By Steve Wellings for Undisputed Champion Nutrition – http://irishboxingreview.com/
Like any sport, boxing sees a gradual churn year upon year as the major talents fade away, Pay-Per-View stars come and go and new blood appears to revitalise, refresh and reinvigorate the pugilistic landscape.
The current standard bearers of British boxing, across the UK and Ireland, will inevitably fade away as the hands of time replace them with the next generation. Fighters like Anthony Joshua, Tyson Fury, Kell Brook, Billy Joe Saunders and Josh Taylor will have their moment and make way, much as the likes of Joe Calzaghe, Ricky Hatton and ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed did for them.
Despite their obvious ability, it is hard to predict that every blue chip boxer will make it to the top. That said, here are five UK boxing prospects to keep an eye on in 2021.
Dennis McCann – Maidstone, Kent – 7-0 (5 KOs)
Boxing out of the Ibox Gym under the tutelage of Alan Smith and his team, Dennis “The Menace” McCann has been turning heads since switching over to the professional code in early 2019.
McCann’s impressive skillset complements his aggressive finishing instincts. Throwing shots in combinations, from a variety of angles, ardent fight fans and seasoned pundits have been impressed with equal measure by McCann, who will not be long away from a title fight despite his fledgling years.
McCann’s most ruthless display to date came in his most recent outing. Boxing on the undercard of Carl Frampton’s demolition job on Darren Traynor, McCann stopped Brett Fidoe in just two rounds.
Known for his toughness and durability, journeyman Fidoe held a staunch reputation for going the distance with fighters of all levels and ability. Fidoe had only been stopped once before. McCann blasted him away with all the power and precision of a top prospect. All of his seven wins so far, most at home and one across the water in Northern Ireland, have rubber stamped his status as one watch in 2021.
Viewers watching live on BT Sport could immediately see why promoter Frank Warren and boxing powerbrokers MTK Global were so quick to snap him up.
Sam Noakes – Maidstone, Kent – 4-0 (4 KOs)
Another talented boxer from Maidstone, competing under the Frank Warren banner, is lightweight Sam Noakes. Less than a year after handing in his amateur vest to punch for pay, Noakes has laid waste to his four initial opponents. Durable journeyman Jordan Ellison was the latest opponent to feel the wrath when Noakes stopped him in round five on the Daniel Dubois-Ricardo Snijders undercard.
Not wishing to hang around, after engaging in a couple of four-rounders Noakes moved up to the six-round class but has still not heard a final bell.
Noakes’ abilities are already being recognised. Tyson Fury’s dad, John Fury, himself a former pro fighter, praised the youngster [i]after Sam’s one-round demolition of Des Newton.
Knockouts bring excitement and create buzz across any combat sports and boxing with 8oz gloves is clearly bringing the spite out in Noakes’ shots. Despite his tender years, a breakout 2021 could see a title fight beckon for the Maidstone man.
Lewis Crocker – Belfast, N.Ireland – 12-0 (7 KOs)
A solid amateur who kicked off his pro career with a string of blazing knockouts, Lewis Crocker has settled down on his shots lately and started displaying a more calculated maturity to his work. This will hold him in good stead moving forward as he transitions from the thriving scene in Ireland across the water and further in to the consciousness of UK boxing fans.
The Belfast boxer pushed aside the disappointment of an ongoing legal wrangle with the organisers of amateur boxing in Ulster to follow the likes of Carl Frampton, Michael Conlan and other Belfast headliners. Some early slots on Queensberry Promotions’ Belfast undercards offered fans a taste of what Crocker has to offer as he set about hurting his overmatched opponents with some powerful left hook finishes.
The Sandy Row slugger showed that there are different dimensions to his game when outboxing John Thain in early 2020, in Belfast’s Ulster Hall. Scotland’s Thain was a former British title challenger who had generally competed at a good level, yet Crocker was able to neutralise his attacks and proved to be the superior boxer, giving up only one session over eight rounds.
Crocker followed that up with a seventh-round knockout of Louis Greene in Wakefield. Like Thain, Kent boxer Greene had fought at a higher level and was expected to test Crocker. The young Belfast man dealt sufficiently with everything his opponent had to offer before stopping him. 2021 will certainly be a big year for ‘The Croc’ as he homes in on a significant title shot.
Denzel Bentley – Battersea, London – 13-0-1 (11 KOs)
Not since the languid figure of Guyana-born Howard Eastman swaggered out of town has Battersea had such an exciting boxing talent to enjoy. If hot prospect Denzel Bentley can aspire to the levels of his fellow middleweight Eastman, who twice challenged for world honours, then he will have had a career worth talking about.
Keen to shake off comparisons to the likes of Eastman, or former big-punching world ruler Nigel Benn, right now Bentley is moving steadily in the right direction, forging his own way to the top.
Two lockdown appearances, spread over a quick-fire time frame of barely two months, garnered slightly mixed results for “2 Sharp”. First he laid a beating on the brave yet hapless Mick Hall from Preston, forcing his opponent to be retired after round six, sporting a badly swollen eye.
Then he returned to the BT boxing bubble to take on former British title challenger Mark Heffron. Bentley used his slick switch-hitting skills at times in the fight to bemuse his heavy-handed foe, even dropping the Oldham man in round two.
Coasting towards victory, it seemed close yet possibly Denzel’s fight to lose. All three judges liked the aggression of Heffron just as much and scored it a unanimous draw. That decision marks the only blemish on Bentley’s record. However, he can clearly punch, has good movement and natural ability. If Bentley can iron out the creases there is no reason the Battersea man cannot follow in the footsteps of Eastman and box and win at a good level. He remains one to watch going in to 2021
Ivan ‘Hopey’ Price – Leeds, UK – 3-0 (1 KO)
Boasting a stellar amateur career saw him win youth medals at both World and European level in the flyweight division, Leeds southpaw Ivan ‘Hopey’ Price is busy making waves as a professional fighter.
Now competing at super-bantamweight, Price is signed with Eddie Hearn’s influential Matchroom outfit and has already enjoyed an outing on the undercard of Hearn’s innovative Fight Camp summer series.
Throw in a supporting role on the Anthony Joshua-Andy Ruiz Jr rematch card in Saudi Arabia and Price is already showcasing his moves to a global audience. That exposure will only increase in 2021 and beyond.
These are five UK prospects ready to push on and make some noise over the coming year. There are other names to watch out for, including the likes of Hamzah Sheeraz, Shabaz Masoud, Louie Lynn, Dalton Smith and others across Ireland and the UK.
It is at the point when a boxer steps in to a proper title fight, faces adversity for the first time or is truly tested that we find out about whether they have what it takes to reach the top. For these young men, the signs are promising.