Mendez-Barthelemy to open FNF

Junior lightweight titlist Argenis Mendez will make his mandatory defense against Rances Barthelemy on Jan. 3 as the new season of ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights" kicks off with the first of 26 cards, Warriors Boxing promoter Leon Margules said Monday.

Mendez-Barthelemy will take place at the Target Center in Minneapolis and feature an appearance by card co-promoter Mike Tyson, the former heavyweight champion.

Mendez (21-2-1, 11 KOs), 27, of the Dominican Republic, won the title in March by knocking out Juan Carlos Salgado in the fourth round. In his first defense, Mendez retained the belt, escaping with a majority draw against Arash Usmanee on Aug. 23.

Barthelemy (19-0, 12 KOs), 27, a Cuban defector living in Miami, knocked out Fahsai Sakkreerin of Thailand in the second round in a June 21 title elimination fight, also in Minneapolis, to earn the mandatory title shot against Mendez.

"Iron Mike Productions is excited to be hosting the first ESPN 'Friday Night Fights' show of 2014," Iron Mike Productions chief executive Garry Jonas said. "We closed the 2013 ESPN 'Friday Night Fights' season with an exciting championship fight [Mendez-Usmanee], and now we're opening 2014 with an exciting championship fight."

In the scheduled 10-round middleweight co-feature, Caleb Truax (23-1, 14 KOs), 30, of Osseo, Minn., will square off with Derek Ennis (23-4-1, 13 KOs), 33, of Philadelphia.

Margules, who promotes Barthelemy, won the purse bid for the fight in October, offering $51,000 as the only bidder. That bid entitles Mendez, as the titleholder, to 75 percent of the money ($38,250) with Barthelemy getting the remaining 25 percent ($12,750).

"This will be Rances Barthelemy, my fighter's, first world title shot, and I'm very excited for him and his chances to bring the belt home," Margules said.

The "Friday Night Fights" season, due to conclude Aug. 22, will include two cards on Thursday nights and one on a Wednesday night. A typical "Friday Nights Fights" season would run well in excess of 30 cards. But there are fewer shows than usual this coming season because of the network's commitment to the soccer World Cup, according to ESPN programmer Brian Kweder.