This Friday night at 9 p.m. ET on Spike, Premier Boxing Champions is back with a world title fight in the lightweight division, and a solid bantamweight co-feature showcasing a rising prospect against a young veteran in a Puerto Rico vs Mexico battle.
Here's a look at the two fights you'll see tomorrow night, and remember we'll have live coverage.
Rances Barthelemy vs Mickey Bey
Record: 24-0 (13 KO) ... Streak: W5 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 9-0 (1 NC) ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5'11" / 73" ... Age: 29
Thoughts: Barthelemy had a fight in January 2013 on Friday Night Fights against Arash Usmanee. The Cuban was extremely lucky to get out of that fight with a win. I scored it 116-112 for Usmanee, and if you don't trust my card, which is fair enough, Teddy Atlas had it 117-111 for Usmanee on the live broadcast. However you feel about Teddy, I think we can all agree he knows fights.
But since then, Barthelemy has lived up to the hype. Consider it a hiccup. A year after the fight, he faced Argenis Mendez for the IBF super featherweight title, and initially won a second round knockout, but the result was rightly changed to a no decision after it was ruled that Barthelemy's KO punch landed after the bell. A rematch six months later saw Barthelemy win pretty handily over 12 rounds. He made one defense, a shutout over David Saucedo, before jumping up in weight.
Last June, Barthelemy was at 140 when he routed Antonio DeMarco, a former lightweight titleholder at the back end of his career. And in December, he dropped down to 135 himself to face Denis Shafikov, the guy that Mickey Bey avoided, to win the vacant IBF lightweight belt, which he now defends for the first time.
He's also become a more enjoyable fighter to watch over this run, and has the height and reach to conceivably translate up in weight quite well. He has a decent argument as the best lightweight in the world right now -- as do Terry Flanagan, Anthony Crolla, and Jorge Linares, to be fair, and Dejan Zlaticanin may soon enter that conversation. It's not a division with big names or GREAT! fighters, but it's very competitive, and that makes it more fun than it might be otherwise. This fight isn't really part of that, but Barthelemy has to face someone, and Bey is available in-house for PBC.
Record: 22-1-1 (10 KO) ... Streak: W4 ... Last 5: 4-1 ... Last 10: 7-1-1 (1 NC) ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5'9" / 69" ... Age: 32
Thoughts: I've never been terribly impressed with Bey's skills and never felt he was a world class fighter. I'd dance around that, but why bother? He's an OK fighter whose career has been aided greatly by his association with the Mayweather team. He's not exactly a top contender, no matter what sanctioning bodies say, and that's because he's never really scored a quality win.
His best win is over Miguel Vazquez, obviously, but that was a robbery. After that, you're looking at guys like Alan Herrera, Naim Nelson, and Hector Velazquez. That's what he's done in an 11-year pro career. He was well on his way to a win over John Molina in 2013, but Molina rallied in the final round for a great knockout after losing at least eight of the first nine rounds.
That wasn't the first time Bey showed vulnerability, either, nor the last. He was dropped by Velazquez in 2011, which was a pretty competitive fight. He was dropped by Herrera in 2014.
In 2013, between the Velazquez and Molina fights, he tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone.
After he "beat" Vazquez to win the IBF lightweight title, he was mandated to face Denis Shafikov. Mayweather Promotions tried to put the fight together, and Bey stalled. They got frustrated and let it go to purse bid, which Top Rank won cheap, and they had the fight set for a card in Macau. Bey chose not to take the fight, vacating his belt. He basically reached the top of the mountain, as it were, and then jumped off.
He's not a puncher. He's not really all that slick, despite having a slick sort of style. He can be very dull to watch. Bey's had a relevance that is somewhat puzzling when you really look over his résumé, but boxing can work that way. With his team back behind him, he's got himself a title shot. He doesn't really deserve it.
Matchup Grade: C. It's hard to be too down on this fight, because it's easy to spin it as important, what with Bey never having lost his title. But he never should have won it, either, and he never did defend it, purposely avoiding his mandatory. Barthelemy is on a great run and worth tuning in to see, but the matchup is passable at best, and Bey is pretty decent at stinking fights out if he wants.
Emmanuel Rodriguez vs Alberto Guevara
Record: 14-0 (10 KO) ... Streak: W14 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5'6" / 66½" ... Age: 23
Thoughts: Rodriguez was a terrific young amateur as a teenager, winning gold as a flyweight at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, and silver at the AIBA Youth World Championships that same year in Baku, representing Puerto Rico. He became his country's top amateur flyweight by beating Jonathan "Bomba" Gonzalez.
But his career nearly ended in late 2010, when he was involved in an automobile accident that left him with second degree burns over two thirds of his body. He was back doing light training not long after, but was out of competition for about nine months. In the meantime, another top young flyweight had come up in the ranks, and Jeyvier Cintron dethroned Rodriguez on the national level and qualified for the 2012 Olympics in London.
So Rodriguez went pro in June 2012 in Guaynabo, and won his first four fights by stoppage. Last year, he fought four times, beating Gabor Molnar, Luis Hinojosa, Alex Rangel, and Eliecer Aquino, the latter his best win to date, a seventh round TKO on a PBC on ESPN card in Florida.
Style-wise, he's a boxer-puncher with solid power, winning his last five in a row by stoppage, three of them clean knockouts, and that was against his better opposition to date. He takes another step up or perhaps a sideways step here, against a fighter who's got experience against elite opponents.
Record: 24-2 (9 KO) ... Streak: W6 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 8-2 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5'6" / 67" ... Age: 25
Thoughts: Guevara's not a bad fighter, and a nice step up for the young prospect (not that Guevara is some old war horse at 25). You'll probably remember Guevara from his December 2012 loss to Leo Santa Cruz, when Oscar De La Hoya and Golden Boy very successfully brought boxing back to network TV on CBS, an afternoon show at the LA Sports Arena.
Since then, Guevara has also lost to Shinsuke Yamanaka in 2013, but has otherwise won fights against mid or lower tier opponents, outside of a win over then-unbeaten Jonathan Vidal in July 2013, four months before he fought Yamanaka. Vidal has sort of fallen apart since then, but he was a prospect at the time.
Now Guevara faces another unbeaten young Puerto Rican prospect, but Rodriguez is simply better than Vidal was. But while Guevara may not have much by way of big quality wins, his only losses have come to a pair of legitimate world class fighters in world title bouts, and he gave Santa Cruz a pretty decent scrap that night, though part of that was Santa Cruz being a little fatigued, having four in June, September, and November before that December evening. It was also Santa Cruz's last fight as a bantamweight.
Matchup Grade: B-. Smart money is on the prospect, but this is a test to see where he's at. As said above, Guevara's only lost to legitimate world class fighters. But he doesn't have a win over anyone with Rodriguez's talent, either. For Rodriguez, this might be a sideways step, but it's the right sort of fight. Perfectly good matchmaking.