On Aug. 23, in Verona, N.Y., Red Deer boxer Arash Usmanee will be fighting for the super-featherweight championship of the world. If he wins, he will be the first man from Alberta to ever achieve that honour.
“History when it is made, only happens once, you can’t make it happen again,” said Usmanee, 31. “It (the historical significance of the fight) is more important than anything. I am not fighting for money. I want this history and it is the most important thing for me to do!”
Six months ago, fighting for a world championship seemed like a distant hope for the professional boxer. After losing a controversial decision to Rances Barthelemy on ESPN2 Friday Night Fights, for the No. 2 ranking in the International Boxing Federation, the Canadian fighter saw his ranking drop and his dreams fade.
However, in a scene taken from the movie Rocky, IBF Champion Argenis Mendez and his team went on public record, that Usmanee was the real winner of the fight against Barthelemy, and therefore deserved to be their next title defence.
“I thank him for recognizing that and giving me the opportunity and acknowledging that I won the last fight,” said Usmanee.
Even though Usmanee has won five Canadian amateur championships, is a two-time Ringside World champion, a former North American Boxing Association superfeatherweight champion and World Boxing Council Continental Americas lightweight champion, he has fought in relative obscurity for most of his boxing career.
The loss on Jan. 4 — the first of his professional career — has actually turned into a big win for the former Red Deer Boxing Club fighter. Since the controversial decision, he has received more fan mail, support, interviews, and recognition than he has ever received in his previous 13 years of boxing. The support has included ESPN colour commentator Teddy Atlas, who was vehement that Usmanee was the real winner of the Barthelemy fight.
“The bad thing is I got a ‘L’ on my record and the good thing is that I have three times the amount of people following me than I did before,” explained the boxer. “I want to thank my people . . . My Afghan, my Canadians, my friends, my family, Islamic, non-Islamic, my fans from all over the world. Everybody who is watching me, I appreciate them very much!”
“At times like that last fight, you have no idea how difficult it is to come up from a fight like that and how discouraging it is as a fighter when you win like that and then you get robbed. It totally takes the passion, the desire to follow your passion. But when you hear fans, genuine fans telling you from their heart, that kind of boosts you to say, ‘I am going to give it another go.’”
The loss has also given Usmanee a chance to be more than just an athlete. He is now attracting media attention in his homeland having recently been interviewed by an Afghani radio station and the Afghani sport website: SportAf.
The Canadian is extremely proud of his Afghani heritage. Having lost his father to a Russian rocket, he is very aware of how violence plagues his homeland, and he wants to make a difference.
In Usmanee’s mind, Mendez is the man to beat in his division. The fighters match up on paper remarkably well. The boxer from the Dominican Republic, like Usmanee, has extensive amateur pedigree, with well over 200 fights, and is a former Pan American Boxing Championships gold medalist. As a professional, the Canadian has a 20-1 record with 10 KO’s, while Mendez comes in at 21-2, having stopped 11 of his opponents.
“We are matched up pretty well. Our records are pretty close. He was a high level amateur. I fought a few undefeated guys (as a professional). He has not fought too many, but the last few fights he has fought pretty tough, world calibre opponents. We were brought up the right way and the last few fights we have both been fighting world calibre opposition. Our experience is about the same level.”
One advantage the Canadian does have going into this bout is that the world has not yet seen the best of Arash Usmanee. Two weeks into training for the Barthelemy bout, Usmanee injured his shoulder, an injury that would have forced most athletes to withdraw from the contest.
“Prior to that fight, a month and a half before, I sprained my shoulder. After that, I didn’t do any upper body work and . . . in my opinion I didn’t have enough sparring for the fight. Those are major things.
“Everything is 100 per cent heading into this fight!”
Usmanee has also moved his camp from Montreal to Las Vegas where he is now training with former world light heavyweight champion Eddie Mustafa Muhammed. He believes the former champion is providing him with a different ideology on the sport of boxing.
“As a pro every fight counts and every fight is very important, but all of those fights point in this direction and to this summit. Everything that I have done has prepared me for this moment right now. Like being on top of Mount Everest and just about to throw down your flag. It is the highest point in my career. It is very important, it is the summit.”
Doug Rowe is a Red Deer freelance writer.