by Fox Doucette
Fresh off a spectacular televised win, undefeated junior lightweight prospect Javier Fortuna (19-0, 14 KOs) gets a real test of his skills on ESPN2 Friday Night Fights, taking on former world champion Cristobal Cruz (39-13-3, 23 KOs) in the main event. In the co-feature, a man who is heavy in both weight and hands, Magomed Abdusalamov (14-0, 14 KOs) of Russia, takes on Maurice Byarm (13-1-1, 9 KOs), who seeks to prove that his first loss, suffered in his last fight, was not a sign of things to come.
Javier Fortuna should be familiar to regular FNF viewers as the guy who absolutely destroyed highly-touted prospect Yuandale Evans back on the April 27th broadcast on the Worldwide Leader. Fortuna showed in that fight that, while he is not the quickest or the slickest boxer in the sport, he has an excellent sense of timing and an almost Mayweather-like innate sense of the counter-punch. Some may consider that last comparison excessively hyperbolic; it will fall to Fortuna to demonstrate the comparison’s merit against a guy who has been in with and in many cases beaten the best in the world.
Cristobal Cruz was, as recently as two years ago, the IBF featherweight champion of the world, the same title now held by Billy Dib. Unfortunately for Cruz, when including the title-retaining draw against Ricardo Castillo, he is winless in his last four fights and has not won a professional contest since July 11th, 2009. In his last fight in February, Cruz thrilled ESPN2 audiences in an exciting back and forth contest that featured a pair of knockdowns, one of Cruz, the other of Juan Carlos Burgos, and a unanimous decision win for Burgos in a fight that some (including Teddy Atlas) thought Cristobal Cruz won (for the record, the Boxing Tribune had it 95-93 for Burgos).
Cristobal Cruz is not a subtle fighter. His tendency is to mix it up inside. He may not have the speed of even a Yuandale Evans at this point, and Cruz has been stopped twice in his career. If Cruz can keep Fortuna at the end of his jab, land his power shots when he forces his opponent to open up to try and counter that jab, and find and test the whiskers of Fortuna, he may stop his winless skid at four. If, however, Javier Fortuna can catch lightning in a bottle on the counter as Cruz comes in, this could be a Hobbesian affair—nasty, brutish, and short—with Cruz crumpled on the ground like a piece of paper on which was written a narrative of a Cruz win.
Meanwhile, Magomed Abdusalamov looks to prove that he is truly the power puncher that his record implies. The big Russian has never been past the fourth round, and his last two knockout wins have been over fellow unbeatens. There is very little question that Abdusalamov can punch; the question is whether he can fight when forced to by a fighter of comparable or superior skill. If indeed he can, he can make a big stride forward in looking to become the Next Big Thing for Eastern Europe’s stranglehold on the heavyweight championship of the world, joining Alexander Povetkin among Russia’s fistic elite.
Maurice Byarm may not be the ideal litmus test for anything other than whether Abdusalamov can knock out someone with a chin. A late replacement on an NBC Sports Network card earlier this year, Byarm lost to Bryant Jennings in his first real test against a quality opponent. All 13 of his wins have come against palookas and nobodies; his draw came against a 9-4-2 fighter (Homero Fonseca) who packed 279 pounds onto his frame after once weighing 231½, from whence one can draw all necessary conclusions about his conditioning.
Then again, Bryant Jennings is not a huge power puncher; the fact that Byarm went the distance in that fight says little to nothing about how he will handle a guy who has eaten unbeaten prospects for…well, lunch is hardly the descriptor, more of a light snack. Can Magomed Abdusalamov continue a quest to become the most feared Russian heavyweight since Ivan Drago? Can he win in spectacular fashion and catch the attention of the unlimited’s very crowded second tier below the Klitschko brothers? Is the close decision loss to Jennings a sign that Byarm is not your standard palooka? All will be answered in Friday night’s opening bout. This is going to be worth tuning in at the start of the broadcast for.
Friday Night Fights airs on ESPN2, ESPN3.com, and the Watch ESPN app on Friday, July 6th, at 10 PM Eastern/7 PM Pacific, from the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in hotter-than-the-fires-of-hell Las Vegas, Nevada. The Boxing Tribune will have a full recap of the night’s televised action, including any swing fights that make air, shortly after the conclusion of the program. Keep it here—we’re the worldwide leader in covering the Worldwide Leader.
Fox Doucette covers Friday Night Fights for The Boxing Tribune. His weekly column, The Southpaw, appears on Thursdays. Fan mail, hate mail, and the obligatory “Look at the size of that Russian!” can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.