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The ESPN2 Friday Night Fights TV Cheat Sheet- Aug. 5, 2011

“Friday Night Fights” saved two of its best cards for last, delivering a second straight broadcast featuring matchups worthy of an HBO undercard or “ShoBox” airing. In the opener, a former champion faces a good prospect and in the main event, one borderline contender will emerge after two top prospects finish squaring off. Sadly, this is all a big tease by ESPN2, since the “FNF” franchise is close to entering its yearly hiatus (two more shows after today) for the onset of college football season. Fans should get their fix now because this quality doubleheader looks like the last loaded boxing event for ESPN2 in 2011.

At the Chumash Casino, Santa Ynez, CA
(ESPN2) Vernon Paris (24-0) vs. Tim Coleman (19-1-1)
(ESPN2) Cristobal Cruz (39-12-2) vs. Art Hovhannesyan (14-0-1)

Art Hovhannesyan – This is the Golden Age of Armenian boxing and Hovhannesyan’s rough-edged confidence and aggressive ring demeanor emulates that of compatriots Vic Darchinyan or Arthur Abraham. Hovhannesyan enters this fight off an unexpectedly easy six-round destruction of fellow prospect Archie Ray Marquez, knocking Marquez down four times before referee Dan Stell signaled a merciful end to the battering. Rocked Marquez with either hand, impressively sensing a momentum shift in the fourth round and upped the pace to score the stoppage two rounds later. He has been a regular on the California gym circuit, brought in to spar Manny Pacquiao to imitate Ricky Hatton since they share an attacking nature and intense body punches. Hovhannesyan strapped on the gloves at age 12 and won the Armenian title five times but never medaled at an international event. A very good amateur, traveling the world fighting in prestigious European and World tourneys, finishing with a reported record of 205-15. Turned pro at age 25 but promotional issues and nagging injuries limited him to 15 fights in five years. Hovhannesyan is more qualified than his 71 pro rounds suggest and his confidence is evident in quotes warning others about his perceived lack of experience. "I don’t watch tape. I don’t need that. I don’t like it. I will stop him with pressure. I can drive him back and I will come forward. I can box and I can fight. It’s as simple as that.” Also mature in sense that he has fought around the world (debuting in France) facing many styles. Is sometimes too relaxed, carrying his left hand very low before squaring in the traditional stance when his foe is in punching range. Shoots out a good jab to the body and can switch from orthodox to southpaw stance when moving laterally to gain a punching advantage. Appears comfortable trading punches in the pocket, looking for a payback punch the instant his chin was touched. Hovhannesyan is more powerful than his 53% kayo ratio indicates and his counterpunches come from awkward trajectories, catching foes by surprise and increasing the impact. That impact is evident in hand problems, with Hovhannesyan’s right hand particularly bruised after many fights, leaving him out of the ring for ten months on the last injury. Is a big lightweight physically, 5’7” with his bulk centered on the upper body, though Hovhannesyan’s stamina is still a question, only going eight rounds once. Congenial outside the ring, he speaks excellent English and a lot on the mental aspect of boxing. Think of Hovhannesyan as Vic Darchinyan minus the bark.

Cristobal Cruz - It’s impossible to root against Cruz, as the Mexican has come up the hard way, doing the difficult and underappreciated by improving with each of his 12 losses. Cruz peaked in every way from 2008 to 2010, putting together an impressive undefeated run, with four wins in his opponents’ hometowns that ended with the IBF featherweight belt wrapped around Cruz’s waist. On offense, Cruz is a smothering high-volume boxer, who leaves a lot of defensive holes with his often looping punches. When Cruz wins, it is usually a hectic fight but I have never seen him go down meekly in a loss despite some lopsided scores. If Cruz had been born with better hand speed, his work ethic might well have made him a respected champion in the vein of a Chris John. Cruz has only lost to quality fighters since 1997 and never mentally quit in a fight even when hopelessly behind on the cards. At 5’7”, with a 68-inch reach, had very good size for a featherweight but moves two weight classes north for this bout. At 34, this is his last run anywhere near peak form but it does not help Cruz that he is the type of fighter who either squeaks out wins or takes many punches trying to press minimal advantages. This despite a rangy body and quality footwork, which keeps Cruz in the face of opponents, but he lacks the accuracy and flash to separate himself on the scorecards. In five of his last six fights, has been the 12-round distance and with 418 hard rounds under his belt, Cruz’s odometer is being stretched. A 43% kayo ratio is about right, since his jab is not crisp and most of Cruz’s punches are detectable by opposition, lessening their impact. Defense is always an afterthought with Cruz but he has only been stopped twice (early in his career) and cuts are more of a concern for Cruz than incoming punches. Cruz is, remarkably, a 19-year pro, so this overachiever is not likely to be shown anything new in the ring by Hovhannesyan. At what point experience turns into old age is hard to say but you can be sure Cruz will fight that to the end as well.

Verdict – Cruz is shrewd enough to win this fight but the intangibles are lining up against him. The most important of which are Cruz’s moving up in weight, 15 months of inactivity, and his age. Everything based on past boxing history, suggests this is Hovhannesyan’s time and the Armenian’s superior strength and current form allot important advantages. Cruz needs to come forward to win but Hovhannesyan’s upper body strength and strong legs enable him to push Cruz backward or off him whenever he wants a break. The faster Hovhannesyan will land leads often without the aid of a jab and evade looping counters with his nice duck-and-pivot move. The right hand of Hovhannesyan lands at will and if that does not bust Cruz up then an inadvertent headbutt will do the trick. By the eighth round, with Hovhannesyan far ahead on the cards, Cruz is beaten and bloodied to the point where the referee or doctor stops an entertaining but one-sided bout.

Tim Coleman – Fans first saw the Baltimore native box on Showtime against unbeaten prospect James De La Rosa (going against his strengths by standing toe-to-toe to impress the TV audience) and liked what they saw despite his eventual loss on points. Subsequently, Coleman took the scalp of Mike Arnaoutis in a close scrap, where he would not relent in a back-and-forth volume-punching war. Showed an underdog attitude and great work ethic, never relenting in the face of constant pressure and outthinking a good foe who had challenged for a title. Unfortunately, Coleman lost momentum after that victory with cancelled bouts and squabbles with his promoter. Rebounded impressively in his last fight, also on ESPN2, destroying capable Patrick Lopez over three scintillating rounds and scored a good keep-busy win three months ago. Coleman was a top-notch amateur, starting at age 12 and competing in over 200 fights, but made his reputation in boxing circles as a top sparring partner to stars like Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Paul Williams, Zab Judah and Alfredo Angulo. Coleman is not intimidated by anyone and, at age 27, is exiting the training rings to emerge as a force of his own. A smart boxer, Coleman does not get caught out of position or on the wrong foot despite coming forward much of the time. Is a compact figure but packs almost no power, having only stopped five of 21 opponents. When Coleman lands, they are zipping punches that sting but do not force foes into a retreat or into a defensive posture for long periods. Defense is average but because Coleman is constantly moving, he is hard to target or beat to the punch because of shifty feet. If forced to make a comparison, he is a B-level Kevin “Flushing Flash” Kelley type. Describes himself as, "Fast, flashy, I’m nice looking and I know I’m the type of fighter that people like to watch." His persona is equally brash. "A lot of people say I have a big mouth and they’re right. I’m not quiet-spoken. I’m not humble and I don’t want to be my opponent’s friend. I feel like I’m a marketable fighter. I am what boxing needs.” In that sense, Coleman has picked the right fighter to model himself after in the frenzied Aaron Pryor, attempting to use his speed, angles and constant pressure in a similar fashion.

Vernon Paris – A member of Detroit’s once-feared Kronk amateur boxing team (with Johnathon Banks and Cornelius “K-9” Bundrage), out-of-ring problems have affected Paris, impeding a career many saw destined for a world title. Since turning pro, Paris was stabbed once and carries two bullets in his body from a murder attempt on him. Is still only 23 and with this appearance, tries to right the ship and create some buzz. To maximize his potential, Paris moved to Florida, though he returns to fight mostly in Michigan and trains with Buddy McGirt, sporadically. Went 104-15 in the amateurs, turning pro at 18, despite being a good bet to make the 2008 Olympics. Exhibits unexplainable defensive lapses but comes out of his defense with solid hooks and good accuracy. Like Floyd Mayweather, Paris holds his left hand low and puts up a shoulder as a deflecting shield. With good feet, he makes himself a difficult target. However, Paris forgets to do it consistently and, against better opponents, has been caught with flush shots. Is like Zab Judah in that sense, rarely stringing together four good rounds consecutively. On offense, picks his shots and throws one accurate punch at a time against lesser opponents. Displays respect against better opposition and turns into a volume guy, his hand speed allowing Paris to land combination punches after a solid jab. Has had three fights changed from wins to “no contests,” all reportedly on the heels of positive post-fight drug tests for marijuana. Has an intuitive style and obvious talent and the hope is maturity aids Paris in finding a sense of professionalism in and out of the ring. Inactivity was a problem for Paris, one fight in 2008 and two in 2009, but he seems recommitted and fought six times in the last year-and-a-half. Has kept a pretty consistent weight through everything, between 139 and 143, indicating Paris keeps in shape between fights. Only stopped one of his last six opponents and Paris was a sparring partner for Amir Khan, which should help him in multiple ways. Paris is a frustrating fighter in the sense that you can see old-school James Toney and Bernard Hopkins moves from him but only in flashes. Coleman is the type of foe to reveal if Paris is nothing but a flash-in-the-pan.

Verdict – Boxing is as much about mental preparation and certitude as physical ability and here, I sense a big advantage for Tim Coleman. When on his game, Paris is slicker and more intuitive than Coleman but no one can be certain which Paris will arrive. I prefer Coleman’s dogged determination and Paris showed stamina problems in some fights. The pair have sparred, with Coleman saying he ran Paris out of the ring but there is probably another side to that story. Coleman will have his way tonight and I favor him on activity and aggression with his forward momentum impressing the judges. The occasional Paris counter will be flashy but fighting off his back foot will lessen the impact and rob Paris of combinations. Coleman’s higher level of competition sees him in good stead and a late push could get him a stoppage in the final two rounds. If not, I look for a 7-3 advantage on the scorecards for Coleman, who no champion will want to face, given his abilities and lack of name value.

Prediction record for 2011: 87% (104-15)
Prediction record for 2010: 85% (218-40)
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