Friday 23 August 2013: Verona, New York, USA

Argenis Mendez vs. Arash Usmanee fight poster

Television: ESPN2 (USA)
Time: 10:30PM ET / 7:30PM PT

IBF super featherweight title
12 Rounds

Argenis Mendez 21(11)-2 vs. Arash Usmanee 20(10)-1

This is Mike Tyson’s first venture as a promoter, but he’s not starting form scratch. The firm formerly known as Acquinity Sports partnered with him, renamed themselves “Iron Mike Productions”, and are now using his likeness to promote their brand. It’s a good business move on their part as it gets their fighters much needed attention.

Their stable is pretty good. One of their key fighters is IBF super featherweight titlist Argenis Mendez, who is near-unanimously seen as the #2 super featherweight behind Takashi Uchiyama. His KO4 vanquishing of Juan Carlos Salgado in a rematch makes this ranking inarguable.

While HBO spent 2012 singing the praises of the untested Adrien Broner, Mendez was putting in solid work — something he continues to do by winning 9 of his last 10 fights. In fact, his lone “loss” was a robbery to Juan Carlos Salgado — the very same Salgado he destroyed in 4 rounds.

So while HBO and Showtime have skipped on Mendez, it’s exciting that he’s finally getting notice on English language television — even if it’s on the low tier ESPN2.

Mendez is fighting Usmanee, a man who’s no stranger to getting robbed himself. In his last fight against Rances Barthelemy, which was on the first Friday Night Fights broadcast of 2013, Usmanee was plainly robbed of a deserved victory, prompting colour commentator Teddy Atlas to decry the state of American boxing judging live on the air. Since that fight was an IBF title eliminator, it looked as though Usmanee wasn’t getting his title shot.

Thankfully, Mendez decided to thumb his nose at that fight’s results and has opted to face off against Usmanee in his first voluntary IBF defence. Though a fringe contender, Usmanee deserves his shot. If he succeed at winning, he will be the first Afghani world titlist in history.

Prediction: Mendez by UD.

Interim WBA World featherweight title
12 Rounds

Claudio Marrero 14(11)-0 vs. Jesus Marcelo Andres Cuellar 22(18)-1

Marrero, also promoted by Mike Tyson, is an exciting prospect with big ambitions. He currently has a 79% KO ratio, and is riding a 2 fight KO streak.

Before we start pronouncing Marrero as the “next big thing”, we should acknowledge that he hasn’t yet fought a credible opponent even though a few journeymen have given him a test.

Marrero’s fighting style can be described as a “slugger” with a heavy emphasis on power. He tempers this power with decent defence with a key emphasis on head movement.

In fighting Cuellar, Marrero is taking a huge risk: if he wins, he will gain the attention of boxing enthusiasts; if he loses, he has to start at “square 1” — and it may be years before he becomes a contender again.

As for Cuellar, this is his first fight outside Argentina. As a good Argentinian domestic, Cuellar has a 78% KO ratio with 4 of his last 5 fights won by KO.

As with many Argentinian boxers, however, Cuellar is unpredictable. Argentinians are known for their awkward rhythm and explosive punching power.

Yet, what is the likelihood that he, himself, may be knocked out? The lone loss on Cuellar’s record is against fringe contender Oscar Escandon. He was KOed in 7 rounds.

Cuellar’s chin may be questionable, but there’s still a few indisputable facts about him. He has better wins on his record than Marrero: victories over Gustavo Daniel Gonzalez (by TKO1), Ramon Elizer Esperanza (by TKO4), Hugo Orlando Gomez (by TKO3), Jose Saez (by TKO2), and the previously undefeated Luis Armando Juarez (by wide UD).

Hence, Cuellar has cleared out the Argentinian domestic scene, and may be on the cusp for world title contention. A win here will establish his bona fides.

Prediction: Cuellar by KO8.

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