Injury forces Avalos to expand his game

Chris Avalos isn't throwing his right hand with the same abandon that he once did, but so far it hasn't kept him from continuining his climb through the junior featherweight ranks.

Avalos (21-2, 16 KOs) will try to grab the next rung on that ladder when he meets power-punching veteran Drian Francisco (24-1-1, 19 KOs) on this week's edition of ESPN's "Friday Night Fights" at the Texas Station Casino in Las Vegas (ESPN2/WatchESPN, 10 p.m. ET).

After suffering a hand injury in 2011, Avalos was dealt his second career loss in his next fight. But the defeat came on a split decision to still-undefeated world titlist Jonathan Romero, and although Avalos has fought just twice more since, he won both bouts -- including a fourth-round TKO win against Jose Araiza in February.

The injury might have cost Avalos some power, but it also has led him to expand his repertoire.

"I've been working on a lot of combinations," Avalos said. "I still use the right hand, but just not with as much force. I used to always be just straight-ahead, brawling with everybody; now I'm using a lot more movement. We're getting smart -- we're brawling a little bit, we're boxing a little bit, throwing more jabs, combinations. So we're doing a lot more."

Francisco, 30, of the Philippines, is a fearsome knockout artist who relies on both hands but whose main weapon is his left hook. He has stopped notable opponents such as Ricardo Nuñez and Roberto Vazquez during his career, and he has been on a tear since losing his interim junior bantamweight title to Tepparith Kokietgym in May of 2011. Francisco has won four consecutive fights, the past three by quick KOs.

"I don't know much about the guy I'm fighting, but I have some videos," Avalos said of Francisco. "I've studied him. Me and my dad together, we sat down together to see what he has. Honestly, I just see that he relies a lot on his power, and a lot of his power comes from a lot of wide shots. Everything he throws is, like, a looping shot. What I plan on doing is keeping him on the outside, jab a lot and box him, and catch him with combinations down the middle. And just be cautious of the overhand right and left hooks."

Avalos likes to establish the pace of the fight by taking over the center of the ring, and he's good at measuring distance with his long jab and moving aside to throw combinations from all angles.

"I've been using my jab a lot," he said. "I can use my right hand now, but it's just a factor in my head of getting it injured again. I just don't want it to happen. So I've been working on my jab and letting the right hand go -- a quick right hand, not as strong as I used to let it off."

For his part, Francisco says he plans to close his defense and wait to counterpunch. He uses speedy double and triple combinations down the middle in an effective way.

"I know I have a different style," Francisco said. "Sometimes I'm a brawler and sometimes I do boxing. It depends on my opponent's style."

For Francisco's second fight in the United States, he has been working with trainer Justin Fortune in Los Angeles the past few weeks. He seems to know what he's up against in Avalos, an aggressive fighter who doesn't shy away from exchanges yet has never been stopped as a pro.

"I saw Avalos' video on YouTube. Tough Mexican opponent," Francisco said. "Mexicans are tough and they love boxing -- that's why they train hard. But I'm here in America to get a world title belt. There's a lot of opportunity here in America -- that's why I train here with Justin."

Avalos is the longer fighter -- he'll have a 2-inch height and 2½-inch reach advantage -- although Francisco is the faster and more powerful of the two. Expect lots of trading and combinations that land at full force. Both men can take a punch, which means an early KO is unlikely -- but the consolation should be steady, quality action.

In the co-main event, two unbeaten prospects will face each other in a junior middleweight battle. Glen Tapia (18-0, 10 KOs), of Pasaic, N.J., will meet Abie Han (19-0, 12 KOs), from El Paso, Texas, in a scheduled 10-rounder.

Tapia, who had an amateur record of 130-13, is coming off an April decision over Dominican Joseph De los Santos, while Han most recently turned in a points victory against Brandon Baue in March.