Exciting junior middleweight Willie Nelson makes his return to ESPN's "Friday Night Fights" when he headlines a card from Fallon, Nevada.
Nelson (22-1-1, 13 KOs) will face Mexico's Luis Grajeda (17-2-2, 13 KOs) in a 10-round bout (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET) at the Churchill County Fairgrounds.
Out of action for nearly a year because of left elbow surgery, Nelson, of Cleveland, Ohio, returned in June on the Miguel Cotto-Sergio Martinez undercard at Madison Square Garden in New York to drill Darryl Cunningham in the first round.
The victory over Cunningham was Nelson's sixth straight dating back to the lone loss of his career, in 2011 by majority decision against Vincent Arroyo. Nelson rebounded from that loss to score victories over name fighters such as Cuba's Yudel Johnson, John Jackson, Michael Medina and Luciano Cuello of Argentina.
"Willie [Nelson] is knocking on the door to a world title opportunity and an impressive performance against the hard-punching Grajeda moves him in that direction," promoter Lou DiBella said.
With a victory on Friday, a title fight could be in Nelson's future in the second half of 2014.
Nelson was forced to pull out of a December HBO date against Matthew Macklin due to his injured elbow. He also missed an opportunity to face James Kirkland.
Grajeda represents a hard-hitting and dangerous opponent for Nelson. Grajeda has good size and wingspan and has never been down in his career despite two defeats, including a 2010 loss to unbeaten Jermell Charlo.
He usually sets the distance with his jab and fights behind a high guard. While attacking, Grajeda looks to exploit his long wingspan and launch combinations with long hooks.
But if Grajeda has good height and wingspan for the division, Nelson surpasses him in both areas. At 6-foot-3 with a wingspan of 81 inches, Nelson gives off comparisons to Paul Williams for his size and fighting style as a junior middleweight.
Nelson's style of constant pressure makes the most of natural advantages by constantly using jabs and overhand rights from a distance. But when he enters close range, he often doubles up his hooks with both hands. Nelson has power, but he sometimes gets in trouble when quicker opponents close the distance.
In the co-feature battle, unbeaten Hungarian super middleweight Norbert Nemesapati (14-0, 13 KOs), 18, makes his U.S. debut against dangerous puncher Jason Escalera (14-2-1, 12 KOs) of Union City, New Jersey.
The opening bout of the card will showcase the professional debut of touted Chinese heavyweight Zhang Zhilei, an Olympic silver medalist in 2008, who will face American Curtis Lee Tate (7-4, 6 KOs) in a four-round bout.