By Jake Donovan
The evening began with a heavy lean towards the promotional debut of former heavyweight king Mike Tyson. Along the way, the in-ring action finally took center stage but ended on a strange note as Argenis Mendez and Arash Usmanne fought to a majority draw in their ESPN2-televised main event.
Scores were 115-113 Usmanee and 114-114 (twice) in the main event Friday evening at Turning Stone Casino in Verona, New York.
The bout came down to whether you preferred Mendez' superior boxing skills or Usmanee's non-stop aggression. While opinions varied through the first several rounds, the common line of thinking overall was that Mendez was in control and effect both as a counterpuncher and in making the challenger miss with the majority of his punches.
It wasn't that way throughout the night, but the final scores suggested that Usmanee proved effective in moving forward, even if he was mostly catching air, gloves and forearms with most of his punches. Mendez laid on the ropes perhaps a bit too much for the judges' scoring, a fight-long indication that defense isn't always appreciated in the eyes of the judges.
Mendez hit his stride by round five, putting on a boxing clinic for the next several rounds. Guided by noted trainer Lee Beard, a master display of hit-and-don't-get-hit was exhibited by the Dominican boxer as he seemed to pile up rounds.
Usmanee appeared to run out of steam as the bout wore on, but was able to enjoy his best moments of the fight in the final three rounds. The rally began with a surge towards the end of the 10th round and spilled over into round eleven. Mendez was stunned by round's end, but heeded the advice of his trainer and came out fighting in the 12th and final round.
Similar instructions were offered to Usmanee by his head trainer, former light heavyweight champion Eddie Mustafa Muhammad. The Afghanistan-born fighter, now based out of Montreal, once again had the defending titlist hurt in the final minute of the fight, but was clipped himself in the closing seconds of their entertaining title fight.
That the fight ended in a draw was a disappointing to most, as it appeared Mendez did enough to win. That one judge (Don Ackerman) had Usmanee ahead on one card makes the majority draw a bit less tolerable.
Mendez moves to 21-2-1 (11KO) in his first fight since wresting the 130 lb. title from Juan Carlos Salgado earlier this year.
Usmanee is now 20-1-1 (10KO). The bout was his second consecutive non-win, with the two fights having served as bookends to the 2013 Friday Night Fights season. His year began laced in controversy, as the three judges horribly scored his points loss to Rances Barthelemy in the ESPN Friday Night Fights season opener back in January.
In the televised co-feature, Jesus Cuellar scored an upset with a unanimous decision over previously unbeaten Claudio Marrero. Scores were 116-111, 115-112 and 114-113.
Cuellar was aggressive from the opening bell, while Marrero spent most of the first half of the fight stuck between styles. The lackadaisical nature of the Dominican indirectly led to the bout's lone knockdown, which Marrero insisted was a slip.
The sequence woke up Marrero, leading to a free-swinging round seven that deserves consideration for one of the best three-minute frames of 2013. Deep in a hole, Marrero went for broke and laid into Cuellar, who was badly hurt but somehow weathered the storm and turned the tide late in the round.
Skill gave way to will in the remainder of the bout. Both fighters were spent, but still determined to seize control. Marrero offered a strong finish, but was already too far down on the scorecards to make up the difference.
Cuellar comes up big in his first fight outside of his native Argentina, as he improves to 23-1 (18KO). With the win comes a vacant interim featherweight title, though whether he will have to eventually face Chris John or Nicholas Walters is a mess for the WBA to figure.
Marrero suffers his first pro loss as he falls to 14-1 (11KO). The bout was his first since a 4th round knockout of Mauricio Martinez last August. Marrero had the opportunity to take a stay busy fight in June, but was pulled from the show when his handlers were unable to secure a willing opponent.
The telecast received a highlight in its first five minutes, as ESPN2 cameras caught Tyson and Teddy Atlas shaking hands prior to the start of the show. The moment comes 30 years after their time spent together as trainer and amateur fighter at the late Cus D'Amato's gym in the Catskills.
Their relationship was brief, as Tyson - 16 at the time - made inappropriate advances towards Atlas' 11-year old niece. Atlas addressed the issue by allegedly putting a gun to Tyson's head and threatening to kill him if he ever again touched a member of the trainer's family. The incident led to Atlas' dismissal from D'Amato's gym.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as the Records Keeper for the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and a member of Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox