Rances Barthelemy will have a new opportunity to headline a main event on national television on Friday, a welcome chance to vindicate his controversial victory in January against Arash Usmanee.
Cuba's Barthelemy (18-0, 11 KOs) will face Fahsi Sakkreerin (39-3-1, 21 KOs) of Thailand in the main event of "Friday Night Fights" (ESPN2, 10 p.m. ET) at the Minneapolis Convention Center. The winner of the 12-round bout will be awarded a mandatory fight against junior lightweight titlist Argenis Mendez.
Against Usmanee, Barthelemy tried to use his height advantage to work the fight from a distance with his solid left jab. However, his opponent managed to trim down the distance with an aggressive stance, and Barthelemy often found himself in trouble, despite the unanimous decision awarded to him by the judges.
The expectation for Friday is that history could repeat itself, thanks to the style of the shorter Sakkreerin, which is similar to Usmanee's. He can take a punch, he's aggressive and tends to put his opponents under a lot of pressure at close range.
Sakkreerin has been stopped only once in his career -- but that was in 2005. His most recent defeat was against Mexico's Martin Honorio in a December 2011 split decision in the Philippines.
Barthelemy has been preparing for almost ten weeks in trainer John David Jackson's gym in Fort Lauderdale.
Jackson, who started working with the Cuban fighter shortly before his fight with Usmanee, said Barthelemy "has had a good training camp with some competitive sparring." He also recognized that they've put a lot of work into solving some of the mistakes made in the previous fight.
"We're working to find a more powerful punch and to make better use of his height," Jackson said. "I think Rances will surprise a lot of people on Friday."
Everything is possible, but until he can show convincing improvements, the lasting image of Barthelemy is that of a physically privileged fighter who couldn't take advantage of his natural attributes against Usmanee. This is something for which Barhelemy himself seems to have a very clear understanding.
"I had to make adjustments and instead of thinking about scoring points, I need to land body shots and hurt my opponents more," Barthelemy said.
Aside from the use of his jab to dictate the pace of the fight, Barthelemy will likely be the more aggressive fighter, throwing right-hand volleys, trying to punish the body of his opponent and, according to his trainer, going for the knockout.
It is hard to predict whether Barthelemy will achieve it or not. Due to his background, his opponent seems very tough.
Sakkreerin withstands punishment very well (although he does not present an impenetrable guard) and is exposed to counterpunching because he is a brawler. His strategy will be to take the fight to the short distance and put pressure on his opponent. For this, he will have to cut off the ring, because with his advantages in height and speed, Barthelemy adds good leg movement that helps him move out quickly when things get complicated.
Coming off a second-round knockout victory over Robert Rubillar in March, Sakkreerin usually throws a great volume of punches every round and his main weapon is the combination of a left hook followed by a straight right upstairs. Against a man who is taller and rangier, there is no mystery about the path he'll choose: To win this fight will be to suffocate Barthelemy with a persistent attack in close quarters.
In the co-main event, Caleb Truax (21-1-1, 12 KOs), 29, from Maple Grove, Minn., and Donovan George (24-3-2, 21 KOs), 28, fighting out of Chicago, will face off in a scheduled 10-round middleweight bout. Due to their aggressive styles, an intense battle is expected -- one that is unlikely to go the distance.
Truax, who enters on a three-fight win streak, suffered the lone loss of his career against former middleweight champion Jermain Taylor in April 2012. After dropping Taylor in the ninth round, Truax lost a 10-round decision. George is coming off of a draw against David Lopez in March.