By Jake Donovan
For the second straight year, Rances Barthelemy emerged victorious in the season opener of ESPN2 Friday Night Fights.
For the second straight year, such a win is potentially overshadowed by surrounding controversy.
Two knockdowns scored by the upbeat challenger led to a major upset right in the first major fight of 2014, as Barthelemy stopped Argenis Mendez in two rounds Friday evening at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Mendez was atrociously slow to start the contest, a strategy that miserably failed the Dominican talent. Barthelemy created the first anxious moment of the fight less than a minute in, rocking Mendez with a combination but never able to properly follow up the sequence.
At least not until round two.
The first of two knockdowns came towards the end of the round. An uppercut caused Mendez to lose his footing, with a pair of left hooks driving him backwards. Barthelemy continued to throw punches until Mendez collapsed to the canvas in a heap, to the surprise of everyone watching - including Barthelemy himself.
"I tried to use my distance. The jab was key. I was surprised that (the knockout) came so early," Barthelemy confessed during his post-fight interview.
Mendez barely beat the count, complaining of being hit behind the head as he rose to his feet. There was little time left in the round, but Barthelemy had the finish line well within his sights.
The fight-ending sequence was cause for a planned protest from Mendez' handlers. Barthelemy scored a blow right before the bell, but continued to throw punches as referee Peter Podgorski was slow to get into proper position. Two more punches landed well after the bell, putting Mendez down and out as the referee waved off the contest.
The official time was 2:59 of round two.
For the moment, it goes into the books as a second-round knockout for Barthelemy, who improves to 20-0 (13KO) as he win a 130 lb. title in the process. Despite the disputed ending, the win was far more convincing than his questionable unanimous decision nod over Arash Usmanee exactly 52 weeks ago.
Usmanee went on to fight for the title anyway, holding Mendez to a draw in the ESPN2 Friday Night Fights season finale last August. Friday's verdict marked Mendez' attempted second title defense, meaning he hasn't won since claiming the title with a 4th round knockout over Juan Carlos Salgado in their rematch last March.
The loss ends Mendez' four-fight win streak as he falls to 21-3-1 (11KO). Whether forced by the commission or simply on the honor system, it appears that a chance at redemption is in the cards for the now ex-titlist.
"We're going after the rematch," insists former heavyweight king Mike Tyson, Mendez' promoter. "Rances is a great fighter, there's no doubt about it. But (Mendez) was hit after the bell."
Regardless of what plays out, the new champ is certainly open to giving Mendez another shot to reclaim his title. It matters little that he was forced to wait out his shot, watching another fighter he beat (however disputed) fight for the title before him.
As proven in his performance Friday evening, the latest entrant to the top of a loaded 130 lb. division is ready to take on all comers, no matter the circumstance.
"I would be happy to give him a rematch," Barthelemy graciously extended after the fight. "I want to fight the the best, it doesn't matter who it is."
Erickson Lubin continues to the smooth transition from red hot amateur to rising young prospect. The teenage welterweight made the most of his televised debut, even if he didn't bother sticking around very long, taking out debuting Luis Santiago in the opening round of their swing bout.
The southpaw boxer was in control for the duration of the brief affair, which ended with Santiago floored in his corner and given a count before the fight was waved off. The official time was 1:01 of round one.
Lubin was pegged the best chance for the United States boxing team to claim a medal in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Instead, the 18-year old opted to leave the amateur ranks in favor of a pro career, signing with Iron Mike Productions last October, one day after turning 18 years old.
His pro career thus far has lasted a grand total of 96 seconds through two fights, having turned pro last November in Sunrise, Florida, relatively close to his Miami hometown. Friday's win advances Lubin's record to 2-0 (2KO), as he is tentatively scheduled to return to the ring next month in Chicago, on a show that will air on ESPN2 Friday Night Fights.
Caleb Truax overcame a sluggish start to avoid an upset over a determined Ossie Duran, having to settle for a 10-round draw in the evening's televised co-feature.
Scores were 95-95 across the board.
Duran is infamous for being a handful for plenty of prospects and notable fighters he's faced over the years. Friday's bout was no exception, as Truax was slow out of the gate and forced to contend with a busted nose early in the fight.
The second half of the contest told a completely different story. Truax was able to put together his punches more effectively after landing next to nothing in the early rounds. Duran's best moments down the stretch came in spurts, some of which were enough to steal enough key rounds to nearly pull off the upset.
Instead, the 36-year old will have to settle for disallowing his opponent to claim a home win, a verdict that did not well with the partisan crowd on hand.
Truax is now 23-1-1 (14KO) with the win, unbeaten through his past six bouts. The lone loss of his career was also a rare road fight, coming up short against faded former middleweight king Jermain Taylor in their April '12 ShoBox-televised bout.
Duran, a late replacement for Derek Ennis, is now 28-11-3 (11KO). The Ghana native, now based out of Northern New Jersey, has just one win in his past five contests.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox