For Juan Carlos Payano and Jundy Maraon, Friday's fight will play a pivotal role in the future of each fighter's promising career.
Payano and Maraon will meet on ESPN's "Friday Night Fights" main event at the South Mountain Arena in South Orange, N.J.
Maraon (15-0-1, 12 KOs), of the Philippines, is coming off a resounding victory against Ernie Marquez -- his first fight in the United States. A southpaw who is trained by Nonito Donaire Sr., Maraon made his return against Marquez in September after a two-year hiatus caused by a hand injury.
Payano (13-0, 7 KOs), a Dominican whose Filipino paternal grandfather nicknamed him "Baby Pacquiao," has fought six of his past seven fights in the U.S. and likely feels more confortable in this part of the world. He and Maraon are similar in style: Both are aggressive and explosive, carrying knockout power in both hands. The difference is speed. Payano appears faster, though Maraon is a great counterpuncher.
"I'm not going to put myself at risk when I attack, so I planned this fight differently from other ones," Payano said. "Maraon is a strong man who has good power, but he has never faced an opponent of my experience."
Payano, who has worked extensively with southpaw sparring partners in preparation for this fight, understands that his jab could be the key to manage the rhythm of the fight.
"It is the basic tool to win the fight," Payano said, "and in training we have insisted on adjusting the jab to our strategy."
The winner will become the mandatory challenger for bantamweight titlist Koki Kameda. Payano insists the higher stakes won't affect him in the ring.
"I participated in major events such as the Olympics and the world championships, so I am ready to overcome any pressure," he said.
Payano's approach is built on aggressiveness and cumulative combination punching. The left hook to the liver followed immediately by an overhand right have been his most effective tools, yet against a southpaw who has a knockout hook and can land straight down the middle, that game plan could leave Payano exposed.
"I don't face all the fighters in the same way," said Payano, adding that he expects his speed to be the decisive factor Friday. "He's not an easy opponent. I'm ready for everything, to get to the 12 rounds and, depending on how the fight goes, I'll see if there are opportunities for the knockout. In that case, I will not hesitate to finish him quickly."
On the undercard, Jorge "King" Diaz of New Jersey (17-1, 10 KOs) will face Dominican Yenifel Esteban Vicente (24-1-2, 16 KOs) in a junior featherweight bout. A matchup of two prospects with aggressive styles would seem to be an entertaining one.
Diaz is still rebounding after a 2011 stoppage loss to then-prospect Teon Kennedy sidetracked his promising start. Since then, he has added two victories. Vincent, meanwhile, had climbed high in the world rankings before he was defeated on points by Chris Avalos last August.