ESPN's 2017 prospect of the year

Junior lightweight Ryan Garcia, left, went 6-0 in 2017, all KO victories. Photo provided by Tom Hogan/Golden Boy Promotions

Junior lightweight Ryan Garcia, who certainly doesn't lack for confidence, didn't originally plan to pursue boxing. Baseball was his first love.

"I could have been the next Babe Ruth," Garcia said. "No doubt about it. I was a prodigy and then I realized that baseball was a team sport. They handed me a fourth-place trophy and I was pissed because we were fourth and my teammates let me down."

He was about 7 at the time and decided he would be better in an individual sport.

"I wanted a sport I could do on my own," Garcia said. "My uncle [former amateur fighter Sergio Garcia] showed me a picture of a championship belt. When I looked at it I said, 'I want that.' I asked my uncle, 'How do I get that?' He said I'd have to box. I said, 'What's that?' I had no idea what boxing was. He said I had to fight.

"He brought out some gloves in the garage and showed me how to jab. Mine had snap to it. I did it again and again. I fell in love with it I've been boxing ever since."

Garcia (13-0, 12 KOs), 19, of Victorville, California, went on to have a tremendous amateur career. He was 215-15 and won 15 national titles, including the 2016 youth world championships. He claimed a silver medal at the 2014 junior world championships, won National Police Athletic League championships from 2008 to 2016 and was a four-time National Silver Gloves champion (2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013) in addition to winning junior Golden Gloves titles in 2009 and 2012.

He hoped to fight in the 2016 Olympics but wasn't old enough, and since amateur rules dropped headgear requirements, Garcia figured if he was going to get hit in the head without protection he might as well get paid for it. So he turned pro in June 2016 and had his first four bouts in Mexico as a 17-year-old because he wasn't old enough to box professionally in the United States.

In November 2016, when Garcia was 6-0, he signed with Golden Boy Promotions, and CEO Oscar De La Hoya viewed the signing as the company's most important since singing a young Canelo Alvarez in 2010.

"Ryan Garcia is special, simple as that. His amateur pedigree is among the best I've ever seen. His skill set is far beyond his 18 years," De La Hoya said at the time.

Nothing has changed his mind, as Garcia, who has a very good left hook, excellent skills and charisma that could make him a star, has continued his ascent, going 6-0 (all knockouts) in 2017 and earning ESPN.com prospect of the year honors.

Garcia, who has sparred with and held his own against world champions Vasiliy Lomachenko and Jorge Linares -- both of whom offered compliments for the work he gave them -- has yet to fight a recognizable opponent, but he's been facing fighters with winning records and looked sharp, including a 30-second obliteration of Miguel Carrizoza (10-2 at the time) in September in Las Vegas on ESPN the night before Canelo Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin.

"He can fight. He's got all the ability in the world," Golden Boy president Eric Gomez said. "He has hand speed, power, quickness, all the things you look for in a prospect. He just needs the experience and to be battle-tested."

Gomez said he'll get that in 2018 starting with another ESPN appearance in February or March.

"He will face a bigger name, some sort of veteran or ex-champion," Gomez said. "He's ready for those kinds of guys, but at the same time we're not going to rush him. He's special. He's ready for an ex-champion or veteran who will give him a different look and that experience that he needs."

Garcia, who is trained by his father, Henry Garcia, and managed by Roger Ruiz, is happy with his progress.

"I feel this is exactly where I need to be at. It's perfect," said Ryan Garcia, who said he will soon move up to lightweight and envisions finishing his career at junior middleweight. "What more could I have asked for? I'm getting the right fights, TV exposure and I've created buzz. I know a lot of people are talking about me. I've accomplished what I need to accomplish this first year. Next year I'm looking for bigger, tougher fights. I just want to keep it moving.

"In 2018, I want to make some type of history, maybe as the youngest active champion or by doing something great. I will push the boundaries. I'm not afraid of failure."

There's been very little of that in his athletic life -- except perhaps that baseball trophy for finishing fourth.

The rest of the top 20 rising stars (with age, home, division, record):

2. Teofimo Lopez Jr. (20, Las Vegas, lightweight, 7-0, 6 KOs): Lopez is as dynamic as any prospect in boxing and could be a star. He's exciting, has power, tremendous speed, skills and also is a big talker with massive confidence. Managed by David McWater and trained by father Teofimo Sr., Lopez was 170-20 as an amateur, won a 2015 National Golden Gloves title and represented his parents' home country of Honduras in the 2016 Olympics. He has gobs of experience from sparring with top pros such as Shawn Porter, Guillermo Rigondeaux and Luke Campbell.

3. Josh Taylor (26, Scotland, junior welterweight, 11-0, 10 KOs): Taylor, a southpaw, is the total package and best prospect from Scotland in years. Guided by Hall of Famer Barry McGuigan, Taylor was a 2012 Olympian but didn't turn pro until 2015. He won the Commonwealth title in his seventh fight, the record for fewest fights to claim a Commonwealth belt. In 2017 he was 4-0, including an impressive ninth-round KO of ex-lightweight titlist Miguel Vazquez in November. He's not far from a world title shot, and when he gets it don't be surprised if he wins it.

4. Daniel Dubois (20, England, heavyweight, 6-0, 6 KOs): The 6-foot-5, 239-pound Dubois turned pro in April and has drawn rave reviews. It's early but he looks like he could be a future star. He is built like a truck, has quick hands, superb power and respectable defense. All of his opponents have had winning records, and promoter Frank Warren, hyperbole or not, has called him "the most exciting young heavyweight prospect that I have seen during my 37 years as a boxing promoter." Dubois, 69-6 as an amateur, was favored to make the 2020 Great Britain Olympic team but opted to go pro. He's gained experience sparring with Anthony Joshua, Tyson Fury and Hughie Fury.

5. Jon Fernandez (22, Spain, junior lightweight, 14-0, 12 KOs): Fernandez is the best prospect to come out of Spain in years. He's mature and a well-rounded boxer with good power and speed. At 5-foot-11 he has excellent size for the division. His mentor and co-promoter with Lou DiBella is former middleweight champion Sergio Martinez. Fernandez went 4-0 in 2017, including making his two appearances in the United States. In June, "JonFer" got excellent exposure on Showtime's "ShoBox" and looked sensational in a highlight-reel second-round KO of Juan Reyes. A title eliminator or world title shot in 2018 is not out of the question.

6. Jaime Munguia (21, Mexico, junior middleweight, 26-0, 22, KOs): Munguia is one of Mexico's most exciting and busiest prospects. He turned pro in 2013 at age 16 and has been brought along steadily by Zanfer Promotions. He also has plenty of amateur experience, going 128-10. He's shown power and skills with a fan-friendly style. In 2017, he went 7-0, including six knockouts. He's been steadily facing better opposition, including experienced Paul Valenzuela, whom he stopped in the second round on the Miguel Roman-Orlando Salido card Dec. 9.

7. Vergil Ortiz Jr. (19, Dallas, junior welterweight, 8-0, 8 KOs): Ortiz, a seven-time national amateur champion who learned to box at age 5, went 140-20 as an amateur and won a gold medal in the 2013 Junior Olympics. He's Golden Boy's most exciting prospect thanks to his concussive power. He's aggressive and has a major league right hand. Though he's faced limited opposition since turning pro in 2016 (and only been past the first round twice), he's gotten excellent sparring in trainer Joel Diaz's gym, including dropping welterweight contender Lucas Matthysse. Ortiz was 5-0 in 2017.

8. Josh Kelly (23, England, junior middleweight, 5-0, 4 KOs): "Pretty Boy" claimed a bronze medal at the 2015 European championships, represented Great Britain at the 2016 Olympics, turned pro in April and has quickly become one of the United Kingdom's most exciting prospects. Trainer Adam Booth, who has worked with several quality fighters, says Kelly's the best he's ever had. He recently signed a three-year promotional deal with Matchroom Boxing and could move quickly. He had his first scheduled 10-rounder Dec. 13.

9. Shakur Stevenson (20, Newark, N.J., featherweight, 4-0, 2 KOs): Stevenson, a southpaw who began boxing at 5 and lived for a time on Muhammad Ali Boulevard, won a silver medal in the 2016 Olympics to cap a standout amateur career in which he had an approximate record of 128-12. He was one of the most sought-after Olympians before signing with Top Rank and a management team that includes Andre Ward, his boxing hero. Stevenson has superb speed and skills to go with a million-dollar smile, but he needs to gain strength. He's had outstanding sparring with elite pros such as Vasiliy Lomachenko, Terence Crawford and Gary Russell Jr.

10. Maxim Dadashev (27, Russia, junior welterweight, 9-0, 8 KOs): Managed by Egis Klimas, Dadashev is in the same stable with pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko and light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev. Now fighting out of Oxnard, California, and training with Marco Contreras, Dadashev, who began boxing at 10, was 281-20 as an amateur. He puts combinations together and can adapt to various styles. He looks like a fighter Top Rank can move quickly even though he's been a pro only since April 2016. He went 4-0 (all by KO) in 2017 and looked great stopping experienced Clarence Booth in the fourth round in November.

11. Tony Yoka (25, France, heavyweight, 3-0, 2 KOs): Yoka, 6-foot-7, 245 pounds, won the Olympic super heavyweight gold medal at the 2016 Olympics and hopes to follow in the footsteps of predecessors such as Lennox Lewis, Wladimir Klitschko and Anthony Joshua as world champion. Taught to box by his father, Victor, a former pro fighter, at age 6, Yoka also won the 2015 world amateurs and is a major star in France. He has great size and charisma and already has the swagger of a champion. Now it's about having his skills and pro experience catch up. Promoter Richard Schaefer and highly respected trainer Virgil Hunter give him a top-notch team.

12. Junior Fa (28, New Zealand, heavyweight, 13-0, 8 KOs): Although Fa is older than your typical prospect, he didn't start boxing until he was 16 and didn't turn pro until 2016. He's come a long way already. At 6-foot-5, 270 pounds, Fa has great size, strength and solid amateur credentials, including going 2-2 against reigning titleholder and countryman Joseph Parker. Fa won all four of his 2017 outings, including two in the U.S. thanks to his signing with promoter Lou DiBella. He was very impressive in November, when he made his American TV debut on Showtime and blitzed then-unbeaten Freddy Latham in 67 seconds.

13. Eimantas Stanionis (23, Lithuania, welterweight, 4-0, 3 KOs): Stanionis, who turned pro in April, was a 2016 Olympian and 2015 European championships gold medalist during a standout amateur career. He relocated to Southern California and is trained by Hall of Famer Freddie Roach, who has compared the talent of the offensive-minded Stanionis to that of his most famous pupil, Manny Pacquiao.

14. Radzhab Butaev (24, Russia, welterweight, 8-0, 6 KOs): Butaev, who shares manager Vadim Kornilov with light heavyweight titlist Dmitry Bivol, began boxing at 9 and was 392-8 with a reported 164 knockouts as an amateur. He was also 9-1 in the World Series of Boxing and qualified for the 2016 Olympics but elected to turn pro, signing with promoter Lou DiBella and relocating to Brooklyn, New York. He's a good athlete with speed, and though he's more of a technical fighter, his power is solid. He's gotten experience sparring in the talent-laden Wild Card gym in Hollywood, California. He was 4-0 in 2017, including a clear decision win over former Colombian amateur standout Janer Gonzalez on Showtime in November.

15. Michael Conlan (25, Northern Ireland, featherweight, 5-0, 4 KOs): Conlan has a big personality and exciting style to go with good fundamentals and a big-time amateur resume that includes a 2012 Olympic bronze medal and a 2016 Olympics elimination that was as controversial as it gets. Now fighting out of Southern California, he's trained by Manny Robles and promoted by Top Rank, which has huge expectations for him. He's already an attraction, selling out the Theater at Madison Square Garden for his St. Patrick's pro debut. He gets top sparring with stablemates and world titleholders Oscar Valdez and Jessie Magdaleno.

16. Lamont Roach (22, Washington, D.C., junior lightweight, 16-0, 6 KOs): Roach began boxing at age 9, had an excellent amateur career (including two junior Golden Gloves titles and a national one) and turned pro at 18. Golden Boy has moved him steadily and kept the smooth boxer busy with four fights in 2017. Although not known as a puncher, Roach won two of those fights by first-round KO. He also showed he might become a ticket seller, drawing a good crowd for his first main event in his home region when he headlined on ESPN in November.

17. Diego De La Hoya (23, Mexico, junior featherweight, 20-0, 9 KOs): He has the famous last name because he's a first cousin of Hall of Famer Oscar De La Hoya (also his promoter), which means he'll always have a target on his back. But while the name opened doors, his smooth skills are what will carry him. A Mexican national team member, he had more than 250 amateur bouts and went 4-0 in 2017, including a near-shutout decision over ex-bantamweight titleholder Randy Caballero in September. One negative: He missed weight by 4½ pounds for a Dec. 14 ESPN main event, causing the bout to be canceled, so it's fair to question his discipline.

18. Caleb Plant (25, Ashland City, Tennessee, super middleweight, 16-0, 10 KOs): "Sweet Hands" was taught to box at 9 by his father, Richie, and went on to have a standout amateur career that included a 2011 National Golden Gloves title. He was also a 2012 U.S. Olympic alternate. A pro since 2014, Plant has the backing of adviser Al Haymon and has begun to step up his competition. Plant, who recently moved to Las Vegas for better training and sparring, won both of his fights in 2017, including a shutout decision over experienced Andrew Hernandez.

19. Ivan Baranchyk (24, Russia, junior welterweight, 17-0, 10 KOs): "The Beast," who fights out of Miami, Oklahoma, where he's a local star, has received excellent exposure on "ShoBox" and is never in a dull fight. His decision win for a regional belt against Abel Ramos was one of the year's best fights. But Baranchyk (approximately 120-30 as an amateur) fought only twice in 2017 because of foot and wrist injuries suffered against Ramos. He has sparred with quality pros, including Avtandil Khurtsidze, Ievgen Khytrov and Sergiy Derevyanchenko.

20. Christopher Diaz (23, Puerto Rico, junior lightweight, 22-0, 14 KOs): Though born in Philadelphia, he's lived in Puerto Rico since he was a month old and has a chance to become the island's next big name. Diaz, whose late father had about 35 amateur bouts, has an aggressive, fan-friendly style. He began boxing at 8 and was approximately 108-29 as an amateur. Top Rank has him fighting regularly in New York, where he's becoming a popular draw. In 2017 Diaz was 3-0, including an impressive four-knockdown, third-round knockout win on the high-profile Vasiliy Lomachenko-Guillermo Rigondeaux card.