Boxing promoters searching for potential American heavyweights should look no further than the University of Georgia, approximately 70 miles northeast of downtown Atlanta.
Although Georgia Tech, an ACC school, is located in the heart of the city, its no secret that Atlanta is SEC country. There are six SEC schools within a relatively short three and a half hour drive of the honorary capital of the New South, UGA being the most prominent in terms of fan base and civic pride.
Not since Evander Holyfield, an Atlanta resident from childhood, has America produced a dominant world class heavyweight boxing champion. Holyfield's slide from boxing's elite started on March 13, 1999 when he fought Lennox Lewis to a highly controversial draw at New York's Madison Square Garden. Many boxing fans will remember this was the fight Holyfield said "I'm going to blow him out in the third round, because God told me." Here in the Bible belt, thou shall not speak God's name in vain. After Holyfield-Lewis I, The Real Deal managed a lackluster record of 8-7-1 with one no contest.
Americans Roy Jones, Jr., Hasim Rahman, John Ruiz, Chris Byrd, Lamon Brewster and Shannon Briggs have all held a world heavyweight title in the post Holyfield era; however, none of those names were dominant in the weight class. With the exception of Jones Jr., not many casual boxing fans would know who the other former champions were.
Fast forward to 2014. National Signing Day was February 5th and the University of Georgia signed three of the top 50 national high school football recruits according to Rivals.com. Barring injury or grossly underachieving this summer, RB Sony Michel (Plantation, FL), RB Nick Chubb (Cedartown, GA) and DE Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, GA) are expected to make an immediate impact for the Bulldogs according to most scouts.
But what if Nick Chubb chose Al Haymon as his advisor and donned a Golden Boy Promotions hat instead of a Bulldogs hat when it came time for him to sign his letter of intent? Two words, instant prospect. With Al Haymon's business savvy, Golden Boy's PR machine and his reputation as a typical SEC power back with speed, Chubb could easily win his first 22 pro fights with someone like Virgil Hunter training him. I could say the same for Sony Michel and Lorenzo Carter. Although they would be different fighters than Chubb because of the different skill sets they possess, in the right hands, their natural athleticism would shine allowing them a chance to be great heavyweights.
Look at what Seth Mitchell, former Michigan State football standout, has done in the ring since turning pro at 25. He is 26-2-1. Not a great pro, but a good one who has been prominently featured on HBO and Showtime boxing cards. Plus, he's a Big Ten guy, we're talking SEC talent here. All jokes aside, Mitchell suffered a serious knee injury that ended his college football career. The reason he is a boxer, and the reason he has not fully blossomed into a great boxer, may be one in the same.
Besides Mitchell, there are several examples of successful boxers that were new to the sport or late bloomers, starting to box competitively after the age of 18. Lineal middleweight world champion Sergio "Maravilla" Martinez and Lineal light-heavyweight world champion Adonis "Superman" Stevenson are two names that come up immediately. Martinez, a cyclist and soccer player before turning to the sweet science, started boxing at the age of 20. While Stevenson, with only 38 amateur fights under his belt, didn't turn pro until after his 29th birthday. Maravilla actually sits at #7 on ESPN's Pound-for-Pound Rankings, their measure of the world's best boxer regardless of weight class.
Some boxing purists say the amateur system is broken, and until its fixed, we may never see a great American heavyweight. The question then becomes, is there time to fix the broken system? By all accounts, Floyd "Money" Mayweather, boxing's biggest star and proud American, is hanging up the gloves for good in September 2015. What American boxer steps into his shoes and runs with the torch after that? There are some great boxers out there, namely Andre Ward, Timothy Bradley, Jr., Danny Garcia and Mikey Garcia, but neither of those boxers have yet to develop that crossover appeal to draw casual fans in the way Mayweather has.
Boxing promoters should take a long hard look at high school football recruits when evaluating potential heavyweight prospects. Three really good ones just signed with UGA. Football is big business in SEC country. Boxing can be too.