Here comes the first in a series of obligatory year-end articles. A few thoughts on these pound-for-pound rankings: (1) even though I might think a guy has the potential to be very good, he still has to earn his way up the list (2) there might be someone missing from my list, please leave a comment if you think I’ve missed the boat, and (3) I respect every man on this list, so there’s no dishonor in being ranked lower than someone else.
- Jason Litzau (26-2 with 21 kayos) – No one else could have ended up in this slot this year. Litzau went 3-0 in 2009 and made himself a factor in both the 130-pound and 135-pound weight classes. Something big is guaranteed to happen for Jason Litzau in 2010 – either a marquee appearance on ESPN’s Friday Night Fights or a title shot on premium cable.
- Andy Kolle (19-2 with 14 kayos) – Kolle could only have had a better 2009 if he had fought more. Kolle won both of his fights this year, and one of them was for the Minnesota championship in the state’s most prestigious and accomplished division (middleweight). The news out of Duluth is that Kolle and Chuck Horton are searching high and low for a suitable opponent for a soon fight.
- Wilton Hilario (12-0-1 with 9 kayos) – Here’s a guy whose career was stalled due to injury for a year between 2007 and 2008, who has come back to make a major statement on the local scene in 2009. Hilario’s record in 2009 was 3-0 with the first two wins coming by TKO. The first win was merely work, but the second was a nice career boost at the expense of Allen Litzau. The third and most important win was against 18-3 veteran Leon Bobo, in which Hilario showed that he can also do it the ugly way.
- Matt Vanda (42-9 with 22 kayos) – Skelator began his year with a February loss to John Duddy in which he was thoroughly dominated until the tenth and final round, when he landed big and had Duddy hurt, but couldn’t seal the deal. Vanda won his last three fights of 2009, thought the first – the decision win against Pudwill – seems to have been controversial in some quarters. The win against Teddy Muller made an important statement – Vanda showed that he could outpunch a legitimate super middleweight. Vanda’s defeat of Phil Williams was his highlight of the year. With his herky-jerky dancing, taunting, and trash-talking during the fight, Vanda showed the kind of energy and bravado that were once his trademark, but which have gone largely missing in the last couple of years.
- Phil Williams (11-2 with 10 kayos) – This was an up-and-down year for the barber from north Minneapolis. Down: his unanimous decision win against mediocre Isaiah Henderson wasn’t a knockout. Up: A TKO of former contender Antwun Echols resulted in an enthusiastic endorsement from Echols, and Williams’ stock was rising fast. Down again: the loss to Vanda was puzzling because Williams is a much bigger puncher and a much more imposing figure, but it was Vanda who took the initiative and stuck it to Williams for the first six rounds. Williams had his moments in the last few rounds, but a few big bombs aren’t enough against a tough and determined foe like Vanda. Williams says he’s learned that lesson.
- Caleb Truax (14-0 with 9 kayos) – The gregarious young man from Osseo with a college degree and a million-dollar smile did nothing but rise in 2009. Truax won five out of five this year, with three wins coming by KO or TKO. More importantly, Truax began to step up to tougher opponents this year; his last three fights came against men with records of 11-2, 25-6, and 12-2. Why is Truax not ranked higher? Because his last two opponents really stretched him. But keep an eye on this one: a fight with Andy Kolle seems almost inevitable.
- Joey Abell (25-4 with 24 kayos) – Maybe you raised your eyebrows when you saw Abell ranked in this slot, but his career record of 25-4 with 24 kayos is only half of the story. If you weren’t at Target Center on December 4th you didn’t see that Abell was one combination away from taking a knockout win in his state championship match with Raphael Butler. That fight ended, unfortunately, with Abell getting his knockout but not the win; the knockout came on a punch after the bell. It makes you wonder what could happen for this big heavyweight if he could just have one good night where nothing goes wrong.
- Dave Peterson (12-0 with 7 kayos) – Sometimes he looks like a great talent, sometimes he doesn’t. Dave Peterson returned from a long layoff to go 3-0 in 2009, but his results were something of a mixed bag. His win against Joshua Rodriguez was expected and his narrow victory against Cory Rodriguez looked like a big one at the time, but his TKO win against Silas Ortley should raise some questions. Peterson was bigger and stronger, but he didn’t look tremendously fit and he got hit much more frequently than a 12-0 prospect should. Maybe it was an unfavorable matchup, or maybe he had some bad milk before the fight. I’m not saying, I’m just saying.
- Mohammed Kayongo (15-2 with 11 kayos) – Kayongo, aka the African Assassin, had only one fight this year, but it was an important one for his nearly comatose prizefighting career (Kayongo had fought only twice in the preceding three years). Kayongo was favorably matched with an inexperienced 2-1-1 brawler, improbably for an alphabet title. Kayongo was the faster and harder-hitting man in that fight, and his reward was a 3rd-round TKO win and the WBF Intercontinental welterweight title. What a way to get your name back in the mix!
- Cory Rodriguez (4-0 with 3 kayos) – Here’s another fighter who had only one fight this year, but it was the close loss to Peterson. Rodriguez is a guy who could be in a lot better place if he fought more frequently. Promoters like to cast him as a money-grubbing prima donna, but this writer likes C-Rod personally and hopes that his 2010 is much better than his 2009.
- Antwan Robertson (5-1-1 with 3 kayos) – Robertson and his rival, Brad Patraw, could almost be tied in this spot. After all, they split two fights in 2009. But there are two reasons why Robertson is ranked above Patraw: first, he knocked Patraw down twice in his win, while Patraw never managed a knockdown of Robertson in his win. Secondly, Robertson’s win against Patraw was the rematch. A third bout between the two seems like a sure thing in 2010, but sure things don’t come to pass nearly as often as we expect.
- Brad Patraw (6-1 with 4 kayos) – In contrast to his absolute confidence before and during his March win against Robertson, Patraw seemed confused and unsure of himself in the October loss. Hopefully Patraw returns to form in the new year. His next bout is penciled in for January.
- Willshaun Boxley (5-3 with 3 kayos) – The difference between Boxley and the two men ranked just above him? Boxley has been taking the toughest out-of-town fights he can get and losing. One big win on the road would see Boxley leap over not only Robertson and Patraw, but a bunch of other names on this list as well.
- Gary Eyer (7-0-1 with 5 kayos) – Eyer is one of those guys who are just fun and exciting to watch. After his big slugging match with Levi Cortes at Target Center in December, Eyer isn’t a well-kept secret anymore. The lightweight from Duluth might be much more desirable to promoters now, but the retirement of Jungle Boy Walters could instead result in his being more carefully matched.
- Raphael Butler (35-8 with 28 kayos) – It seems obvious that Butler was in serious danger of a legal knockout before Joey Abell flattened him after the bell in their December title match. The no-contest spared Butler the loss on his record, but at what price? The NC result was the result of a brutal after-the-bell knockout that resulted in some short-term memory loss. That’s serious stuff.
- Scott Ball (10-6 with 8 kayos) – Ball returned to the prizefighting ring after a twenty-two month layoff with an impressive first-round stoppage against journeyman Mike Davis. Tall, slim, and young, Ball has a reputation as a good technical boxer with decent power.
- Cerresso Fort (9-0 with 8 kayos) – Hopefully Mr. Fort can continue to step up in terms of quality of opponent while duplicating his 5-0 record in 2009. On the other hand, fans of Minnesota boxing would not like to see Fort fight the same way against Phil Williams or Caleb Truax that he did against Lamar Harris; a display of wild and undisciplined slugging not befitting an undefeated prospect. Fort got the win in that one, but that kind of performance won’t do the job against Minnesota’s better middleweights.
- Javontae Starks (2-0 with 2 kayos) – Starks is only 2-0, but they were two great knockout wins. This youngster is the kind of prospect that the state of Minnesota doesn’t produce very often. The tall and slender Starks is unnaturally strong and fast. Watch for improvement in his fundamentals – that will be a sign of how hard this ambitious and optimistic young man is working in the gym.
- Jeremy McLaurin (6-0 with 4 kayos) – He has yet to lose, he recently signed a promotional deal with MSC, and he is a strong and accurate puncher. It’s unclear what McLaurin’s ceiling is, but it seems clear that he hasn’t reached it yet.
- Levi Cortes (3-1 with 2 kayos) – I’ll admit to not knowing anything about Cortes prior to his fight with Gary Eyer in December. Now I’m a fan. Cortes has a wicked right hand and looks very strong. Other than that, I can’t tell you much. He doesn’t seem to have much of a plan in the ring and he tired rapidly against Eyer, but that could have been the result of Eyer’s tremendous counters rather than any cardio deficiency on Cortes’s part.
Missed the cut:
Michael Faulk – keep winning in 2010 and you’ll make next year’s list, Mike.
Yevgeniy Shishporenok (Boris the Russian Giant) – One good win away from taking the 20th spot, Shishporenok has compiled a pretty good record against pretty bad opposition.
Antonio Johnson – Just one fight in 2009, no wins since 2007…I want to include Johnson on this list but it’s hard to justify it. One win against anyone in 2009 would have done the job.
Allen Litzau – not a bad fighter, but no big wins in several years. I’m hoping to see Allen fight and win several times in 2010.
Kenny Kost – didn’t fight in 2009. I have to consider Kost retired until he fights again.
Anthony Bonsante – retired after the loss to Kolle in March.