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Afghan-Canadian Usmanee marches toward history on FNF
Canada-based Afghanistan native Arash Usmanee looks to position himself for a world title shot with a victory over fellow unbeaten junior lightweight Rances Barthelemy in this week's Friday Night Fights main event from Magic City Casino in Miami, Fla.
Bloodshed has seemed to follow Arash Usmanee everywhere he’s gone.
As a child growing up in Afghanistan, he was in the midst of the Soviet War on his country. When he was six years old, a Soviet bomb took the life of his father, an Afghan national army recruit. Once Soviet involvement ceased, Civil War continued, claiming the lives of several of his relatives.
Once a 10-year-old boy living in a warzone, Usmanee has vivid memories of a horrifying place.
“A lot of the things that happened in the war, at that moment you just try to live it and not think about what's going on,” Usmanee told RingTV.com. “It’s terrifying to think about it now.”
After a two-year stay in Pakistan, Usmanee immigrated to Red Deer, Alberta with his mother, but without any knowledge of the English language.
When he enrolled in school and was standing in Phys-Ed glass, however, he saw something he was quite familiar with. A classmate walked in wearing a blood stained shirt, so Usmanee inquired where the crimson had come from.
His pal took him to the source, and within two months the new Canadian was four fights deep in an amateur career that eventually saw him win 143 bouts and capture five national championships. After four consecutive Canadian titles, he took off the headgear and found himself in the Scorched Earth that is professional boxing in the Western part of the country.
“Pro boxing in Alberta was just garbage. It's still garbage. I'm pissed off at those guys,” said Usmanee. “I was there, and they didn't do anything. They'd have these club shows, use guys with no pro fights, and give them a couple hundred dollars. Then they'd give me tickets to come watch these fights when I should be fighting on these shows.”
As a 27-year-old man, he needed to be the one making money—he needed to be selling those tickets. Though fights do indeed draw crowds in Alberta, the prospect of truly moving and developing prospects in Canada without fighting in Quebec is futile.
Manager Douggy Berneche took him under his wing and brought him to La Belle Province as a 5-0 novice, and the super featherweight dug into the trenches, fighting as hard and as often as he possibly could. Since his sixth professional fight, Usmanee has never had a layoff of more than three months and one day.
That staggering activity level is thanks in large part to small shows Berneche has put on in Montreal at the Chapiteau du CCSE Maisonneuve. Without a promoter for Usmanee, he takes on that role as well, funding the shows on a shoestring budget so that his fighter can remain active and move up in the rankings. Along the way, their association with trainer and Groupe Yvon Michel matchmaker Marc Ramsay has garnered them opportunities on national pay-per-view events at the Bell Centre.
“I'm the outsider, so I have to try extra hard to steal any show. Every time I walk in that ring, it's on my mind. My style kind of does the rest of the job. On more than a couple occasions, without my fight, the shows wouldn't have been quite as good,” said Usmanee (20-0, 10 knockouts), now a Montreal resident.
Evidently, ESPN executives took notice of his exciting affairs (as well as rankings in the WBO, WBA and IBF), and gave him the green light for a landmark step in his career, a Friday Night Fights headlining slot this week against Rances Barthelemy.
Usmanee, now 30, is unusually humble in assessing the biggest matchup of his career. It’s a fitting mentality, perhaps, given that despite a shining record and world rankings, he’s still a free-agent fighter without much fanfare.
“He's a good boxer. He's got good speed, he's got good power, everything he's got is good. But it's nothing extraordinary. I feel I'm the same way in those aspects,” said Usmanee. “I have a team, and we have common sense. You know what you've got. I honestly don't think there's a lot of boxers who know what they have. That's the problem. It's not really their fault. There's a couple of guys I know who are washed up 10 years ago but they still think they can be world champion.”
Unlike his shopworn contemporaries, “The Warrior” does have reason to believe he could one day wear gold around his waist. Already rated by three major sanctioning bodies—as high as No. 5 by the WBO—Usmanee could conceivably be chosen at any time to be a title challenger. A win over Barthelemy on Friday would push him into the No. 2 spot with the IBF.
And although neither country has exactlyhanded him opportunities, the Afghan-Canadian is determined to do something special for both places he belongs to. Despite a vibrant boxing scene, Canada is currently void of a world champion, while Afghanistan has never had just one fight on native soil in its history, let alone a titlist.
"Afghanis gave me my heart, and Canadians gave me a place where I can use my heart," said Usmanee. "We're trying to make history."
Follow Corey Erdman on Twitter @corey_erdman