A look at five fighters on the rise who could catapult to the top of the sport in 2021.
Despite all the problems endured by boxing throughout 2020 courtesy of Covid-19, a new wave of boxers are on the verge of stardom. These rising warriors have stepped out the shadows and are ready to step into the limelight. In alphabetical order, here is a look at five PBC pugilists who could break out in 2021:
Nickname: Prime Time
Weight: Super Featherweight (130lbs.)
Title: WBA Interim World Super Featherweight Champion
Date of Birth: September 27, 1996 (Age: 24)
Hometown: Brooklyn, New York
Record: 15-0 (6 KOs)
First gaining wide exposure via Netflix documentary “CounterPunch” in 2017, Chris Colbert, then known a diminutive amateur known as “Lil B-Hop,” provided viewers with a small taste of what was to come. The massively confident Colbert shared his professional ambitions and his strong self-belief was almost palpable as he prophesied his rise to boxing’s pinnacle.
Four years later, Colbert, now sporting the “Prime Time” moniker, is on the cusp of realizing his dreams. The brash Brooklyn-ite made good on his potential at the beginning of 2020 by defeating veteran Jezzrel Corrales to claim the WBA interim super featherweight title. But it was his dazzling stoppage win over Jaime Arboleda last December that left heads murming and believing 2021 could be the year Colbert steps into Prime Time.
Height: 5-4 ½
Weight: Lightweight (135lbs.)
Date of Birth: May 23, 1998 (Age: 22)
Hometown: Mexico City, Mexico
Record: 20-1-1 (15 KOs)
Isaac Cruz was the recipient of a tough fight education in his native Mexico. With his professional bow occurring as a dreamy 17-year-old, Cruz endured a hard start to his pro odyssey, tasting defeat in fight number six, when he lost on points to Luis Montano in 2016.
Such a setback could deter a youthful fighter, but not Cruz.
Rebounding brilliantly, Cruz has climbed the rankings at lightweight and his progress was rewarded with justified television exposure. Last October, on the undercard of Gervonta Davis’ epic fight with Leo Santa Cruz, the man called “Pitbull'' demonstrated his potential with a ruthless first-round stoppage of Diego Magdaleno. With the boxing world wondering what his next move will be, Cruz is primed to deliver on the hype that he has created for himself.
Stephen Fulton JR.
Nickname: Cool Boy Steph
Height: 5-6 ½
Weight: Super Bantamweight (122lbs.)
Title: WBO World Super Bantamweight Champion
Date of Birth: July 17, 1994 (Age: 26)
Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Record: 19-0 (8 KOs)
Boxing is always in a better place when the fighting city of Philadelphia has a star they can get behind. The latest fighter receiving that adulation is Stephen Fulton Jr. Although long identified as a serious prospect, Fulton’s progress in the last two years has been impressive and his potential was finally realised at the start of 2021.
Last January, “Cool Boy Steph” took on then-WBO world 122-pound champion Angelo Leo in a fight many believed was 50-50 bet going in. The two engaged in a beautiful, back and forth war but only one man emerged unscathed. Fulton combined his greater skillset with a steely aggression to make a mockery of the pre-fight predictions and win wide on the scorecards. It was the ideal start to 2021. The Philadelphia native will want to ensure that his year gets even better as he seeks out bigger challenges.
GARY ANTUANNE RUSSELL
Weight: Super Lightweight (140lbs.)
Date of Birth: June 14, 1996 (Age: 24)
Hometown: Capital Heights, Maryland
Record: 13-0 (13 KOs)
Representing the family fight business with immense pride, Gary Antuanne Russell is out to emulate the success enjoyed by his older brother, WBC World Featherweight Champion Gary Russell Jr. Gary Auntuanne is a high-end product of America’s amateur system, representing his nation at the 2016 Olympics. He turned pro shortly after and has knocked out every man he has faced in the ring.
Building huge momentum before the world was struck down with the pandemic, Russell now needs to make up for lost time. His last fight, a first round stoppage over Jose Marrufo, took place in February last year and signaled that Russell was ready for the next level. Expect him to make that move in 2021.
Weight: Welterweight (147lbs.)
Date of Birth: August 17, 1994 (Age: 26)
Hometown: Kaunas, Lithuania
Record: 12-0 (9 KOs)
The latest student of the legendary Freddie Roach and Marvin Somodio, Eimantas Stanionis has the potential to reach the heights achieved by a number of Roach’s former students. Based in Oxnard, California, the hard-hitting Lithuainian has settled well on America’s west coast and is determined to turn his amateur success into professional honors.
A podium finisher at multiple international tournaments when sporting his nation’s vest, Stanionis’ signature was highly sought when he announced his intention to turn professional—and it’s clear to see why as Stanionis has consistently impressed. The welterweight division is congested with talented fighters. In 2021, Stanionis intends to prove that not only does he deserve to be mentioned among the elite, but he may become the best out of them all.