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The ESPN2 Friday Night Fights TV Cheat Sheet

ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights” returns after its first ever 3D boxing event, the success of which is hard to gauge since so few saw the broadcast in three dimensions. Tonight, the series delivers an international array of talent from America, Mexico, Russia, and Malawi. The show took a hit when Cristobal Cruz dropped out two weeks ago, taking a championship pedigree with him. No matter, “FNF” is must-see for the studio portion of the telecast alone, which provides great review and preview segments regardless of the network on which the bouts are aired. It’s unselfish programming from which HBO and Showtime could learn from instead of consistently counterprogramming each other by scheduling fights on the same Saturday. Bernard Hopkins is the guest tonight, so ready yourself for his droning on about hometown decisions even though none of tonight’s boxers are fighting in their hometowns.

February 25th (Friday), 2011
At the Million Dollar Elm Casino, Tulsa, OK

(ESPN2) Juan Burgos (25-1) vs. Frankie Archuleta (27-7-1)
(ESPN2) Maxim Vlasov (19-0) vs. Isaac Chilemba (15-1-1)

Isaac Chilemba – Unknown outside Africa, Chilemba is a star in his native Malawi and attracted a substantial following in South Africa where he has fought his entire career. I could not find information on Chilemba’s amateur résumé but a smooth style and comfort level in the ring suggests many unpaid bouts. This is Chilemba’s first fight outside Africa, only arriving in America a week ago, raising concerns about acclimatization and jetlag. A smart boxer with a snapping jab, Chilemba prefers opponents lead in order to counter with fast and clever punches. A mobile target, Chilemba uses his feet to create space to plant and rip off a combination before retreating and repeating the process. Has a long athletic body, possessed of superior hand speed and reflexes that make Chilemba multi-dimensional instead of pure boxing skills. In his last fight, Chilemba drew against quality South African prospect Thomas Oosthuizen; most reports gave Chilemba the edge, finding Oosthuizen’s height and reach problematic. Also overcame a cut on his eye against Oosthuizen, suffered in the sixth round, and rallied late to sweep the championship rounds. Best win came as a late substitute, dropping weight to make the 168-pound limit, outboxing undefeated power-punching Australian prospect Michael Bolling. Chilemba is battle-tested, going 12 rounds in his last five bouts, not losing to four undefeated foes he stared down. I like that Chilemba avenged his only loss, fighting his conqueror four months later and winning a decision. It showed Chilemba learns from defeat and under the tutelage of Elias Tshabalala (guided Cassius Baloyi and Dingaan Thobela to world titles) is progressing steadily. Confidence is not a problem, scheduling a regional title defense next month. Chilemba said of opponent Vlasov, “He looks handy but not unbeatable. He is not all that strong. I am basically going there to market myself on the global stage.”

Maxim Vlasov – The Russian enjoys the bright lights ESPN2 provides, registering a solid win over Julius Fogle and destroying Jerson Ravelo last year. Is not as schooled as most Eastern European boxers, turning pro at age 18, and was not a part of the old system that meticulously selected and nurtured the older guard. That previous group trained and learned under the strict regimen of the communist system, which was bad for them, personally, but great for creating disciplined athletes. This shows itself in Vlasov, a volume puncher who is willing to brawl to get his way and employ a large frame (a tall but strong 6’3”, with 78-inch reach) to lean and wear opponents down. Dedicated to body work, sometimes leading with a body blow or jab to the abdomen, slowly creating openings up top that he exploits with his long reach. Flicks out a pretty mean elbow as well and despite his height and length, is comfortable fighting on the inside. On defense, is still awkward keeping his right hand very high at ear level, while his left hangs low. From that dangling left hand, Vlasov throws a jab that starts low but straightens out fast and flies straight. Legs are spread a bit too much for an aggressive guy who likes to use shoulders inside and it limits his contact with slicker guys who can create distance. At times, leaves the jab out too long, eating return punches that long arms do not counter fast enough. If his foe covers up, Vlasov will do a shoeshine, squaring up too much, at times providing a lot of target for a good counterpuncher. In a victory against Don Mouton, Vlasov went five rounds with a cut over his eye but did not allow it to affect him or the outcome. Not sure I would call Vlasov a title prospect but he will certainly entertain en route.

Verdict – Aside from this weekend’s world title contest, I found this the hardest bout to pick, given both men’s quality and lack of good footage on Issac Chilemba. Vlasov has the press and familiarity previously posting good results in America. I am not sure how Chilemba is dealing with jetlag and his weight either. I assume his youth gets Chilemba past both, plus Chilemba showed versatility against two good southpaws. Vlasov is not a southpaw but I don’t think he has the feet to get to Chilemba’s chest and work his body the way he wants to. Vlasov has never been past eight rounds, so I am calling for a rallying Chilemba to use his superior speed and conditioning to win the last four rounds to earn a win. Look for Chilemba to finds his rhythm and target as the rounds ratchet up, outboxing Vlasov from the outside and picking his slower foe apart.

Frankie Archuleta – A late replacement for Cristobal Cruz, Archuleta was last seen on TV outmuscled by John Molina on ShoBox in 2009. The 35-year-old faced some of the best fighters around his weight in the last decade, matching wits with fighters like Emmanuel Lucero, Rocky Juarez, Kevin Kelley, and Johnny Tapia. So the New Mexican is not likely to step into the ring with a sense of awe or, frankly, a chance of winning. As last-minute replacements go, Archuleta is not awful because he does try to win and brings a somewhat respectable record dotted with elite names. What Archuleta has not been able to do is beat one of those elite foes, even though the former Golden Gloves champion pushed Tapia to the brink of defeat in their 2005 rematch. Archuleta has his moments in almost every fight but cannot maintain momentum or consistency. That has a lot to do with his lack of power (14 stoppages in 27 wins), which allows opponents to reassert themselves and feel more confident in their offense. I am sure press releases touted that Archuleta has won his last two fights but both were against sub-.500 foes and a year apart. Lorenzo Estrada, with a record of 3-14-1, forced Archuleta to go the eight-round distance for the win. It showed Archuleta’s lack of strength and perhaps legs now, as well. Was in the ring four months ago but, to his credit, has maintained his weight relatively well, given he has only fought four times in the last two-plus years. The lack of recent bouts should not be much of a problem, since Archuleta is a busy fighter who relies on volume over accuracy and his body can do with extra rest at his age.

Juan Carlos Burgos – Like NBA teams, some boxers need to get to their version of the finals and lose before they are able to make the leap to championship caliber themselves. Burgos could be that type of fighter, having just suffered a respectable 12-round loss to underrated Hozumi Hasegawa in Japan. Power-puncher has been raised in the sport, turning pro at age 16 after watching his uncle Victor Burgos win an IBF junior flyweight title. Pretty much grew up in a gym; his father was an amateur boxer, which lends to the development of certain instincts that have to be experienced instead of taught. Like most Mexican boxers, Burgos is pleasing to an audience’s eyes and adrenal glands. When I first saw Burgos, he reminded me of a young Erik Morales, using long arms and legs to stride into his target, throwing hooks to the head and liver. Loves to attack the body and curls punches around elbows well. Did have one bump in the road against Venezuelan trial horse Jesus Perez (whose opponents’ combined records
were an incredible 612-49-18), needing to sweep the final four rounds to gain a majority decision win against the veteran spoiler. The 23-year-old was moved at the right pace, with his team throwing different styles at him, defeating slick Russian youngster Vyacheslav Gusev before moving on to a hardnosed survivor like Juan Martinez. Averages three fights a year and went past ten rounds in each of those fights in 2010. Has good size for a featherweight, at 5’8½”, but could make better use of his length since Burgos has a tendency to drift inside and bang when certain of a strength advantage. Burgos has every weapon on offense but needs to improve his defense and alter his combinations as not to overuse his left hand. Burgos looks like a sure title threat if there are no mental scars left over from the Hasegawa bout.

Verdict – A tale of two careers, with Burgos a possible future world champion, while Archuleta is at the end of his career. If Archuleta doubts that, Burgos will convince him with a knockout before the third round.

Prediction record for 2011: 86% (30-5)
Prediction record for 2010: 85% (218-40)


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