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The ESPN2 Friday Night Fights TV Cheat Sheet - Jan. 4, 2013

The “ESPN Friday Night Fights” crew of Teddy Atlas, Joe Tessitore and Bernardo Osuna make a welcome return to the boxing scene tonight - with a quality card to kick off their 15th season - following their yearly college football hiatus. There is one major change from last season with Osuna serving as an onsite reporter, doing interviews and such while Todd Grisham (a former WWE host and current ESPN MMA commentator) takes over in the ESPN studios for highlights and their news packages. I am interested to see how this works out since I was extremely impressed with Osuna’s studio work and would hate to see his talents not utilized to the fullest. The opening show of the year features two undefeated prospects in the main event and talented but flawed Puerto Rican prospect Jonathan Gonzalez in the opener against a live underdog.

As always with ESPN2, if not watching live, set your DVR to record an extra hour after the show’s close since whatever programming they feature before boxing events usually runs over its air time by at least 30 minutes.
At the Magic City Casino, Miami, FL
(ESPN2) Rances Barthelemy (17-0) vs. Arash Usmanee (20-0)
(ESPN2) Jonathan Gonzalez (15-0-1) vs. Derek Ennis (23-3-1)
Derek Ennis – The talented but erratic Ennis was raised in a boxing family - his father still trains Ennis - with brother Farah a prospect at super middleweight while younger brother Jaron is a decorated amateur. Derek was a good amateur as well but learned much more through the famed Philly gym system’s sparring sessions (against his brothers and the likes of Anthony Thompson, Demetrius Hopkins and Mike Jones) than amateur competitions. Those gym wars prepared Ennis more for the physical style he employs that relies on upper body strength, pressure, as well as quick spurts of activity punctuated by well-timed flurries. Has good feet to take advantage of those assets but sometimes stays too close to foes smothering punches and absorbing return fire instead of pivoting out. A quick jab and fast right hand accounts for the majority of Ennis’s connects but he does not have the killer instinct or precision to follow up on some of the advantages he creates to score stoppages (has a 48% kayo ratio). At his best, reminds of Montell Griffin, where nothing is flashy but everything interconnects and builds to a victory. Scored his most notable victory over current title contender Gabriel Rosado, displaying grit and resilience, beating back the charges of a more aggressive Rosado by standing his ground with intelligent and well-timed counters. Undefeated from 2008 to 2011, including his win over Rosado and another bruising brawl with tough former Nigerian Olympian Eromosele Albert, Ennis showed he can compete with anyone outside of current titleholders. Described himself to writer Matt Goldstein, “I’m a slick boxer and I can punch. I’m a boxer-puncher and I’m very exciting to watch. I always go for the knockout but if can’t get it, then I can take anyone in a decision.” Then there is the other side of Ennis, suffering a shock loss to last-minute Cuban southpaw replacement Giorbis Barthelemy (who came in over the weight as well) by second round TKO two fights ago, in a fight where Ennis was obviously caught cold and not mentally prepared. All three of his losses came via stoppage, which is a definite concern against a brutish Gonzalez. Now 32 years old, Ennis needs to make a late career run depending more on his boxing I.Q. than will to win in wars that will further drain his boxing odometer.
Jonathan Gonzalez – Puerto Rican banger has thudding power but will need more than that to climb the heights his press team espouses. A naturally heavy-handed boxer with an aggressive temperament, Gonzalez is crafted from a similar mold as countryman Felix Trinidad. Like Trinidad, Gonzalez scores punishing, multi-knockdown stoppages instead of one-punch, highlight reel victories. As an amateur, Gonzalez won silver at the Pan American Games, qualified for the World Championships and 2008 Olympics without winning a major tourney, finishing with a 132-18 record. Surprisingly dominated at the Olympics by Romanian Ionut Gheorghe, who used angles and movement, leading Gonzalez into punches. Gonzalez needed that extra bit of defensive ability in the unpaid ranks where avoidance and timely single-punch counters are rewarded. Gonzalez lacks the eye-catching hand speed you want from a contender but has an uncanny ability to land punches despite lack of elite speed. In that aspect, is a lot like Fernando Vargas. Gonzalez has a husky frame and his chest lacks the musculature associated with a power puncher and is not chiseled either, carrying some baby fat. Goes to the body remarkably well and possesses sound technique, advancing with both hands high and chin tucked behind the guard. Besides fundamentals, Gonzalez’s accuracy is the biggest selling point and will back up against weaker foes to create punching room. Smartly switches from accurate single blows to volume punching when opponents refuse to open up or languish on the ropes. In some bouts, Gonzalez switched from an orthodox to southpaw stance, though he seemed to lack fluidity doing it. The Puerto Rican has a tricky skip in his feet, in which Gonzalez takes a tiny jump just before launching lethal left hooks to the liver or head. Does not create offense smoothly out of defense yet; it is either full offense or high guard, cover-up earmuffs. Killer instinct is evident (13 of 15 victims knocked out) with Gonzalez opening up and swinging wildly when a foe is on the ropes. Earned a lazy reputation for his training habits, entering at 163 pounds for a fight at 154 against former champion Serhiy Dzinziruk citing “personal problems” as an excuse for the lack of professionalism. Was lucky to escape with a draw in that lethargic performance and is now guided by up-and-coming trainer John David Jackson in Florida (for eight weeks) hoping to escape the distraction of his native Puerto Rico.
Verdict – By the time it is over, Gonzalez will know he has been up against a slugger. If not in shape, he could lose this time since he is fighting a volume puncher vice a fellow boxer. The winner should be decided on clean punching and smart movement, where Gonzalez has the edge and will use both to avoid Ennis on the inside where he likes to work. In the fourth round, Gonzalez focuses after eating some right hands by Ennis (because of his erect stance) on the inside, getting a strong jab going to create the space to land his straighter and more accurate punches. That distance will limit Ennis’s active style, causing him to lunge in with punches and otherwise fall off balance. Gonzalez sweeps the final three rounds to win seven rounds to three in a fight that entertains but never erupts because of Gonzalez’s grip on the pace.
Arash Usmanee – Montreal-based mauler employs a bullish style and likes to come straight at foes but the practicing Muslim’s skill set is more diverse than a first impression gives. Usmanee moved to Canada from his native Afghanistan at age 12, starting to box at age 17, and became a five-time Canadian amateur champion (establishing a 140-24 record with many international bouts) but missed out on the Olympics by one point in a final qualifier. Accomplished all that despite a free-swinging style not suited to the precision amateur game (still beat current contender Diego Magdaleno) but his aggression and imposing stamina helped Usmanee grit through many wins. Obviously has worked hard to refine his game as a pro; displaying much more balance and choosing punches better though the placement of them still leaves room for improvement. Usmanee’s record shows that inaccuracy through a 50% kayo ratio in a 20-0 résumé, traveling the 10-round distance three times in 102 professional rounds. Keeps a relatively active schedule, fighting an average of five times a year since 2010, and the level of opposition took a big upward curve in 2012 without Usmanee looking out of his depth or tested mentally. Faced various styles as well, defeating South American, African, European and American competition. At age 30, is mature physically, wearing on opponents with pressure, natural strength and bulky upper body that allows him to finish fights strong in the later rounds. That final kick is part of Usmanee’s mental makeup, a mindset filled with unshakable self-belief that harkens back to Naseem Hamed without the theatrics or mocking of opponents. Usmanee has verbally challenged everyone in his division but without name calling or vitriol. Though confident, Usmanee is not ignorant of his faults while lauding his own capabilities, admitting to mistakes and tendencies in a recent press release, “My style is ‘In your face.’ I like to go to war, sometimes even when I shouldn’t. But I’ve learned to utilize my boxing skills in the past couple years a lot better. My heart is a warrior. In my heart, I want war. That’s never going to go away. But my punches don’t get wild anymore. I get wild in my heart now but stick to what I’ve learned: technical aggression.” Probably lacks world-class hand speed and power but, otherwise, Usmanee seems a difficult riddle to solve.
Rances Barthelemy – Lanky Cuban, stands 5’11” tall, will remind many of Diego Corrales with his tenacity and offense-first style. The 26-year-old grew up in a boxing family; his older brother, Yan, won an Olympic gold medal and younger brother Leduan is an undefeated prospect. A hyperactive child, Rances focused that energy into boxing through the famed Cuban boxing system, becoming a national champion. Engaged in nearly 200 amateur bouts and was a favorite to make the 2008 Cuban team at the Beijing Olympics. Barthelemy saw an opportunity to defect instead, forgoing an Olympic opportunity for freedom. Like many Cubans, moved to Miami before moving to Las Vegas to receive pro guidance from trainers Orlando Cuellar and Miguel Diaz. Has since moved on to John David Jackson to train in Florida and be near his family. Unlike other Cuban prospects, has not disappointed in the gym, understanding its role in a professional’s career, “The person who works the hardest in the gym always gets the victory on fight night. I have dedicated myself to this and live a Spartan and athlete’s lifestyle.” In most impressive win, dominated fellow undefeated prospect Hylon Williams Jr. in an eight-round distance fight, though he did look a bit frustrated when his power failed to register a stoppage. A snappy puncher, stopping 11 of 17 foes, gaining “Kid Blast” nickname. In recent training camps (sparring Mercito Gesta, Sharif Bogere and Marcos Maidana), they have focused on increasing his power through shifting balance to make use of his elongated frame. Barthelemy describes himself thusly, “I am a good athlete and bring outstanding condition, endurance, speed and power with me into each contest. I can box well from the outside and bang inside as the fight may dictate.” Presses advantages he sees and is relentless trying to force opponents to engage. Jab is excellent (a converted southpaw) but underused and Barthelemy throws a lead left hook from a low trajectory that could be exploited by speedier foes. Falls forward at times because he overcommits to power punches and given his amateur pedigree, Barthelemy punches wide. That could be because Barthelemy is chasing opponents, rarely landing blows at full extension. On defense, holds hands high and sports decent head movement and upper body agility to avoid punches. This Barthelemy has question marks and tonight’s fight will tell if and where he rates among recent young Cuban imports.
Verdict – The duo sparred in Vegas a couple of years ago; since they know each other, it could provoke early fireworks without the need for a feeling-out process. Given the pair’s amateur pedigrees, they should be able to adjust during the fight, so Barthelemy’s advantages in size and speed are key intangibles that Usmanee’s strength and drive will have a hard time overcoming. Another factor is that Usmanee is not a natural counterpuncher and will not be able to take advantage of Barthelemy’s inaccuracy aside from this stiff jab. Usmanee is better than advertised on defense but leaves holes concentrating on offense and will have a tough time getting combinations off because of Barthelemy’s octopus-like arms. Patience is the key to victory - especially over 12 rounds. Barthelemy has more and will use it to bring Usmanee’s punch output down. Barthelemy boxes off his back foot and splits the first six rounds with Usmanee, later using his larger body and youthful reflexes to frustrate an onrushing Usmanee into his right hand repeatedly. Barthelemy wins 116-112, perhaps gifted an extra round or two thanks to his hometown advantage.
Prediction record for 2013: 0-0
Prediction record in 2012: 84% (128-25)
Prediction record in 2011: 88% (138-19)
Prediction record in 2010: 85% (218-40)

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