On Friday night, heavyweight legend Mike Tyson returns to boxing in the role of promoter as Iron Mike Productions presents its inaugural card at the Turning Stone Casino in Verona, N.Y. The main card fights will be broadcast on ESPN2's Friday Night Fights.
This looks like it could be among the best Friday Night Fights shows of the season. The main event should be an all-action war as Argenis Mendez defends his WBC super featherweight title against Arash Usmanee.
The interim WBA featherweight title will be on the line as undefeated Claudio Marrero meets Jesus Marcelo Andres Cuellar. Hard-punching, undefeated super bantamweight Alexei Collado will meet Hugo Partida.
The card is loaded with talent down to the opening fights. Those watching at home should keep an eye out for either undefeated heavyweight prospect Dorsett Barnwell or unbeaten middleweight blue-chipper Antoine Douglas in a swing fight.
The big story in this one is obviously the return to boxing of Mike Tyson. He's the biggest star to emerge in the sport over the past 25 years, and he will bring extra attention to the fighters appearing on this card.
But there is plenty at stake for the fighters in the ring, too. Argenis Mendez, ranked No. 2 by The Ring at 130 pounds, captured the WBC title by an exciting Round 4 KO of Juan Carlos Salgado last March.
An Afghan native and Canadian resident, Arash Usmanee is a high-energy fighter who was badly robbed when he lost to Rances Barthelemy on Friday Night Fights in Miami last January. Teddy Atlas shouted himself hoarse with indignation as that episode was concluding.
The winner of this fight would make a terrific opponent for Yuri Gamboa or for Mikey Garcia, if Garcia decides to move up in weight.
Claudio Marrero is an undefeated prospect out of the Dominican Republic. He seems inexperienced for a world title challenger, as does his opponent for the interim WBA featherweight belt, Jesus Marcelo Andres Cuellar of Argentina.
But both men have stopped a high percentage of their opponents, so this should be a terrific fight.
On a media call from Monday, Mike Tyson talked about his reluctance to return to the fight game: "I have demons from boxing."
Tyson's return to the sport as a promoter seems at least partly designed to exorcise those demons. Tyson's well-publicized problems with promoters like Don King have been a big part of his story in the sport.
Although he professed to have forgiven King during the call, there was a definite tone of bitterness when Tyson talked about the iconic promoter. "If I learned anything from Don King," he said, "it would be how to lie and manipulate my fighters."
But Tyson made it clear that he plans to make his promoter-fighter relationships supportive rather than exploitative. "You'll never hear any of my fighters saying Mike Tyson stole from me," he promised.
Mostly, Tyson just seems extremely happy to be back involved in the sport. In the phone call, he even spoke about possibly moving into training fighters.
At a public press conference I attended this week at Turning Stone Casino, Tyson was positively giddy as he answered questions from fans. He insisted on keeping the Q&A going for long after the emcee tried to wind things down and spent another half-hour or more afterward taking pictures with both fighters and fans as he slowly exited the showroom.
"I just get excited when I'm around fighters," he said cheerfully at one point.
Claudio Marrero (14-0, 11 KOs) vs. Jesus Marcelo Andres Cuellar (22-1, 18 KOs) for the interim WBA Featherweight Championship
Both of these prospects are in their mid-20s and have 78 percent KO ratios. This is a massive opportunity for both men, and it promises to be a highly entertaining fight.
Marrero is a quick, explosive puncher.
Pick: I like him by late-round KO.
Alexei Collado (16-0, 15 KOs) vs. Hugo Partida (19-4-2, 15 KOs), Super Bantamweight
Collado is another former Cuban amateur who is quickly developing into a hot prospect in the pro game. He fights out of County Cork, Ireland. Partida has some experience, but he's been stopped twice before—and by fighters with less glitzy records.
Pick: Collado by Round 6 TKO.
Ed Paredes (33-3-1, 22 KOs) vs. Noe Bolanos (24-8-1, 16 KOs), Welterweight
Ed Paredes is a Hollywood, Fla., native, and his current residence is listed on BoxRec as Lawrence, Mass. He hasn't lost a fight since dropping a decision to Carlos Molina in 2009.
Welterweight is an extremely competitive division, but Paredes is a guy who could figure in a significant fight there. I doubt he'll stumble against a journeyman.
Pick: Paredes by Round 10 TKO.
Antoine Douglas (8-0, 6 KOs) vs. Edgar Perez (5-5, 3 KOs), Middleweight
I've seen two of Douglas' fights live and a third on television. He is a very solid prospect at 160. He has a stellar amateur background.
This fight is about getting him rounds and maybe some more television exposure if he can be slipped in. He puts in work and handles his business, so I expect him to finish this within the scheduled six-round distance.
Dorsett Barnwell (9-0, 4 KOs) vs. David Saulsberry (7-5, 7 KOs), Heavyweight
It's always exciting when there's a chance to see an undefeated heavyweight. In this bit of video from his professional debut against Kareem Wilson, he looks like a busy, athletic heavyweight with a bit of promise.
Saulsberry has knocked out everybody he's beaten and been knocked out by everybody who has beaten him. I expect an early night here, as well.
Notes: Barnwell by Round 3 KO.
|Per BoxRec||Argenis Mendez||Arash Usmanee|
|Record:||21-2, 11 KOs||20-1, 10 KOs|
|Weight:||130 lbs||130 lbs|
|Hometown:||Brooklyn, N.Y.||Montreal, Quebec|
Mendez lives in Brooklyn but is a native of the Dominican Republic. He's fresh off an exciting Round 4 KO of Juan Carlos Salgado in March.
Just about anybody who watched Arash Usmanee suffer the first lost of his career to Rances Barthelemy on Friday Night Fights in January will probably agree that the Afghan native deserves to be undefeated.
He's an exciting, nonstop fighter. He threw 1,100 punches against Barthelemy, well above the junior lightweight average, and 765 of them were power shots.
Friday Night Fights commentator Teddy Atlas has a great expression he'll sometimes use to describe a certain way to use the jab: flicking bugs on the windshield.
He uses this to describe when a fighter flicks his jab out into the opponent's face to interfere with the opponent's vision and make it easier to slip in a big power punch from the other side, like the cross or uppercut.
Mendez is good at this and should look to do it on the hard-pressing Usmanee. Usmanee throws a ton of punches, but he is not extremely accurate.
If Mendez stays cool in the pocket, he'll have space to score hard counters against Usmanee.
Mendez has to make sure he doesn't let Usmanee outwork him. In a close fight, pure aggression can carry almost any judge's card.
To win, Mendez will need to land more punches than Usmanee. There's no way he can do that if he doesn't throw a lot.
As I mentioned in an earlier slide, Usmanee's only career loss was an unfair one. He simply outworked Barthelemy last January. The complete fight is linked here.
Usmanee has trained for this title shot at the Mayweather gym in Vegas, under the guidance of his trainer, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad. When I spoke with him at the press conference this week, he spoke a little bit about the benefits that come from training in a truly elite gym: "The sparring is intense...you get a feeling like it's a fight."
The most important thing for Usmanee here will be to put the bitter memory of getting robbed last January behind him. He sounded ready to do that: "I really feel I won, but I put the fight aside."
Usmanee told me that despite feeling he should have won against Barthelemy, he still took advantage of it as a learning experience: "You always have things you could do better. I've had time to look and see room for improvement."
If Usmanee has made meaningful strides in his punching accuracy and his ability to avoid taking punches, he should be a very solid fighter at 130 and should be able to wear down Mendez over the course of the fight.
Argenis Mendez turned in an extremely impressive performance against Juan Carlos Salgado to capture the interim belt last March. He's ranked high in the division for a reason.
But Usmanee looks to me like a fighter set to get hot. He's coming off a lousy decision for the first loss of his career, but he's done nothing but keep looking up since.
He got a completely new promotional and management team. He signed with world-class trainer Eddie Mustafa Muhammad and stepped up the quality of his preparation.
"I'm a grinder," he told reporters at the press conference this week. "I would have grinded my way to something like this sooner or later."
Usmanee is a rugged super featherweight, and I think he'll be able to grind his way to a win against Mendez. I expect it to be an all-out war, and if Mendez can win, I think he should get a fight with Yuri Gamboa next.
But I'm predicting Usmanee by decision, 115-113.