By Jake Donovan
On the heels of his title win, Argenis Mendez is now prepared to headline his first pay-per-view event.The super featherweight titlist will make the first defense of his belt on August 23 in Las Vegas, against Canada-based Afghani boxer Arash Usmanee.
“I’m excited for this opportunity,” said Mendez (21-2, 11KO) who became a champ after stopping Juan Carlos Salgado in the 4th round of their title fight rematch this past March. “I have big plans in store for the future, beginning with Usmanee.”
The bout headlines a four-fight independent pay-view card. Among the supporting cast will be at least one more alphabet hardware at stake, as Claudio Marrero faces Jesus Cuellar in an interim featherweight title fight.
The timing of the news is peculiar; it comes on the heels of Rances Barthelemy establishing himself as Mendez’ mandatory following a 2nd round knockout of Fahsai Sakkreerin in their title eliminator Friday night in Minneapolis. Barthelemy made his way to the title eliminator by scoring a controversial decision in a fight that many had Usmanee (20-1, 10KO) winning with room to spare.
Mendez is required to satisfy his mandatory obligation by December 9, but is permitted an optional defense. The Dominican’s handlers tried in vain to secure a unification bout, but hit dead ends at every turn. Takashi Miura is scheduled to face Sergio ‘Yeyo’ Thompson on August 17, while negotiations never advanced beyond talk for a showdown with Takashi Uchiyama.
The most realistic option was a clash with Roman ‘Rocky’ Martinez. That dream died once it was discovered that the Puerto Rican was being groomed for a potential clash with unbeaten Mikey Garcia, who plans to move up in weight after conceding his featherweight title on the scales prior to last weekend’s knockout win over Juan Manuel Lopez.
Anxious to squeeze in a title defense before being forced to lock in to a mandatory challenge later this year, Mendez’ handlers sought out the services of Usmanee.
“I think it’s a good challenge for Argenis,” believes Jose Nunez, who signed Mendez – a member of the 2004 Dominican Republic Olympic boxing team – in 2006. “Usmanee is a tough kid, a very good boxer. It’s no gimme for Argenis, but it’s what he needs to remain focused and at his best.”
Two more bouts on the card pit rising contenders against former champions.
Aspiring light heavyweight Isiah Thomas is slated to face ex-light heavyweight king Glen Johnson, who is coming off of a win in April in the Dominican Republic. The nation boasts a recent breakout star in Juan Carlos Payano, who climbed off the canvas to stop Jundy Maraon in seven rounds last Friday on ESPN2 Friday Night Fights. The unbeaten bantamweight is being groomed for a showdown with former two-division titlist Roberto ‘La Araña’ Vazquez in a bout which – if finalized – could be for an interim bantamweight title.
Full details of the show are expected to be announced shortly, including a surprise on the promotional side of the event.
As for Mendez, he doesn’t want any surprises in his first title defense.
“All of my focus is on August 23. I’m not looking past that fight,” Mendez insists. “Barthelemy worked his way to the top, but he still has to go through me. After August 23, I’ll begin to work with my team on a game plan to beat him. Right now, it’s all about getting past (Usmanee).”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox