If the inaugural episode of ESPN2's Friday Night Fights is any indicator of things to come, boxing fans may be in for essentially the exact same things they've grown used to in the last however long.
While the card itself was, overall, a satisfying one from an action standpoint, the decision rendered by the judges in the main event was enough to leave a bitter taste in the mouth.
Cuban amateur standout Rances Barthelemy, 18-0 (11 KO) and younger brother to 2004 Olympian Yan, took a disputed 12 round decision over previously unbeaten junior lightweight Arash Usmanee, 20-1 (10 KO), in what was actually an entertaining main event, it was just a main event that looked as though it should have gone to Usmanee. In the main support bout, Jonathan Gonzalez earned a close decision over the more experienced Derek Ennis over 10 rounds.
It's unfortunate that a fun night of pugilistic arts can be basically ruined by what could be described as a wonky decision, because none of the bouts were anywhere close to being un-watchable. In the Barthelemy-Usmanee match up, it seemed as though Barthelemy would prove to be simply too good for his opponent early, and round by round the Cuban was reminded that it was not the case.
Round 1 of the began with Usmanee attempting to match shots with Barthelemy from the outside and a mid-range, which only served to get him caught with a number of left hands in just about ever form possible -- jabs, hooks, modified uppercuts, etc. And in round 2, Barthelemy marched forward with confidence while Usmanee lashed out only occasionally, and was met with more left hands for his trouble anyway. A good right hand from Usmanee was countered with a nasty left hand to the ribs that had the Montreal-based Usmanee wary.
Usmanee got more clever in the 3rd, however, and moved his head well before timing Barthelemy with right hands over the top early on. Barthelemy caught up and sniped his man a bit more, but Usmanee was able to gain at least some measure of respect. Barthelemy settled in and got a jab working for him in round 4, though Usmanee managed to strongarm his way in and land uppercuts and right hands around the guard. Near the end of the round, a headbutt opened up a cut on the bridge of Usmanee's nose.
In the 5th round, Barthelemy looked to be trying to close in and slug a bit more, and Usmanee took advantage by timing shots as the Cuban basically walked into them. Sensing a shift in momentum, Usmanee threw more combinations in the early going of round 6, gritting through Barthelemy's hubris and outworking him more often than not. Urging the momentum shift forward, Usmanee landed perhaps his hardest shots of the bout in the opening sequence of the 7th round, putting Barthelemy of the defensive for a while before jutting out a wild hook. Halfway through the round, Barthelemy's legs looked to be losing bounce and he may have been stunned by a combination upstairs and a right hand to the body.
Left hooks to the body and some busy jabbing had Barthelemy thinking a lot in round 8, and again Usmanee drove Barthelemy backwards with pressure and volume. Barthelemy began to find a home for his left hook and snapped Usmanee's head back with it a few times, and the two exchanged at the bell. Action heated up some in round 9, with both men urging the other to keep banging, and both obliged the other back and forth. Usmanee worked in a nice uppercut, Barthelemy landed sweeping left hands, but Usmanee varied his attack better and simply moved his hands more. Finally right before the bell, Barthelemy landed a right hand that staggered Usmanee, though the result may have been as much balance as anything else. Regardless, it scored well.
Perhaps motivated by his moment at the end of the 9th round, Barthelemy got more aggressive in the 10th and even resurrected his jab in spots. A head collision visibly bothered Usmanee, and Barthelemy began to clown around moments later. In the 11th round, Barthelemy appeared to be mocking Usmanee's footwork from the previous round, and Usmanee opened up with a prolonged barrage that the Cuban responded to with more smiles and tricks. Barthelemy's movement frustrated Usmanee and had him reaching for much of the round.
In the 12th and final stanza, Usmanee let loose with just about every shot he had in his arsenal, which had Barthelemy hanging on. A little over a minute in, Usmanee landed a series of right hands that looked to have Barthelemy groggy and retreating to the ropes. Barthelemy flung a left hand every so often, but Usmanee stayed on his man, landing right hands while weathering Barthelemy's watered down offense.
Judges' cards read 115-113, and 116-112 twice, surprisingly all for Barthelemy.
Words like "robbery" and "travesty" have already been tossed about on the social media sites, and they're not totally unwarranted. It seemed like a bout that Usmanee should have won, even if only on activity alone. When Barthelemy opened up and got into any sort of groove, he was quicker, snappier and more polished, but those traits were all but nullified by Usmanee's determination.
In recent bouts, some of Barthelemy's shine has dulled at the hands of opponents who, on paper, should be able to compete. But a few have made it tough for the Cuban to look good, and he should be up for more convincing wins against better opposition if he's to ascend to the next level. Unfortunately that might mean that while Usmanee was fun to watch tonight, for the most part, there's a possibility that he's sitting on a low rung on the potential ladder.
In the co-feature, undefeated 2008 Puerto Rican Olympian Jonathan Gonzalez' inability to make weight against Serhiy Dzinziruk this last September was repaid to him tonight, albeit in a smaller dose, against veteran Derek Ennis, who himself failed to make weight for this bout and was able to give Gonzalez a solid fight.
The pace was relatively patient and steady early on for Gonzalez, who weighed in at his lightest weight in over two years, and he measured Ennis with jabs while looking to land clubbing right hands. Ennis was able to savvy his way into connecting with some sneak right hands behind jabs, but spent much of the opening round retreating. Ennis reached in to his pockets and pulled out a few veteran tricks, landing funky jabs and timing Gonzalez a bit with harder stuff in round 2, while the younger Gonzalez stalked. Just as Gonzalez appeared to be cornering Ennis a bit, the latter landed a pair of nice hooks and a hard right hand before the bell.
A more aggressive Gonzalez left the corner in the 3rd stanza, and he used his jabs to set proper distance and keep Ennis on his heels. A number of hooks to Ennis' body slowed him down temporarily, but he found a way to again time Gonzalez with a few clean blows. But once more in the 4th, Gonzalez jabbed and Ennis went mostly defensive and cautious. A big right hand from Ennis led to clowning from Gonzalez, and then a flurry that included body work. In the 5th, much of the round was fought in the trenches, which allowed Ennis to place some his his stuff, but Gonzalez generally used physical strength and heavier shots to win the day.
For some unknown reason, Gonzalez elected to fight going backward and counter a bit in round 6. The strategy wasn't completely ineffective, but he wasn't able to get a ton of work done, and Ennis seemingly took the round. And again the 7th, Gonzalez retreated as if to draw Ennis in and strike, but didn't put many punches together as Ennis began timing long right hands and follow up hooks to end the round. In the 8th, Gonzalez mixed up the geography a bit more and landed a solid right hand, but in the last minute Ennis got busy.
Ennis fought his way off the ropes more than once in the 9th round, but Gonzalez went back to the body consistently for the first time in a number of rounds, also timing hooks upstairs and a right hand or two. His jab made a marked difference as well, and he brought it back in the 10th, which left Ennis hesitant as he seemed to wait for a counter. It wasn't until the last 30 seconds that Ennis got busy, and the two men traded shots at the bell.
Once judge scored the bout a draw at 95-95, the others 98-92 and 97-93 for Gonzalez, whose record now stands at 16-0-1 (13 KO), while Ennis' falls to 23-4-1 (13 KO).
Gonzalez' ledger may be a bit misleading -- at least in terms of punching power. He landed a fair amount of clean, hard punches on a guy that has been stopped thrice in his career, but none seemed to have much of an effect. Additionally, he was timed while scooting backwards quite a bit, and his output dropped inexplicably in spots. He's a ways away from stepping up in class significantly, and he didn't exactly look svelte despite his lower weight. Considering the depth (or potential depth as legal issues, injuries and the like tie guys up) at 154 lbs., a move down to 147, if possible, should be mulled over.
Opening up the broadcast was a four round junior featherweight tussle between Cuban Hairon Socarras, who improved his record to 6-0-1 (5 KO) against Joshua Bowles, now 6-1 (1 KO), by TKO in 3 rounds with a single right hand.
Socarras shot out a snapping jab early in the 1st round, while Bowles made it clear he didn't seem eager to engage, instead darting in and out between angling away. Leaping in with his chin up, Bowles caught a handful, but managed to avoid serious damage. In round 2, Socarras initially appeared a bit mesmerized by Bowles' movement, but timed a counter right hand that stunned his foe. The pace slowed to end the round, though. In round 3, Socarras began adding some dirt to his game, muscling Bowles inside and hitting on the break. Just after Bowles chucked a big left hook, Socarras stepped in and landed a combination punctuated by a right hand. Moments later, Bowles got careless and walked into a left-right combination that stole his legs and put him on his back. Clearly hurt, Bowles was stopped mid-count at 2:11 of the stanza.