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Usmanee taking on top-ranked fighter

For most fighters, stepping into the ring on short notice against a No. 1 contender would be a daunting task.

But for Arash Usmanee, whose will was forged as a child in war-torn Afghanistan, fighting Ray Beltran as part of the co-main event on the Manny Pacquiao-Tim Bradley undercard this Saturday in Las Vegas is an opportunity that he could not turn down.

“I am a warrior, and this is a fight,” explained Usmanee, 20-1-1 with 10 knockouts. “It was perfect! . . . I had to decide if I was in shape enough to go 12 hard rounds against a tough guy at a higher weight. I thought about it and talked to my trainer and I accepted the fight.”

Beltran, 28-6-1 with 17 KO’s, was originally scheduled to fight former WBO super featherweight champion Roman Martinez. Martinez got sick and pulled out at the last minute, leaving Top Rank scrambling for an opponent nine days before the big card.

Part of the Red Deer boxer’s motivation to take the fight was the fact that he has been working intensely with a new trainer, Gil Martinez, who replaced Eddie Mustafa Mohammed.

“He is awesome, he is amazing,” explained Usmanee. “He is honestly one of the best trainers, I have ever, I have ever seen in boxing . . . He makes you a better athlete, a better boxer, he teaches you to hit without getting hit, and to hit hard without getting hit at all. That is his method of teaching and it is very good and I really enjoy the training. We are ready for this fight.”

Usmanee is not worried about the 12-round distance, because even though he hasn’t had a camp to prepare for the bout, he has been working with Martinez four hours a day, six days a week, for eight weeks.

He is also not worried about moving up a weight division to take on the No. 1 ranked WBO lightweight in the world, because his last two opponents — Argenis Mendez and Rances Barthelemy — were exceptionally large super-featherweights. Usmanee is also the former WBC Continental Americas lightweight champion, almost shutting out Chris Howard — in Howard’s hometown of Atlanta — to win the title.

The former five-time Canadian amateur champion sees his bout for the WBO NABO lightweight championship — on HBO pay-per-view from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas — as a tremendous battle of wills.

“He is a Mexican, he is a tough guy. He moves forward, he hits hard and takes a good shot,” explained Usmanee. “When you look at my style, I am pretty much like a Mexican. It is going to be a clash, like a tsunami and a hurricane colliding.”

The similarity between the two fighters goes beyond just style, both are 32 years old, both five-foot-eight, and both experienced controversial draws against world champions in their last fights — Beltran with a draw against WBO lightweight champion Ricky Burns last September, and Usmanee against WBA superfeatherweight champion Mendez, in August.

“They know very well what they are getting into,” said Usmanee. “They took their time deciding on whether or not to take the bout. They know, and they will come prepared. I think they know that I am a more difficult fight for them than Martinez.”



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