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New Kids on the Block: The Matchroom Sextet

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  • New Kids on the Block: The Matchroom Sextet

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    By Arne K. Lang

    In May of last year, Eddie Hearn, the head of the boxing division of Matchroom Sport, signed an eight-fight deal with the live-streaming distributor DAZN worth a reported $1 billion. As part of the deal, Hearn’s firm would put on 16 fights a year in the United States.

    Hearn needed bodies to fill those slots and went on a shopping spree. In addition to global superstars Canelo Alvarez and Gennadiy Golovkin, he boated, among others, title-holders Demetrius Andrade, Maurice Hooker, and Tevin Farmer, established pros Daniel Jacobs and Jessie Vargas, fast rising lightweight contender Devin Haney, and six of America’s brightest amateurs, theoretically diminishing the chances that the U.S. will field a formidable team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

    The six fighters and the age at which they signed are lightweight Otha Jones III (19), welterweight Reshad Mati (19), middleweights Nikita Abibay (19), Diego Pacheco (17), and Austin Williams (22), and heavyweight Nkosi Solomon (24).

    Truth be told, Otha Jones III (pictured with Eddie Hearn) hasn’t been all that impressive in his short pro career -- three six-round fights, two of which went the distance – but the former state high school wrestling champion comes from a good barn and is arguably the most polished of the newcomers.

    The barn is the Soul City gym in Toledo, Ohio. Otha’s father and older brother Roshawn run the place which, in the summer months when the kids are out of school, is as much a community center as a boxing gym with academic tutoring and financial literacy classes for adults.

    Charles Conwell, the youngest member of the 2016 U.S. Olympic team, hails from Cleveland but as an amateur did most of his training from the age of 14 at Soul City. The current cast includes four members of Team USA, 17-year-old flyweight Denton Yates and three females: junior welterweight Zhane Crockett, lightweight NaShay Bradford, and welterweight Oshae Jones, the sister of Osha III. (Toledo’s Jared Anderson, the favorite to represent the U.S. in Tokyo in the 201-pound weight class, is tight with the Jones family but trains at the city-owned Glass City gym.)

    Eddie Hearn had this to say when he announced the signing of Otha Jones III this past January: “Anyone who follows the amateur code will tell you that O.J. III is a world champ in waiting and we will be boxing him all over the world in all our major shows in order to take him all the way to the top.” Otha has already boxed as a pro in London and eight days later appeared on the Andrade-Sulecki undercard in Providence.

    Nikita Abibay

    If Otha Jones III has been rather workmanlike at the professional level, the same can’t be said of Abibay, the son of Russian immigrants, who has exploded out of the gate with five quick knockouts in as many starts. He won his pro debut in 28 seconds and his most recent fight in 41 seconds. In both of those fights he caved in his opponent with a body punch which he considers the best part of his arsenal.

    Nicknamed White Chocolate, Abibay as an amateur represented the Atlas Cops and Kids Boxing Gym in Brooklyn where his teammates included Matchroom signees Reshat Mati and Nkosi Solomon, all three of whom made their pro debuts on Oct. 6 of last year in Chicago on Hearn’s very first U.S. promotion. His next fight, against the ubiquitous TBA, is slated for July 27 in Arlington, Texas, underneath the unification fight between 140-pound title-holders Jose Carlos Ramirez and Maurice Hooker.

    Reshad Mati

    Reshad Mati was precocious and that’s putting it mildly. When he was 15 years old, he was the subject of a profile by the award-winning writer Charles P. Pierce. That same year, an article in New York magazine said that he was the best all-around fighter for his age in the world. By the time he reached the age of 18, wrote Stephen Hart, he was an eight-time world kickboxing champion, a seven-time jiu-jitsu national champion, a seven-time national grappling champion, and for good measure participated on the wrestling team at his Staten Island high school. Since that story was written, Mati won a National Golden Gloves title in the open division at 141 pounds. Whew!

    Mati’s parents are immigrants from Albania and he hopes to represent that country in the 2020 Olympics (assuming that pros are still eligible). He’s 3-0 as a pro but hasn’t fought since January when he blew away his 36-year-old opponent in 66 seconds at the Hulu Theater in Madison Square Garden.

    Diego Pacheco

    A six-foot-four middleweight, born and raised in LA, Pacheco is the youngest of the sextet, having just turned 18 in March of this year. As an amateur he held dual membership on the U.S. and Mexican national teams and was ranked #1 in his weight class by both entities.

    Because of age restrictions, Pacheco had his first two fights in Tijuana. He’s currently 4-0 with three wins inside the distance.

    Austin Williams

    From Houston, Texas, Williams, a southpaw, took up boxing at age 19 and had only 47 amateur fights before signing with Matchroom in February of this year. But numerous sparring sessions with Regis Prograis, who calls him “a beast,” have accelerated his development.

    Williams doesn’t have modest aspirations. “My goal,” he told boxing writer Sean Crose, “is to be the greatest, most influential fighter of all time.” Nicknamed Ammo, he looked fearsome in his first two pro fights, blasting out his opponents in the opening round. You will be reading more about him in these pages.

    Nkosi Solomon

    Born in Guyana, the six-foot-four Brooklynite was a two-time New York City Golden Gloves champion. In announcing his signing, Eddie Hearn said that Solomon reminded him of Anthony Joshua. That assessment invited a big horse laugh when Solomon lost his pro debut in a sloppy 4-round fight in which he was knocked down twice and lost two points for holding.

    Solomon evened his ledger at 1-1 with a 4-round decision over blubbery Rodriguez Cade and can take solace in the fact that some of the greatest fighters in history, including Benny Leonard and Bernard Hopkins, lost their first professional fight.

    Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel