by Fox Doucette
A new year is upon us, the college football season all but completely in the books, and that means a return to boxing on Friday nights on the Worldwide Leader. For the opening night of the 2013 Friday Night Fights season, ESPN2 brings us Rances Barthelemy (17-0, 11 KOs) in the biggest test of his career to date, as he takes on Montreal-based Arash Usmanee (20-0, 10 KOs), who in truth is probably the more lively prospect of the two unbeaten junior lightweights. In the co-feature, junior middleweight Jonathan Gonzalez (15-0-1, 13 KOs) steps down a notch in class to face Derek Ennis (23-3-1, 13 KOs); Gonzalez is fresh off a draw against former world champion Serhiy Dzinziruk.
Rances Barthelemy has been on ESPN before. Last February, he took advantage of Hylon Williams’ complete lack of punching power (Williams has three knockouts among his 16 pro wins, and in his last fight could not stop a guy who was 3-15 and had taken six stoppage defeats) in order to coast to an utterly unimpressive wide unanimous decision in which Barthelemy’s own fighting ability was called into serious question. The Cuban’s 11 stoppage wins have been against the sort of guys who tend to fall down if the air conditioning fan’s turned up too high in the arena; like most of the Cuban amateurs, he seems the sort whose record is smoke and mirrors.
Standing across the ring from Barthelemy is a guy who is neither smoke nor mirrors. Arash Usmanee, normally associated with off-air undercards on GYM Promotions events in Montreal (although Usmanee is not himself promoted by Yvon Michel), comes originally from Afghanistan, putting him in the company of Lucian Bute (Romania) and Jean Pascal (Haiti) and other Montreal guys who count as home someplace that is far from Montreal. Usmanee’s not a big puncher, but he does have excellent boxing ability and a decent if not world-beating strength-of-schedule among his 20 wins. Usmanee’s beaten two previously undefeated fighters already; among guys with at least five pro fights, only Williams (previously mentioned and derided) holds that distinction for Barthelemy (beating a guy who’s 4-0 isn’t the same thing as knocking a guy out who’s got 15 pro wins without a loss.)
Barthelemy beat a “slick boxer” before, but there exists a difference between beating a guy who couldn’t knock out the dead guy from Weekend at Bernie’s and beating a guy who can actually hit back. This may very well be a long night for the Cuban if he doesn’t show up to fight, and for Arash Usmanee, this may be a chance to not only grab the No. 2 spot in the IBF (which is at stake in this bout at junior featherweight) but to avoid having to travel to Miami and earn the exposure needed to keep IBF events in Canada where they so often seem to happen (with Interbox and GYM alike keeping a cuddly relationship with IBF rankings.)
The co-feature has all the makings of a start-with-a-bang blowout. Jonathan Gonzalez is the real deal, with dynamite in his fists and pedigree on his record. In addition to the draw with Dzinziruk (which, had Gonzalez won that fight, may very well have catapulted him to title discussions in a stacked division), the Puerto Rican has also handily defeated fringe guys Billy Lyell and Richard Gutierrez, showing a strong progression from the hobo circuit to the real-prospect path at 154 (Demetrius Andrade, take note.)
This fight is, as mentioned, a step down in class; Derek Ennis has not fought since October of 2011, and he has three losses, all by knockout, to pedestrian fighters. Putting a guy with a very suspect chin in against a guy with major punching power seems a recipe for the kind of stoppage that will get FNF off to a flying start; should Ennis win this fight, we may as well just close the voting on Upset of the Year unless someone does to Floyd Mayweather what Juan Manuel Marquez did to Manny Pacquiao. This is a mismatch, but it should be a fun one.
Friday Night Fights airs at 10 PM Eastern on ESPN2 in the United States; unlike previous years, watching online is only available via the WatchESPN app, which is blacked out for non-TV Internet customers. You’re going to have to get your fix the old-fashioned way. Bad form, ESPN. Did the cable companies get snippy because more and more people are ditching the old-fashioned TV service? Sports is sadly underrepresented in the Internet-only consumer world, and forcing people on to the main network is no way to do business.
In any event, The Boxing Tribune will have a full recap of the night’s televised action, including any swing bouts that make air, following the conclusion of the program. Stay tuned—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 callouts on that gratuitous dig at Demetrius Andrade can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.