ISMAYL SYLLAKH vs. YORDANIS DESPAIGNE
Rounds / weight class: 10 rounds / light heavyweights
Location: Kissimmee, Fla.
The backdrop: Despite their lack of pro experience, Syllakh (14-0, 12 knockouts) and Despaigne (8-0, 4 KOs) are close to being world-class light heavyweights due to their extensive amateur backgrounds. Syllakh, a tall and rangy 26-year-old boxer-puncher from Ukraine, gave fans a glimpse of his considerable potential by stopping fringe contender Daniel Judah in two rounds on the undercard of the Bernard Hopkins-Roy Jones II undercard last April. Despaigne, a sturdily built former standout of Cuba’s renown amateur squad, did the same by shutting out former title challenger Richard Hall over 10 rounds in his just his sixth pro bout last May. Friday’s matchup is by far the toughest test either fighter has faced in the pro ranks. Syllakh, the naturally bigger man, has the edge in technique and punching power. However, the 31-year-old Despaigne is the more mature of the two. On the undercard, junior welterweight fringe contender Ray Narh (24-1, 21 KOs) looks to extend his unbeaten streak to 15-0 against former featherweight titleholder Freddie Norwood (43-3-1, 23 KOs).
Also fighting: Ray Narh vs. Freddie Norwood, 10 rounds, junior welterweights
Rating the card: B+. This fascinating Friday Night Fights main event promises to be competitive and the winner could be considered a Top-10 contender. Norwood, who is 41 years old, has seen better days, but Narh, a talented boxer-puncher from Ghana, is worth watching.
VICENTE ESCOBEDO vs. WALTER ESTRADA
Rounds / weight class: 10 rounds / lightweights
Location: Indio, Calif.
The backdrop: Escobedo (22-3, 14 KOs), who was soundly outpointed by Robert Guerrero in his last bout in November, looks to rebound against cagey southpaw Walter Estrada (38-13-1, 25 KOs), who followed a six-round draw against Canadian prospect Logan McGuinness with three consecutive victories, including an eight-round spilt decision over former lightweight champ Nate Campbell. Escobedo needs to look impressive against the 34-year-old Colombian journeyman and get back into the ring as soon as possible if he wants to salvage what was once a very promising career. The 2004 U.S. Olympian can still be a contender in the lightweight or junior lightweight divisions, but at age 29, time is quickly running out. On the undercard, advanced lightweight prospect Sharif Bogere (18-0, 11 KOs) takes on capable journeyman Shamir Reyes (18-8-2, 7 KOs).
Also fighting: Sharif Bogere vs. Shamir Reyes, eight rounds, lightweights
Rating the card: C+. Estrada is on a nice win streak but he’s still a journeyman. Escobedo should handle the veteran. Bogere is worth paying attention to. The 22-year-old Las Vegas-based Ugandan had the look of a future Top-10 contender while going 5-0 last year. Reyes, a well schooled 30-year-old southpaw, was once a prospect himself but the Brooklynite is winless in his last six bouts.
Also on Friday: Former light heavyweight contender Yusaf Mack takes on fringe contender Otis Griffin in a 12-round title elimination bout in Woodland Hills, Calif. In the co-featured bout, Wild Card Boxing Club regular Raymundo Beltran tries to shake the “sparring partner” label with a victory over Carlos Vinan in a scheduled 12-round lightweight bout.
SAUL ALVAREZ vs. MATTHEW HATTON
Rounds / weight class: 12 rounds / junior middleweights
Location: Anaheim, Calif.
The backdrop: Alvarez (35-0-1, 26 KOs), the 20-year-old phenom who is already wildly popular in his native Mexico, looks to build a following in Southern California and make a name for himself in America beginning with this Boxing After Dark main event against Hatton (41-4-2, 16 KOs), the European welterweight champ and younger brother of former junior welterweight champ Ricky Hatton. Alvarez appears to have the clear advantage in size, power and athleticism, but the freckle-faced Mexican’s durability is still a bit of a question mark. As formidable as Alvarez looked knocking out faded former champ Carlos Baldomir last September, it’s hard to shake the image of him being badly rocked in the first round against Jose Cotto, a natural lightweight, last May. Nothing really stands out in Hatton’s repertoire but the Briton is an experienced pro who has come into his own over the past 2½ years, a span in which he’s gone unbeaten in his last nine bouts, including a decision over solid Ukrainian veteran Yuriy Nuzhnenko. On the undercard, former junior featherweight beltholder Daniel Ponce de Leon (41-2, 34 KOs) takes on undefeated lightweight prospect Adrien Broner (19-0, 16 KOs) in an intriguing 130-pound catchweight bout.
Also fighting: Daniel Ponce de Leon vs. Adrien Broner, 10 rounds, junior lightweights
Rating the card: B+. Alvarez has yet to prove that he’s the future star his promotional company, Golden Boy Promotions, says he is, but he has an entertaining style and it will be interesting to see how he handles a mature, more-experienced fighter who is still in his prime such as Hatton. It will also be interesting to see if the greater size and speed of Broner, a cocky 22-year-old former amateur standout from Cincinnati, Ohio, can trump the experience and heavy-handed fierceness of de Leon.
ZAB JUDAH vs. KAIZER MABUZA
Rounds / weight class: 12 rounds / welterweights
Location: Newark, N.J.
Television: Integrated Sports Pay Per View
The backdrop: After a five-year campaign in the 147-pound division, which included a stint as the undisputed welterweight champ, Judah (40-6, 27 KOs) returned to the 140-pound weight class last year in hopes of earning a title shot there. The 33-year-old veteran knocked out Jose Armando Santa Cruz and narrowly outpointed Lucas Matthysse to get his wish, a shot at the vacant IBF belt he once held against tough South African Kaizer Mabuza (23-6-3, 14 KOs), a 30-year-old contender who has won eight in a row, including a six-round stoppage of former belt holder Kendall Holt in his last bout. On the undercard, Sadam Ali (11-0, 6 KOs), perhaps the most ballyhooed prospect to come out of New York City since Judah, takes on heavy-handed journeyman Juliano Ramos (16-4, 13 KOs).
Also fighting: Sadam Ali vs. Juliano Ramos, eight rounds, welterweights
Rating the card: B. Judah has the edge in experience, speed and power but Mabuza, THE RING’s No. 7-rated junior welterweight, is a sturdy comer who should make for a competitive fight. Ali is a superbly talented boxer who is taking a slight step up in opposition with Ramos, a 31-year-old veteran who has been stopped in three of his last four bouts, but those fights were against Kermit Cintron, Mike Jones and Cuban standout Yudel Jhonson.
HUMBERTO SOTO vs. FIDEL MUNOZ
Rounds / weight class: 10 rounds / junior welterweights
Location: Tepic, Mexico
Television: Fox Deportes
The backdrop: Call this headliner in Nayarit, Mexico, “the rematch before the rematch.” WBC lightweight beltholder Soto (54-7-2, 32 KOs) takes on Munoz (25-2, 19 KOs), who he out pointed in a competitive title bout last September, before his anticipated rematch with Urbano Antillon on the undercard of the Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley fight on May 7. Soto’s non-title rematch with Munoz, who has won two bouts since their first encounter, won’t be nearly as good as his first fight with Antillon but it’s worth watching to fans who are curious how the red-hot lightweight division may play out later in the year. On the undercard, Nayarit native Juan Alberto Rojas, a 26-year-old former junior bantamweight beltholder, looks to rebound from a close decision loss to Crisitian Mijares by fighting 34-year-old former four-time title challenger Everardo Morales.
Also fighting: Juan Alberto Josas vs. Everardo Morales, 10 rounds, junior lightweights
Rating the card: B-. Soto, THE RING’s No. 2-rated lightweight, should probably be resting up for his return bout with Antillon, but the man likes to stay busy. Good for him. Munoz, a solid fighter from Colombia, will give Soto the opportunity to display his considerable skill and ring generalship. Rojas should have little trouble with the shopworn Morales, who he outpointed in 2005.