There are many things that other sports do which boxing neglects. Failing to scout and develop young prospects properly is only one in a laundry list of issues plaguing the sweet science.
Nothing, though, is more critical to the success of a sport than acquiring and nurturing young talent. Far too often, the route the promoters and their managers pursue is to match a fighter as easily as possible in order to build up a glitzy record. As a result, if you’ve followed boxing for any length of time, you understand that no two 20-0 records are alike.
Some promoters regularly put their prospects in competitive matches and force them to raise their games each time out. Far more promising young fighters, though, are fed a diet of cream puff opponents and thus those 20-0 records are more inflated than the Underdog float in the Thanksgiving Day parade.
That’s where Showtime’s ShoBox series comes in. It celebrates its 10th anniversary on Friday at Texas Station in Las Vegas featuring four quality prospects looking to reach the next level. That’s been the series’ credo from its inception and it has done a remarkably good job of remaining true to its mission.
The late Jay Larkin, the highly regarded former Showtime executive, and promoter Gary Shaw began to kick around the idea for such a series at the turn of the century.
Their concept was simple – put young fighters in competitive bouts and try to develop them into champions – and has been one of boxing’s leading lights since its inception. Fighters don’t get onto ShoBox if their promoters are looking to showcase them against opponents who have no chance of winning.
Since its debut on July 21, 2001, ShoBox has been the sport’s best developmental vehicle. There have been 90 fighters who appeared on ShoBox who went on to fight for a world title, with 43 of those actually winning a belt.
The list of champions produced by ShoBox is long and impressive, featuring the likes of Andre Ward, Nonito Donaire, Paul Williams, Juan Manuel Lopez, Kelly Pavlik, Chad Dawson, Carl Froch and Robert Guerrero, among others.
Ward, who now holds the World Boxing Association super middleweight title, is one of boxing’s biggest stars. But he appeared on ShoBox five times early in his professional career after winning a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics and credited the series with helping prepare him to compete on the bigger stage.
“ShoBox was up and moving and going before I got to the level where I could fight on television consistently,” said Ward, who is 24-0 and ranked No. 5 in the Yahoo! Sports ratings. “I was already aware of ShoBox and I wanted to fight on ShoBox because I had seen a number of other guys who had fought there and who’d gotten great exposure and gone on to be champions. I felt like my time would come, and when I did get the chance to fight there, it was exciting to hear guys like Steve Farhood and Nick Charles commentate my fights. You almost feel like you're in the big-time, even though as a young fighter, you’re not.
“It just really gave me the opportunity to showcase my skills, to show what I had, to fight stiff, strong competition and get good, solid, honest critiques from guys like Steve Farhood and Nick Charles in the hope that one day, I could fight on the big network on Showtime Championship Boxing.”
Gordon Hall, the executive producer of ShoBox, said he used to battle with Tom Brown, the matchmaker for Goossen Tutor Promotions, Ward’s promoter, about the level of competition Ward would face.
By staying resolute and true to the series’ mission, Hall laid the groundwork for success for dozens of future stars.
“I never really cared who won and I didn’t have a vested interest in seeing this guy win or that guy win,” Hall said. “What I wanted was a test for the prospect, or to have two undefeated top prospects to fight each other. We took pride in putting the guys in with the toughest matchup we could make for them at the level they were at at the time. I think it accelerated their development process and showcase the next generation of stars to the public.”
Guerrero was a relative unknown when he first appeared on ShoBox. He didn’t have the lengthy amateur pedigree like Ward and was battling for recognition.
He appeared on ShoBox five times – tied for most in series history with Ward, Ishe Smith, Sechew Powell, Kendall Holt, Mike Arnaoutis and Chris Avalos – and suffered the only loss of his career on it.
He was beaten by Gammaliel Diaz on Dec. 2, 2005, in what in many ways was the turning point of his career. Six months later, he knocked Diaz out in a ShoBox rematch and was steamrolling toward a world title.
Guerrero didn’t get angry that as a young and inexperienced fighter, he was put in with an older, more physically mature and more experienced man. He took it for what it was, an opportunity to gauge himself and advance his career.
“I never questioned who I fought, so I guess I’m a throwback in that way,” Guerrero said. “That’s the great thing about ShoBox. You are going to get difficult fights. You aren’t given soft touches. It winds up helping you out in the long run, because it produces good, hard fights and you develop a bit of a following with the fans. At the end of the day, this sport is about the fans and there are a lot who watch ShoBox because they know it’s the place to go to see good young guys in evenly matched fights.
“Being on those cards helped me in so many ways and I think it really prepared me well for the next step.”
That’s what Diego Magdaleno, an unbeaten Las Vegan who faces Alejandro Perez in Friday’s super featherweight main event, is going to find out. Magdaleno is 19-0 with seven knockouts. If he’s ready to move to the next level and compete against legitimate title contenders, he’ll find out in his fight with Perez.
It’s what ShoBox is all about.
- Andre Ward