Two of boxing's best prospects, both middleweights from Ukraine and fighting out of Brooklyn, New York, will be on display on a "ShoBox: The New Generation" tripleheader on Friday night (Showtime, 10 ET/PT) at Bally's Atlantic City in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Sergiy Derevyanchenko and Ievgen Khytrov, both of whom had monster amateur careers, will appear in separate eight-round bouts, and both are most definitely worth taking a look at.
Derevyanchenko (5-0, 4 KOs) -- who went 23-1 with 7 knockouts during his stint in the World Series of Boxing -- will square off with gatekeeper and former title challenger Elvin Ayala (28-6-1, 12 KOs) in the main event, and Khytrov (10-0, 9 KOs) will face Nick Brinson (17-3-2, 7 KOs).
In the opening bout, Regis Prograis (14-0, 12 KOs) of New Orleans will face Amos Cowart (11-0-1, 9 KOs) of Groveland, Florida, in an eight-round junior welterweight bout.
Derevyanchenko, 29, was a reported 390-20 as an amateur, was a 2008 Olympian and won all sorts of major tournaments too numerous to list. He's already very advanced, which is why he is fighting a guy like Ayala early in his professional career.
Khytrov, 26, was a reported 480-20 as an amateur and was a 2012 Olympian and gold medalist at the 2011 world championships. He is also being moved quickly, having already faced (and knocked out) the dangerous Jorge Melendez in March.
Lou DiBella, who promotes both, knows a thing or two about middleweights, having promoted world champions Bernard Hopkins, Sergio Martinez and Jermain Taylor.
"Sergiy and Ievgen are two of the truly elite prospects in all of boxing," DiBella said. "There isn't a doubt in my mind that they are the future of the middleweight division, and anything less than a world championship will be a disappointment for them."
In Ayala, Derevyanchenko is facing a vastly experienced opponent. Ayala has faced (and lost to) Arthur Abraham in a world title bout, David Lemieux (who later won a world title) and Curtis Stevens (who challenged for a world title).
"I have a lot of respect for him," Derevyanchenko said of Ayala. "He's a tough opponent. I had a 10-week training camp and I'm ready for whatever game he brings. I'm not taking him lightly. This is a step up in class for me and he's a really good fighter. He outclassed [prospect] Ronald Gavril back in March, that's no joke. But I'm not concerned because I feel I have faced tougher opposition in the past."
Being based in Brooklyn has made it easy for Derevyanchenko to get good sparring. He has worked with the likes of titlist Daniel Jacobs and prospect Frank Galarza for this fight.
"I've been sparring with Danny for almost a year now," Derevyanchenko said. "He's very technical and very slick and so am I. So we are the perfect sparring match. My trainer says that to watch us spar is like watching chess. Every move counts, every punch matters. It's all part of a calculated strategy. I love it. Some might argue I lack [pro] experience, but I don't feel that way in the least. I've been in the ring so many times that I feel like home when I fight. I feel I'm right where I belong."
Ayala, 34, of New Haven, Connecticut, understands he is the underdog.
"But so was I when I fought Gavril," he said. "With four days' notice and against the odds, I got the decision. I thought I was going to get robbed, but I won. So I'm not too worried about being the underdog here, because it doesn't mean anything. Anything can happen.
"On paper, Derevyanchenko has five fights, but he is way more experienced than that. In the amateurs alone he had more fights than me as a pro and amateur combined. Every time you step in the ring, you leave something but you gain some knowledge on fighting. So he has a lot of experience and I'm not sleeping on him at all. "
Khytrov, a pro since December 2013, followed his eighth-round knockout of Melendez with an eight-round decision against then-unbeaten Aaron Coley in April. Admittedly, it was not Khytrov's most stellar performance.
"Some criticize my last performance against Aaron Coley, but I was coming from three back-to-back fights and I was physically exhausted," he said. "I won, but my performance, it was not my best. I couldn't even get my combinations going. This time around I'm better conditioned, a lot bigger and a lot stronger.
"I'm hungrier than my opponent and that's an advantage for me. See, American fighters are a little bit in their comfort zones with comfortable gadgets and easy access to training and easy access to everything. In Eastern Europe, we don't have that, so if you are lucky enough to get access to training or even an opportunity, you do your best and you try to break through. You work hard and don't let opportunities slip away. Nick is good opposition, but I have no doubt I'm better than him."
Brinson, 27, of Albany, New York, is coming off a second-round knockout win on June 2, but it was against a 3-15 scrub. Before that he lost back-to-back fights, a fourth-round knockout to super middleweight contender and former world title challenger Andre Dirrell and a 10-round decision to prospect Dominic Wade. Brinson, who owns a decision against Melendez, is in deep against Khytrov but said he wanted this fight.
"I actually asked for this fight. I looked for it because Khytrov is the right style for me," he said. "We are tailor-made for each other. I've been in camp for 13 weeks. I'm right on point with weight. I'm just ready to go.
"I know Khytrov is going to be on my face from the get-go. He's just like that; he stands there and he fights with all he has. Ha throws and throws, and that's what I like about him. I know how to counter it. I know how to defeat him. My division is hot and I want to keep on moving. This is a tough test, but I know I can ace it."
DiBella, however, is counting on his two hot prospects winning and rolling closer to a world title fight.
"As long as they continue to win, and continue to impress with each victory, I see them knocking on the door to a world title in the next 12 to 18 months," DiBella said.