By Joseph Herron – If fight fans were hopeful for less controversy throughout the boxing New Year, their optimism was quickly dashed after watching the season opener of ESPN’s Friday Night Fights.
Highly touted Super Featherweight prospect Rances Barthelemy (18-0, 11 KOs) was awarded a very questionable unanimous twelve round decision over Canadian resident Arash Usmanee (20-1, 10 KOs) in the main event of an entertaining fight card at the Magic City Casino in Miami, Florida.
The three judges at ringside scored the bout 115-113, and 116-112 twice…all in favor of the local fighter, Rances “Kid Blast” Barthelemy.
Going into the contest, most fight pundits favored the Cuban exile because of his natural athletic gifts, extensive amateur pedigree, and the world class sparring during preparation in Miami and Las Vegas.
But for much of the twelve round contest, Arash Usmanee looked to be the more technically sound pugilist.
To begin the main event of the evening, the tall, rangy Cubano looked impressive within the first two rounds of action. Rances not only landed the harder, more impactful shots, but also controlled the outset of the fight working the jab, left hook, and straight right hand.
But midway through the third stanza, Usmanee began to fire off his combinations first then step to the side to avoid the left hook counter from the hometown fighter. The Afghan repeated this sequence numerous times, consistently turning his much taller opponent after scoring with effective shots to the body and head.
Round after round, the hard working underdog seemed to be one step ahead of the favored fighter. Barthelemy consistently followed Usmanee around the ring without closing the distance effectively or landing any shots of consequence.
The Cuban exile was ostensibly blowing his opportunity for bigger paydays and more meaningful bouts. Arash Usmanee was dictating the pace of the action by getting his punches off first and using effective footwork and upper body movement to avoid any impactful counter shots.
Leading into the ninth round of action, ESPN commentator and experienced fight trainer Teddy Atlas had Rances Barthelemy trailing on his unofficial score card 74-78, or 6 rounds to 2. The ESPN faithful who scored the bout on Facebook.com also had Rances trailing by a four point margin after eight rounds.
Although rounds nine through twelve were significantly closer in terms of ring generalship and effective punches landed, it was Arash Usmanee who consistently threw the higher volume of punches and landed the larger number of shots. While some ringside observers could argue that the Cuban’s punches were more impactful throughout the final third of the fight, the 30 year old underdog still seemed to land the shorter and more compact punches in combination.
In twelve rounds of action, Usmanee landed 282 of 1,088 total punches with a 26% connect rate and Barthelemy landed 238 of 824 shots thrown with a 29% connect rate.
After the judges’ verdict had been rendered and announced, the outspoken Mr. Teddy Atlas had a few choice words for the three kings at ringside.
“It might be a New Year, but it’s still the same bad judging in boxing,” exclaimed the prolific fight trainer. “It’s either incompetence or corruption. That is disgraceful! Happy New Year, to you same old disgraceful judges…Happy New Year!!”
The animated and passionate fight commentator scored the bout 117-111 or 9 rounds to 3 in favor of Arash Usmanee, as did the Facebook.com crowd scoring the bout unofficially online.
To kick off the FNF episode, Cuban prospect Harion Socarras (6-0-1, 5 KOs) knocked out previously undefeated Super Bantamweight Josh Bowles (6-1, 1 KO) with a vicious overhand right in the third round of their scheduled four round special feature.
Although the young fighter from Pennsylvania technically beat the referee’s count, the 26 year old was still on wobbly legs as he rose from the canvas. The third man in the ring quickly called a halt to the bout and determined that Bowles was not fit to continue.
In the co-main event of the evening, former 2008 Puerto Rican Olympian, Junior Middleweight Jonathan Gonzalez (16-0-1, 13 KOs) outworked fight veteran Derek Ennis (23-4-1, 13 KOs) to win a ten round unanimous decision.
Leading up to the contest, the Philly, PA, fighter showed up to the official weigh-in grossly overweight for the proposed 154 pound match-up. Ennis tipped the scale with an official weight of 161 pounds. After a few thousand dollars changed hands, both men decided to meet in the ring despite the weight disparity for the opportunity to showcase their respective talents on the popular boxing series.
Although both men had their moments throughout the entertaining style match-up, the bout was ultimately decided by the overwhelming volume of punches thrown by the much younger Puerto Rican fighter.
Gonzalez landed 174 of 690 total punches, compared to 123 of 327 landed by the 32 year old veteran.
Ennis had sporadic success throughout with the cleaner and more effective shots landed, but couldn’t put together a consistent enough effort to sway the judges at ringside.
The three kings of the ring scored the bout 95/95, 98/92, and 97/93…for the winner by majority decision, Jonathan “Mantequilla” Gonzalez.
Despite the controversial scorecards following the main event of the evening, it was a very entertaining start to ESPN’s 15 year anniversary season of Friday Night Fights.