The New Year offers hopes to fighters eager to make another vital step toward titles and stardom.
Although not immediately ready for the pay-per-view blockbusters or seven-figure purses, several hopefuls emerged last year and could make noticeable impacts in 2014:
• Bermaine Stiverne, heavyweight: Stiverne wants to become the first Haiti native to win a heavyweight title, and he helped his chances with a convincing decision victory over contender Chris Arreola in 2013. At age 36, Stiverne would hardly fit the “hopeful” tag, especially after a knockout loss two years into his career. But the division now has an opening for a new champion when belt holder Vitali Klitschko recently vacated his World Boxing Council title.
• Mike Perez, heavyweight: Instead of relocating in South Florida, Cuba-born Perez opted for fight fortunes in Europe. Perez, who lives in Ireland, made his U.S. TV debut with a hard-fought decision win against Magomed Abdusalamov two months ago.
• Omar Figueroa, lightweight: A first-round knockout win over Abner Cotto in April was the precursor to Figueroa’s successful year. In July, Figueroa passed his first 12-round test with a decision against Nihito Arakawa.
• Billy Joe Saunders, middleweight: Following the trail of Ricky Hatton, Amir Khan and Carl Froch, Saunders could become the next British fighter who has transitioned into the U.S. fight market during the past 10 years.
• Terrence Crawford, lightweight: Crawford made his TV breakthrough with a lopsided decision against dangerous veteran Breidis Prescott in March. Victories over Alejandro Sanabria and previously unbeaten Andrey Klimov later in the year helped land Crawford his first title fight against Ricky Burns on March 1.
• Jermell and Jermall Charlo, junior-middleweights: The Charlo twins could replace Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko as brothers who share world titles. Local fight fans were introduced to the unbeaten brothers in separate cards at BB&T Center last year.
• Randy Caballero, bantamweight: Although he is not yet on the 118-pound title radar, Caballero, 22, has impressed with a fighting style that already has earned him multiple appearances on Showtime’s ShoBox series. In his recent bout, Caballero wore down Cutler Bay resident Jessy Cruz with a seventh-round TKO two months ago at the BB&T Center.
• Yunieski Gonzalez, light-heavyweight: The native of Cuba is perhaps one of the South Florida-based fighters that soon could make the breakthrough. Gonzalez is developing impressive fight finishes, such as his up-from-the seats knockout win over Rowland Bryant in March at the Seminole Hard Rock Live Arena.
Barthelemy a champ
Rances Barthelemy, 27, became the latest Cuba native and Miami-based fighter to win a professional world title. Barthelemy knocked out defending champion Argenis Mendez in the second round and captured the International Boxing Federation junior-lightweight crown Friday in Minneapolis.
Adeptly using his height, Barthelemy peppered Mendez with solid combinations to the head in the first round and increased the pressure the following round with a scored knockdown.
Barthelemy (20-0, 13 KOs) dropped Mendez (21-3-1) again as the second round ended. Referee Pete Podgorski counted Mendez out, earning Barthelemy the 130-pound title.
“All throughout camp, Rances gained confidence in what he was doing as he prepared for the fight,” said Chico Rivas, who took over as Barthelemy’s lead trainer after John David Jackson left to train Mendez. “The easier part of the whole process was the fight.”
Rivas acknowledges the controversy regarding the punches that ended the fight occurred after the bell. But Rivas said the debate shouldn’t dampen his fighter’s accomplishments.
“He was controlling everything when the fight ended,” Rivas said. “Before the fight, I told him that you are facing a champion and there is a respect factor involved. But after he looked so impressive in the first round I told him before the second, ‘If the opportunity is there, drop it.’ ”
Barthelemy, 27, joins compatriots and fellow Miami residents Guilllermo Rigondeaux and Richar Abril as titleholders. Fellow Cubans Erislandy Lara, who now lives in Houston, has a second-tier super-welterweight belt, and Yoan Pablo Hernandez is a cruiserweight champion based in Germany.