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The ESPN2 Friday Night Fights TV Cheat Sheet- Mar. 18, 2011

Tonight’s ESPN2 card took a hit when exciting prospect Chris Avalos pulled out at the last minute, citing a hand injury suffered during sparring on Sunday. Thankfully, the main event is intact, which features an interesting crossroads battle in the welterweight division. Philly veteran Demetrius Hopkins squares off against Florida upstart Brad Solomon, with the winner virtually assured a title shot against Ukrainian Vyacheslav Senchenko. Former Cuban Olympic champion Yan Barthelemy remains on the card but faces unknown Francis Ruiz instead of a hyped prospect. That is a setback for Barthelemy, who is searching for a defining victory to boost his flagging professional fortunes.

At the Seminole Hard Rock Casino, Hollywood, FL
(ESPN2) Demetrius Hopkins (30-1-1) vs. Brad Solomon (16-0)
(ESPN2) Yan Barthelemy (11-2) vs. Francis Ruiz (9-3)

Francis Ruiz – I do not claim to know much about Ruiz, nor have I been able to gain much insight about the Dominican journeyman from last-minute emails. I am not even sure how old Ruiz is and only read a couple fight reviews of his losses. A picture I found suggests Ruiz is over 30, facially, but in all other fight photos, Ruiz has both hands held high attempting to block incoming punches. Not exactly a good sign. Ruiz returned last month from a two-year layoff, losing every round of a six-round decision to Californian Jonathan Arrellano. That was Ruiz’s first fight in America, competing exclusively in his homeland before that. A 12-round split decision in 2009 win speaks to adequate stamina but again, it is hard to gauge since his opponent had not faced good opposition entering the fight. Fight reports suggest Ruiz has problems with fighters who crowd him or are physically superior in terms of strength. Has fought mostly as a bantamweight and is moving up a weight class to face Barthelemy. However, because Barthelemy does not sport much power, it should not be an issue. Ruiz was knocked out in his pro debut but has otherwise shown good durability if not the skill to stay close on the scorecards. Fight reviews repeatedly describe Ruiz as in shape and tough-but-limited. So who am I to argue with that, sight unseen?

Yan Barthelemy – The 2004 Olympic gold medalist defected with better-known teammates Yuriorkis Gamboa and Odlanier Solis in 2006. Turned pro in Europe, contesting his first two fights there but moved home base to Miami in 2007, fighting solely in America since. Perhaps he should have stayed in Europe, since Barthelemy has been disappointing in America. The southpaw is the least impressive of the Cuban imports, surprisingly losing in his seventh fight to 6-4 Ernie Marquez. The loss forced Barthelemy into a tough rebound fight to restore his reputation two fights later, where he suffered a one-punch kayo loss to undefeated prospect Jorge Diaz. Before the kayo, the bout had been a back-and-forth affair, with both men enjoying stretches of success. Perhaps training in Miami, surrounded by temptations from Cuba, caused Barthelemy to lose focus. That theory would go against the maturity of man who captained the Cuban Olympic team but lack of dedication has been a recurring problem for Cuban boxers. A
lanky stylist, Barthelemy’s punches look and sound better than they actually are, as only four stoppages in 11 wins clearly indicate. He is a good mover but that tendency has also limited him on offense, where Barthelemy does not remain in place long enough to get off combinations. I would not categorize his chin as weak, despite the Diaz stoppage, since the punch that dropped Barthelemy was picture-perfect. Before the Diaz loss, Barthelemy scored his best win over power-puncherAlexander Espinoza, who represented Colombia in the 2004 Olympics. Last year, defeated former American amateur standout Roberto Benitez (a four-time US Nationals and two-time Golden Gloves champ) but has not entered the ring for the last seven months, losing the momentum that fight generated. Barthelemy is capable of elevating his game when challenged, which he will need to do consistently to maintain any relevance as a professional.

Verdict – I have to go with the known commodity, even if that commodity is flawed. The win over Benitez shows Barthelemy still has the goods to compete with the young guns but at age 31, time is running out of his hourglass. Because of Ruiz’s reputed toughness and Barthelemy’s lack of power, I look for a distance win, and a lopsided decision in favor of the former Cuban standout.

Brad Solomon – I readily confess an admiration for Solomon, who is making a contender out of himself the old-fashioned way. I liken him to a young James Toney or Glen Johnson, since the slickster employs old-school tricks and methods to win fights he enters as the underdog. Was very active last year winning seven fights, including successful trips to Nicaragua and Panama. In his last fight, defeated an Anges Adjaho few fighters face voluntarily. In 2010, brought in as an opponent to undefeated prospects Ray Robinson and Kenny Galarza, on ESPN2 shows, quickly turning the tables on both and scoring lopsided wins. In the Robinson victory, Solomon was adept on defense, avoiding a much taller and swarming foe with lateral and upper body movement. Solomon was an excellent amateur, winning three Golden Gloves titles, which shows in his ability to switch from an orthodox to southpaw stance with a quick shuffle of the feet. Defeated current Golden Boy Promotions prospect Danny Garcia in the amateurs, which suggests he has ample speed and confidence. Solomon proved he can bring those elite amateur credentials to bear on a pro platform, no matter the country he fights in or the pedigree of the opponent. At 28, is fully matured and seems capable of putting up a real challenge to all but the elite (Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather) at welterweight, this despite 2011 only being his third year as a pro. Solomon is quick and accurate, especially with his jab, standing orthodox, even when reeling off combinations. One-word description for Solomon would be “tricky.” That reportedly comes from a fantastic work ethic in the gym and Solomon can perfect those moves because of his frequent appearances in the ring. The only flaw I have seen is a search for too much perfection, which keeps Solomon’s punch count low instead of creating openings with slightly more volume. Other title contenders are flashier and certainly more connected but Solomon’s ambition and guile set him apart. Usually laid back, Hopkins’ taunts merited a response from Solomon. “His mouth moves but we’re gonna see if his hands can do any talking.” The question is now is whether Solomon can take out a contender the same way he manhandled prospects. I will say that if Solomon is put in with Andre Berto, I would not hesitate to fly to Vegas to put a play on the underdog.

Demetrius Hopkins – Before coming back last year, Hopkins had been out of the ring for 15 months and has been out of action for eight months since scoring a solid victory over Mike Arnaoutis in his last outing. Long layoffs like that are something a boxer close to his prime does not endure unless frustrated or hurt. Also had a 13-month layoff before his only loss against Kendall Holt, by split decision, which he claims led to the lethargy displayed in such an important title eliminator. Hopkins was a very good amateur, a 1999 National Golden Gloves champion, and is known for being the nephew of Bernard Hopkins. Inside the ring, is a lot like Hopkins, taking too much of a cautious approach with credible opponents. This cost him in a fight against Kendall Holt that looked within his grasp but Hopkins did not match his opponent’s volume when he looked able to do so, stamina-wise. Boxes on the outside using his length and style, only letting loose with his right hand when an opponent is in retreat or off-balance. The loss to Holt was the one time Hopkins did not equal a foe’s pace. In general, Hopkins is the type who does just enough to win without overly impressing anyone. Did not deal well with Holt’s aggression; instead of matching Holt, Hopkins went into a protective cocoon. Because of a lack of punching power and unwillingness to press (only has a 34% kayo ratio) Hopkins has not stopped anyone in almost four years. Is not made for stoppages, stylistically, either, relying on a jab that puts opponents off and quick counters in the middle of the ring. Anticipation and accuracy are Hopkins’ biggest strengths. Hopkins’ average speed is increased by timing and he moves his feet nicely as well setting up countering opportunities. Is now fighting at welterweight but he was a big junior welter, so the move should not be much of a reach. Is still training in Philly and getting plenty of aggressive sparring partners like Mike Jones to hone counterpunching skills.
Hopkins is not impressed by Solomon in the least. “I’ve watched tapes of him and it’s like a fake Roy Jones. All that dancing in and out. Maybe that’s worked to keep other fighters off balance but it won’t work against me.”

Verdict – As in other sports, some boxers are able create a sense of awe with flair or statistical achievement. Others, as is the case with Solomon, are winners who win despite a lack of fanfare. Solomon simply gets the job done, leaving many to ask themselves how he pulled off that win. I look for Solomon to rip Hopkins with singular punches repeatedly, catching Hopkins on the wrong foot by switching stances. That will create uncertainty with Hopkins, thus limiting his punch output and creating spots for Solomon to fill with his precise jab. From the third round on, Solomon takes over by timing Hopkins, since he is the equal Hopkins in speed and probably defense as well. The fact that Hopkins enters off another long layoff is a factor as well, as both men rely heavily on their reflexes. Hopkins could steal some of the middle rounds when Solomon retools for the stretch run. 97-93 scorecards in favor of Solomon sound about right.

Prediction record for 2011: 90% (44-5)
Prediction record for 2010: 85% (218-40)


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