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Julio's aggressive attitude earns top prospect honors

12/31/2005 - Boxing

On the first punch that he landed, welterweight Joel Julio ripped open a cut on Arthur Medina and the blood went flying. Julio would go on to devour him in less than one round, exactly the kind of performance he expects from himself.

"I got into boxing to knock people out," said Julio, an aggressive, two-fisted puncher. "I am not in there playing cat and mouse. I am a dog and I am going to attack."

It's a style that has opened the eyes of many important people in boxing.

The fight with Medina was buried on the undercard of Floyd Mayweather's dominant victory against Arturo Gatti in June in Atlantic City, N.J., but HBO broadcast partners Jim Lampley and Larry Merchant were seated at ringside watching the dynamic Julio, whom they had been hearing so much about.

When it was over, they walked back toward the press area, impressed with what they had just witnessed from the Colombian flame thrower.

Lampley pushed open his tuxedo jacket, revealing to a reporter a spatter of Medina's blood, which he said landed on him as a result of the very first punch Julio landed.

Merchant said that Julio was the finest prospect he had seen since Miguel Cotto came out of the 2000 Olympics.

Steve Farhood, the prospect maven who serves as analyst on Showtime's "ShoBox: The New Generation" series that focuses on young talent, has also been impressed.

"Julio is arguably the hottest prospect around," Farhood said. "He is very fast and has natural knockout power. When he demolished Carlos Vilches [in April on ESPN2], a solid fringe contender who had been in with some of the best, Julio sent a message that he could be dominant."

Gordon Hall, who oversees "ShoBox," has been impressed enough to tab Julio (25-0, 22 KOs) for the main event of the series' 2006 debut, when Julio, one day after turning 21, meets Robert Kamya in a 10-rounder Jan. 6 (11 p.m. ET/PT) in suburban Chicago.

It could be the start of a huge year for Julio, who wraps up 2005 as the ESPN.com Prospect of the Year.

Although Julio has had little exposure to American fans, fighting here just five times and on TV only twice, Carl Moretti, the vice president and matchmaker for Main Events, thinks he has a future star on his hands.

"I think he can go a long, long way," Moretti said. "Right now, he's not ready to fight Floyd Mayweather, Zab Judah and Antonio Margarito. But give him a year and a half of the development that he should be allowed to have, and it's a different story."

Moretti said he can tell that Julio was well-schooled as an amateur. He said Julio doesn't need much work on his defense. On offense, Moretti likes how he goes to the body, which is unusual for young fighters.

"This kid has extremely fast hands and is extremely accurate with his punches, and he starts with the body," Moretti said. "He goes to the body aggressively. That's a great thing. He breaks down the body and gets these spectacular knockouts to the head because their hands are coming down. Couple his hand speed and tremendous one-shot power with his smile and a presence in the ring, and people who have never see him before stop and take an interest."

Julio, who is co-promoted by Main Events and Tuto Zabala Jr.'s All-Star Boxing, comes from a boxing family. His father and brother boxed, and Julio started at age 9.

He went 85-0 as an amateur in Colombia and then ran off 18 consecutive wins there as a pro before Zabala, who works with many Colombian fighters, brought him to the United States to fight on one of his shows in Las Vegas in November 2004.

Julio destroyed Antonio Soriano with crushing left hooks in the third round of that fight. Moretti read a report about the fight in the well-respected British newspaper Boxing Weekly, which ultimately led to Main Events becoming Julio's co-promoter.

"In the U.S. section in the back of the paper, Jim Brady wrote a report on Tuto's show where he fought Soriano," Moretti said. "And the way he wrote about it caught my eye. So I called my guy that I get tapes from and ordered the show. I watched the fight and I watched him beat this kid impressively. It wasn't who he beat but more how he beat him. It looked so impressive and the [Telemundo] announcers were so excited.

"I thought, I would love to get involved with this kid, and I've known Tuto since 1985, when I got into the business. I called him and asked him, 'Who is this kid?' Tuto said the kid was great and that he thought he had something special. I said to Tuto, 'Let's do something together with him.' Tuto was all for it because he said he could only take him so far, so we agreed to work together. The plan was to start putting him on our [Main Events] shows and get him some exposure on some of our bigger shows and let's see what we have."

What Main Events and Zabala have is a powerful fighter blessed with raw talent that needs to be refined. To that end, Main Events has moved Julio into a Miami apartment and arranged for him and his Colombian trainer to work with highly regarded American trainer Buddy McGirt at his Vero Beach, Fla., gym.

Moretti said that although Julio has 25 pro fights, he is not very experienced because the quality of matches in Colombia is less than had he been fighting in the U.S.

"It's strictly development for the next year even though he's 25-0," Moretti said. "He's a nice kid, a funny kid and easy to get along with. He's not out drinking or carousing. He's just in the gym working very hard."

Moretti said the key to Julio's success will be to keep it that way, and for everyone around him to resist the pressures that will mount as the hype for Julio increases. That's bound to happen with the "ShoBox" date followed by a fight on the high-profile Fernando Vargas-Shane Mosley card Feb. 25.

Moretti does not want a repeat of what happened with Main Events' last "next big thing," teenage junior welterweight sensation Francisco Bojado, who rocketed to stardom inside his first dozen fights, only to flame out just as quickly.

"I don't want to get caught up in the Bojado fanfare," Moretti said. "It's nothing against Bojado because he was a creation of what he did in the ring. But there was also the constant craving of the networks, media and fans to have the next big thing. I think that's what hurt Bojado. Everyone put this on him to be the next Fernando Vargas or Oscar De La Hoya. It was unfair. I don't want that scenario to happen with Joel.

"But I do think he on his way to superstardom."

Other future stars (in alphabetical order with age, weight class and record):

Coming Friday: Fighter of the year.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.