Local title fights have been virtually non-existent over the past five years. Not since Hard Rock Live Arena reduced its boxing presence earlier in the decade have South Florida fight fans been treated to frequent world championship events.
Perhaps it’s temporary, but the drought will finally end Thursday night.
AmericanAirlines Arena, which last hosted a boxing show in December 2010, will be the site of the International Boxing Federation junior-lightweight title fight between champion Argenis Mendez and Miami resident Rances Barthelemy.
Mendez and Barthelemy will meet in a return bout of their first match that ended in a no-contest on Jan. 3 in Minneapolis. Initially, Barthelemy was declared a second-round knockout winner, but his fight-ending punch occurred after the bell to end the round.
Mendez’s promotional company, Iron Mike Productions, successfully appealed the Barthelemy victory, and the bout’s outcome was reversed to a no-contest. After the IBF ordered an immediate rematch, Iron Mike Productions won the sanctioning’s body purse bid to promote the second bout.
“You don’t always get a second chance to correct a mistake, but we were able to get Argenis a rematch,” said former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, Iron Mike’s president. “Hopefully, he will take advantage of it.”
Barthelemy believes his victory was warranted and initially felt disillusioned with the reversal to the no-contest. But the native of Cuba still finds motivation in the second opportunity.
The Mendez-Barthelemy rematch will be televised by Fox Sports1 and will headline a scheduled nine-bout card. The undercard will feature a light-heavyweight match between Miami resident Umberto Savigne and former U.S. Olympian Jeff Lacy.
Also scheduled to fight on the undercard is undefeated prospect Erickson Lubin of Orlando. A multiple national amateur champion before turning professional last year, Lubin (5-0, 5 KOs) will face Noe Bolaños in a scheduled eight-round welterweight bout.
Thursday’s title fight is the first in South Florida since Guillermo Jones retained his cruiserweight belt against Michael Marrone at Hard Rock Live Arena in November 2011.
For the third consecutive fight, Alvarez will be part of a pay-per-view headliner. Alvarez will face former Miami resident Erislandy Lara on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
Alvarez’s emergence in marquee bouts coincides with the popularity he has reached in his native Mexico. Fights featuring Alvarez (43-1-1, 31 KOs) have become must-see events.
But with that popularity comes the heightened expectation to win.
“There is no extra pressure on me for this fight,” Alvarez said. “I’m as confident and relaxed as I always am. I’m prepared for whatever Lara has to offer. At this level, you have to be able to adapt and make the necessary adjustments.”
Lara (19-1-2, 12 KOs) approached Alvarez after the post-fight news conference of Alvarez’s TKO victory over Alfredo Angulo in March, lobbying for a future fight. Initially, Alvarez ignored Lara’s sales pitch and questioned his appeal to headline a pay-per-view fight before accepting the match weeks later.
“Originally, I thought he would never take the fight because I confronted him in person and he said, ‘No, this is not how you make fights,’ ” Lara said.
A native of Cuba, Lara moved to Houston two years ago. Lara, 31, acknowledges the significance of what a victory against Alvarez would mean to his career.
“For me to demonstrate to the world that I’m not just better than him, but that I’m 150 percent than him means everything to me,” Lara said. “If I focus on training to win, there’s no one in the world that can beat me.”
Although Alvarez and Lara are considered two of the best junior middleweights in the sport, Saturday’s bout will be at a catch weight of 155 pounds.