by Fox Doucette
This week, ESPN2 Friday Night Fights presents as its main event Tim Coleman (19-1, 5 KOs) fighting Vernon Paris (24-0, 14 KOs). In the co-feature, prospect Art Hovhannesyan (14-0, 8 KOs) of Armenia battles former IBF featherweight champion Cristobal Cruz (39-12-2, 23 KOs) in a lightweight contest.
The main event is for the minor USBA junior welterweight title; the winner moves up the IBF rankings and may be in position to challenge Lamont Peterson for a world title in the event that Amir Khan, the current IBF junior welterweight champion after his win over Zab Judah, vacates the title in order to campaign at 147 pounds rather than taking the mandatory fight. For Paris in particular, who is an undefeated fighter making his move and trying to gain some glory, the chance to get a win on national television against the IBF’s third-ranked fighter (technically #5, but two positions are vacant) will be a big boost to his efforts to become champion.
Paris has been in fairly soft in his career, with his biggest wins coming against Courtney Burton (who had lost four of his last five and retired after the KO loss) in July of last year and in his last fight against a completely shot Emanuel Augustus. Coleman actually represents a step up in competition, but not a large step; his signature wins are against Mike Arnaoutis and Patrick Lopez, while his lone loss came against the only undefeated fighter he has faced, James De La Rosa, in 2007. Coleman has a very light touch, with only five knockouts, and with only one of those KOs coming against a “real” opponent, namely Lopez. It looks from the outside like a wallpaper-the-record fight for Vernon Paris, but Tim Coleman has proved a litmus test for prospects in the recent past.
Art Hovhannesyan is trying to show in the co-feature that there is more than one great Armenian prospect in southern California, and like his more famous countryman Vanes Martirosyan, Hovhannesyan is undefeated and very much on the rise. His eight knockouts include a brutal beatdown of Archie Ray Marquez on June 10th in which the Armenian knocked his foe down four times, once each in the first, third, fifth, and sixth rounds, the last of which led to the referee reaching the ten count. Whether that means Hovhannesyan is ready to take a step up in class or whether it means Marquez was simply a guy with an inflated record is something we will learn in the crucible that is a boxing ring.
Cristobal Cruz has been in against much tougher competition and even held and defended the IBF title when he campaigned at 126 pounds. Orlando Salido took that title away from Cruz in May of 2010 and now the Tijuana native comes off a 15-month layoff in a division nine pounds above where he held a title. Is this the same Cristobal Cruz who was a world champion? Or is this a past-his-prime fighter who is shopworn after a nearly 20-year career in the sport?
This co-feature is a very intriguing matchup for Hovhannesyan. Win, and he can say that he beat a champion who is 3-1-1 in major world title fights. Lose, and he loses to a guy who moved up two divisions in weight, came off a 15-month layoff, and beat a prospect who was on a lower level than his previous opponents. Don’t let the records fool you; this is not an undefeated guy against a journeyman. This is an undefeated prospect taking a real risk with that 0 in his loss column against a tough, veteran fighter. It should be interesting to see whether the Armenian is ready to step up and take his place along with his countryman at 154 on the list of potential champions from the former Soviet republic.
Friday Night Fights airs in its usual time slot, 9 PM Eastern/6 PM Pacific August 5th, on ESPN2, ESPN3.com, and ESPN3D. ESPN 3D is showing replays of FNF cards from earlier in the year throughout the day Friday, so boxing fans with 3D televisions and who aren’t particularly squeamish (one of the day’s fights, airing at 1 PM Eastern, is the bloodbath between John Molina and Rob Frankel) can enjoy those fights. The Boxing Tribune will have a full recap of this week’s televised action shortly after the fights conclude.
Fox Doucette covers Friday Night Fights for The Boxing Tribune. His column, The Southpaw, appears on Thursdays. He would be eliminated in the first round of any spelling bee composed entirely of Armenian surnames. Fan mail, hate mail, and traditional Armenian lahmajoun recipes can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.