Arash Usmanee fought like a man who didn’t trust what the scorecards would look like.
As it turned out, it was a debatable call by the referee that could have cost him a world title.
Usmanee battled IBF junior lightweight champion Argenis Mendez to a majority draw on Friday night in Verona, NY in the main event of ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights. Scores were 114-114 twice, and 115-113 Usmanee.
Scores ringside and online were varied, including plenty favoring Mendez. However, as the scorecards were, a non-knockdown call in the 12th round caused a draw instead of a unanimous decision victory for Usmanee. The Afghani-Canadian landed a cuffing right hand that caught Mendez off-balance, and the champion’s glove appeared to have touched the canvas.
Unlike when he came up short against Rances Barthelemy earlier this year though, Usmanee was quite receptive of the result.
“It was a very close fight; it depends on how you judge it. I thought I was the aggressor, but it could have gone either way,” said Usmanee.
It was a high-paced brawl that seemed to fall into Usmanee’s plans in the early going. Mendez (21-2-1, 11 KOs) languished on the ropes and was outworked as he looked for home run counters. Though he slowly started to time Usmanee, it wasn’t until the sixth round that the titlist matched his aggression and controlled the center of the ring.
Eventually, Mendez started to tee off and landed chopping rights and quick check hooks from range, stopping Usmanee in his tracks.
The final two rounds were back and forth action that saw both men affected by one another’s shots at one point or another.
Mendez leaves with his title, and his promoter Mike Tyson announced that he would be interested in matching him with either Roman Martinez or Yuriorkis Gamboa.
“We’re going to match our fighters tough. If we lose, we lose, but we have to see where our starting point’s at,” said Tyson.
In the night’s co-feature, Jesus Cuellar captured the interim WBA featherweight title, defeating Claudio Marrero by unanimous decision. Scores were 115-112, 114-113 and 116-111.
Ultimately, Cuellar, 26, Buenos Aires, Argentina, outhustled Marrero, which defied the logic set in place by the fact that he took three attempts to make the 126-pound limit the day before.
In the 6th round, Cuellar landed an overhand left that stunned Marrero, and immediately followed up. Marrero fell through the ropes after getting hit with another left while trying to duck and weave, resulting in a knockdown.
The setback perhaps made Marrero, 24, Santo Domingo, D.R., forget about evasiveness altogether, and though he didn’t necessarily win the exchanges, he willingly played Cuellar’s game for a seventh round that may wind up in the Round of the Year conversation by the end of 2013. Both men eschewed strategy and straight punching and simply swung away for three minutes, ending the round weary and breathing heavily by the bell.
Marrero rallied back to arguably win the following round, using his legs to keep his opponent at bay. The following round though, he went right back into the fire, getting cut over his right eye by a scraping left hand. The Dominican was hurt badly in the final 20 seconds of round 8, and the referee nearly waved the fight off.
The pace tapered off until the final round, which was nearly as wild as the seventh. Marrero nearly pulled a miracle stoppage with Cuellar staggered in the home stretch, but was unable to capitalize.
Earlier on in the night, junior lightweight prospect Alexei Collado scored a fourth-round TKO over late substitute Guillermo Sanchez. The bout was the opener of the bonus ESPN3 coverage.
Collado (15-0, 12 KOs) buzzed Sanchez (13-10-1, 5 KOs) with a sweeping right hand early in the 2nd round, and continued to batter him around the ring for two and a half minutes. “The Mexican Cuban” took the attack downstairs in the 3rd, walking through Sanchez’s occasional poking left hands and digging to the body. The body barrage evidently paid dividends, as Collado hurt him with a left hand along the ropes, and the fight was stopped with Sanchez still standing and exhausted.
Elsewhere on the card, fringe welterweight contender Ed Paredes cruised to a dreary 10-round unanimous decision over journeyman Noe Bolanos. The Hollywood, Fla. native has a reputation as a power puncher, but aside from a looping right hand in the second round, Paredes spent most of the time shoeshining on the inside and smothering his own power.
Scores were 99-91 across the board.