BBN writer, Joe Smith-Tilley, lists three fighters capturing attention in 2020 that can position themselves at the forefront of British boxing in 2021.
The Christmas leftovers have been tucked away and 2021 quickly approaches, so let’s take a look at three British prospects who, in 2020, have successfully put more than just the turkey dinner under their belts.
With plenty to feast on in 2021, all three have sizeable opportunities to go from strength to strength in the upcoming year.
Englsh heavyweight champion
It is hard to argue against Fabio Wardley being the breakout British fighter of 2020. He has used the platform given to him by being under Dillian Whyte’s management, with both of his fights being on Matchroom undercards.
In conjunction with this, Wardley took opportunities given to him on post-lockdown cards. Due to no crowds, along with the need for Eddie Hearn to make well-balanced fights, Wardley was a match-making, promotional diamond in the rough.
Due to the nature of this year, plenty of sport-deprived eyes watched on. Two impressive stoppages of two testing opponents shone a new light on Suffolk's Wardley. In particular, the early stoppage of British level gatekeeper Richard Lartey set up a progressive 2021 for the Ipswich man.
At this stage in Wardley’s progression and career, I'd expect three progressive fights in 2021. A fight with a known name, a testing step up, and finally a jump up to European level at the end of 2021.
26-year-old Wardley handed out a blatant hint as to his first opponent in 2021 - ex-world champ and token name on the record, Lucas Browne.
This one won't tell us much about Wardley, but will add another similar level of opponent from 2020 to his record. The fair assumption to make would be another impressive stoppage, opening up interesting matchups for the 6ft 5" heavy.
At this stage in Wardley’s progression and career, there is somewhat of a gulf in the heavyweight division. Perhaps a fight against British title contender Nathan Gorman would give him another name, tough test, and keep him moving up the ladder. By the end of 2021, Wardley could end up in a real tester of a fight against the likes of Sergey Kuzmin, who was recently beaten by Martin Bakole.
2021 will be the year for development and ticking boxes in terms of names on the record. With an impressive victory against someone of Kuzmin’s calibre at the end of 2021, it would be another accomplished year.
WBA Continental welterweight champion
Next on my list is 'The Destroyer' Conor Benn.
Naturally, his father's legacy has distracted and clouded over Conor’s career for the most part. However, for arguably the first time in his career, the 24-year-old began to put his unique stamp on the Benn name.
This breakthrough moment came in a convincing points decision over European/fringe world level opponent, Sebastian Formella in November, over 13 months on from his last fight.
This victory illustrated exactly what is both so good and watchable about the young welterweight. Differently, a maturer Connor shone through, all stemming from a clean, stiff jab. With this performance, it felt like a coming of age fight for Connor, who firmly took his opportunity to headline a Saturday fight night Matchroom show. With this being said, it sets him up for what could be his next step into the limelight in 2021.
Conor is seemingly on a collision course with fellow Brit Josh Kelly, who fights for the European title in January. Although the Ilford man is defining his own career, his biggest fight to date in Kelly would certainly mirror a likeness to his father’s career path. He perhaps may not quite be ready for this mouthwatering bout, so another great domestic scrap that could be available is a matchup against Chris Kongo - again, a very tough fight, but yet another name on the record that could push Conor to the next level. This fight could be another headliner for Conor too. It may also be the best time to take on this fight while Kongo is still developing, giving the unbeaten welterweight the chance to take on another pressurised fight with all British eyes fixated. It would provide Connor with added experience in a tough and domestic fight, which would further boost his confidence in the seemingly inevitable Kelly fight.
However, for the first fight in the early months of 2021, Conor may want to take on Chris Jenkins, certainly a testing but winnable fight for him. It would allow him to continue to improve and work on what was a more disciplined style seen against Formella.
English middleweight champion
Surprisingly, still relatively unknown at 16-0, Linus Udofia has real potential to develop his record and profile in a successful 2021.
The likeable Luton man, managed by Steve Goodwin, seemingly has the character aligned with the ability to become a solidified name on the British boxing landscape. Again, benefitting from no crowds and the ‘no easy fights’ Matchroom policy, Udofia put on a well-rounded display, stopping a tough John Harding Jr in round nine of his maiden English title defence.
The inspiring but ageing 'Hard Knocks' Harding Jr knew it was his last opportunity for silverware and came out with everything he had left. Maturely, the 27-year-old Udofia soaked up Harding Jr’s pressure and a strong gas tank allowed the Nigerian-born fighter to bide his time and go to work, with the eventual stoppage arriving in the penultimate round. There was a lot to like about Udofia’s performance, and even more to like following his humble post-fight interview.
There are plenty of intriguing matchups to be made for Udofia in 2021. Ultimate Boxxer winner Derrick Osaze at 10-0, boasting a win over Kieron Conway, albeit at middleweight, or the experienced, two-time British title contender Mark Heffron, who has been in with Liam Williams and Denzel Bentley. An impressive win against a name of this calibre could potentially open the door for a mouth-watering British title fight against the aforementioned Bentley. Taking this one step further, with two wins under his belt by Autumn 2021, the opportunity arises of a potential dust-up at the back end of 2021 or perhaps early 2022 against Felix Cash. You never know what will happen in 2021, or how quick the progression of Linus Udofia will be, but with British level victories combined with fighting on Matchroom undercards, the talented Linus Udofia can come away with a successful year of progression and in the minds of British boxing fans in 2021.