Who will be the next breakout star to come from the UK?
The UK has always seemed to punch above its weight when it comes to comparative representation on the world championship stage in relation to its size. Whilst the US will traditionally see itself boasting the highest number of world champions and names on the P4P list, the UK has always had a healthy selection of world champions and global attractions to go along with it.
No period perhaps epitomised this more so than 2015, when we boasted some 12 world champions in total (Tyson Fury, Billy Joe Saunders, Kell Brook, James DeGale, Lee Selby, Scott Quigg, Carl Frampton, Jamie McDonnell, Liam Smith, Terry Flanagan, Lee Haskins, and Anthony Crolla).
In terms of global box office attractions, in recent years, names like Amir Khan, Ricky Hatton, Joe Calzaghe, Carl Froch and David Haye spring to mind.
Here we are in 2023 however, and outside of the big two Heavyweights in Tyson Fury, who is arguably one of the biggest attractions in the entire sport, as well as Anthony Joshua, how many global big-name attractions do we really currently boast? Josh Taylor is of course one of the most talented fighters we have produced in recent memory, but the lack of a UK broadcaster for his undisputed Junior Welterweight battle with Jose Ramirez, as well as the selection of the MSG Theatre instead of main arena for his latest bout with Teofimo Lopez, demonstrates that his commercial viability unfortunately doesn’t match up with his skills in the ring.
In terms of legitimate world champions, we currently have five in the form of Leigh Wood, Sunny Edwards, Chris Billam-Smith, Joe Cordina and of course Tyson Fury. Joe Cordina and Sunny Edwards are fantastic fighters, who may well have the ability to collect every belt in their respective weight classes, but unfortunately for them the lower weights have never quite been able to capture the public imagination in the same way as those above them.
When you look at this list, and given the fact that Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua may well not be around for a great deal longer, one has to consider where the next big British star will come from? Leading domestic broadcasters like DAZN, TNT Sports and Sky are all desperate for the next star to come along, with their commercial model being heavily reliant on the revenue from box office fights. There is definitely a potential void in the offing, so ahead of a big end to the year let’s look into who may well be primed to take over as a leading beacon for UK boxing in the wake of a potential Tyson Fury and Antony Joshua retirement in the next 12-24 months.
Connor Benn’s troubles outside of the ring really don’t need any further discussion at this point. The case with the British board and UKAD has been tiresome and unfortunately looks like it may still have some time to play out. However boxing notoriously has a very short term memory. If the said case does get cleared, as it likely will one way or another, and he manages to get a huge victory over someone like a Chris Eubank Jr, DAZN will no doubt invest in him as their flagship fighter and look to catapult him into huge global fights with the top names from 147-160lb’s.
For me the most exciting prospect that the UK has right now. ‘The Assassin’ Azim has looked supremely impressive as he has risen through the ranks, demolishing supposed firm tests such as Rylan Charlton, demonstrating dynamite knockout power, well-schooled fundamentals and dazzling hand speed. In his most recent two outings, he has also shown he is also well disciplined over the 10-round distance with a solid engine, posting wide points wins over unbeaten Santos Reyes and tough 23.1 Ukrainian Aram Faniian.
Next up he goes for the European title, against seasoned southpaw and current champion, Frenchman Franck Petitjean. This in just his 10th professional fight and at only 21 years old. Under the management and tutelage of the McGuigan’s, who have shown with the likes of Josh Taylor that they are not afraid to rush those they deem worthy through to world honours, don’t be surprised to see him knocking on the door of the top names of the division in a year or so’s time.
Ability-wise Ben Whittaker may be the most talented prospect the UK currently has on its books, however a combination of niggles and inactivity has stunted the hype train a touch. With his amateur pedigree, culminating in an Olympic Silver medal, I think most UK boxing fans were expecting to see him fast tracked through the domestic scene, however 14 months on from turning professional and four bouts in, we haven’t really seem him in any kind of step up. Ability wise I believe Whittaker would already hold his own with the current selection top UK Light Heavyweights in Anthony Yarde, Joshua Buatsi, Craig Richards and Dan Azeez. However there is no need to take such drastic risks this early on.
‘The Finisher’ has all the flashy footwork and head movement of an elite Cuban amateur standout, alongside an electric variety of every shot in the book, coming from every changing angles. With such a style it is no wonder he had such a decorated amateur career, however under the tutelage of SugarHill Stewart he also clearly has an awareness of the adaptations he needs in order to have the success in the pro ranks that his natural talent warrants. Incremental step ups are now needed, with someone like a Ricky Summers for the English title being a suitable option, with the British title soon behind it. If Sky put the faith in his talent that they really should do, in 12 months’ time I don’t think it is overly ambitious to assume Ben Shalom and Boxxer will be starting to map out a route to world honours.
The Holy Trinity
For me those three are those that have genuine potential to be box office attractions. Special mentions to Jack Catterall, who I believe may well win a world title next year and could be one of the top names at 140lb’s, as well as Dalton Smith, who has shown he is now ready to graduate from the domestic scene and build a steady charge to world honours.
There is now shying away from the fact that compared to recent years we may not have quite the same number of elite fighters on the global scene, but in the world of boxing 12 months can make the world of difference.
In Tyson Fury we currently boast one of the biggest and best names in the entire sport. With him flying the flag and a solid crop of elite talent gradually building their names behind him, we will wait to see which young prospect will be primed and ready to take the torch when retirement eventually beckons for ‘The Gypsy King.’
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