebron

Record: 19-0, 10 KOs – Age: 26 – Stance: Southpaw – Height: 5-foot-6

Initially, I wasn’t entirely convinced by Lebron. Still, when he defeated the man I had initially intended to include on this list, William Foster III, whom I still hold in high regard, Lebron truly captured my attention. Something seemed to be missing at the beginning of his career in the ring — perhaps it was a lack of self-belief or direction. However, he has since found it, displaying a remarkable blend of technical prowess and skillful command of distance control. He now maneuvers his opponents as if they were puppets on a string, manipulating range to his advantage. Lebron, from Puerto Rico, sets traps with well-placed counters from the southpaw stance and skillfully evades pressure using impeccable footwork and head movement. There’s a delicate balance between moving strategically and being perceived as a dull fighter. Lebron has masterfully found that sweet spot, delivering just enough movement and action to secure victories and entertain the fans watching at home.


Featherweights (126 pounds): Bruce Carrington

Record: 10-0, 6 KOs – Age: 26 – Stance: Orthodox – Height: 5-foot-8

Discipline is the key for any athlete. The best athletes in the world are incredibly dedicated and disciplined. When it comes to Brooklyn’s “Shu Shu” Carrington, if I had to choose one word to describe him, it’s “disciplined.” He constantly works to improve with each fight, mastering his skills to a level of confidence that makes every challenge seem manageable. Carrington’s abilities are unmatched, combining the calmness of a monk, the vision of Ja Morant and the defensive skill of James “Lights Out” Toney. Pocket fighters thrive on being close to their opponents, provoking them and smoothly maneuvering for strategic advantage. This is a challenging skill to master, but in just 10 professional fights, “Shu Shu” has proven himself to be the real deal, making even the most aggressive pressure fighters retreat.


Junior featherweights (122 pounds): Jose Tito Sanchez

Record: 12-0, 7 KOs – Age: 24 – Stance: Switch hitter – Height: 5-foot-5

Sanchez is a relentless warrior in the ring, a fighter who needs little more than a spark to unleash his explosive, brutal approach. His brawling style is matched by his surprising offensive assaults. His combination sequences unfold from double and triple uppercuts delivered from a southpaw stance to seamlessly switching to orthodox and unleashing three left hooks to the liver. His aggression is his offense and defense, complemented by occasional upper body movement that sets the stage for devastating counters. It’s not just his raw punching power that sets apart this fighter from Rancho Mirage, California, but also his grit and toughness, allowing him to soar above even the most formidable opponents with steadfast resolve. An entertaining fighter, Sanchez’s performance in the ring intensifies in response to the support from the crowd, igniting a fire within him that pushes him to fight harder and more ferociously than ever.


Bantamweights (118 pounds): Dominique Crowder

Record: 16-0, 10 KOs – Age: 30 – Stance: Switch hitter – Height: 5-foot-10

Crowder, of Baltimore, Maryland, embodies a remarkable force in the bantamweight division. His mastery of boxing from the outside, skillfully peppering and pop-shooting his opponents while evading retaliation, is invaluable in our sport. Crowder leverages not only his technical prowess but also his physical gifts — his reach and height — to gain the upper hand. While his alias remains unconfirmed, “8-count Crowder” captures his multifaceted fighting style. Whether seamlessly transitioning from orthodox to southpaw, pressuring on the front foot or boxing off the back foot and countering, Crowder’s dynamic repertoire demands that opponents account for approximately eight aspects of his plentiful skill set.


Junior bantamweights (115 pounds): John “Scrappy” Ramirez

Record: 13-0, 9 KOs – Age: 27 – Stance: Orthodox – Height: 5-foot-4

Love him or hate him, “Scrappy” has transformed into a crowd favorite with his refined technical style. Gone are the days of making a single move and resetting; instead, he intricately builds upon his work, methodically pinpointing and exploiting his opponent’s weaknesses with creative finesse. Much like Vasiliy Lomachenko, Ramirez seamlessly shifts between the back foot and the front foot, chaining together attacks while continuously in motion, gradually wearing down his opponents. Ramirez, of Los Angeles, embodies his nickname and exhibits savviness, using his positioning and technical prowess to dominate the ring. If you add his tenacity and grit, you can see why he has ascended to a new level.


Flyweights (112 pounds): Dave Apolinario

Record: 19-0, 13 KOs – Age: 24 – Stance: Southpaw – Height: 5-foot-5

Apolinario’s method is one of quiet calculation, biding his time for the precise chance to strike at his adversaries. His patience can be maddening to many fighters, particularly in the lower ranks, where fighters are known for unleashing flurries of punches. Apolinario lures his opponents in, slowly preparing for the devastating impact of his straight left counter, which has the power to KO any opponent. This Filipino fighter is positioning himself for a remarkable climb.


Junior flyweights (108 pounds): Kanamu Sakama

Record: 9-0, 8 KOs – Age: 20 – Stance: Orthodox – Height: 5-foot-5

In boxing, a fighter either possesses the necessary skills or does not. There is no waiting around for an inflated record before contending for a world championship. Take, for example, Japan’s Sakama, who at the age of 20 — and after only nine fights — is already positioning himself to compete for a title. Sakama embodies solid defense and precision, and generates forward momentum, applying strategic pressure to overwhelm his opponents. He systematically forces opponents out of position, seizing every opportunity to unleash powerful one-two combinations and devastating short right-hand blows. While his fighting style may seem deceptively basic, Sakama has a fundamental expertise and enticing approach that enable him to be on this list.


Strawweights (105 pounds): Hasanboy Dusmatov

Record: 6-0, 5 KOs – Age: 30 – Stance: Southpaw – Height: 5-foot-2

Uzbekistan’s Dusmatov possesses the electrifying style of a southpaw, technically aggressive counterpuncher, a master at navigating through all ranges with lightning-fast footwork, impeccable positioning and tactical understanding. His ability to swiftly transition from defense to offense is reminiscent of a sudden surprise, catching opponents off guard with a quick punch before he swiftly evades a response. His mastery lies in setting up his devastating power shots with his back hand, executed with brilliance and speed.

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