By Dave Spencer
Photo Herby Whyne
It will be a new year but a familiar foe for super-featherweight Arash Usmanee (20-0 10KO) as he battles fellow undefeated fighter Rances Barthelmy (17-0 11KO) to kick off a new season of ESPN Friday Night Fights January 4, 2013 in Miami Florida.
“Before the (2008) Olympics I was in Miami and I was training with him,” Usmanee revealed to FightNews in an exclusive interview. “I was actually going to turn pro in Miami and lived there for a year. We had the same trainer, we sparred a little bit, but four or five years ago Arash Usmanee then and Arash Usmanee now is definitely day and night.”
The Montreal based fighter isn’t entirely sure what his opponent may remember from sparring sessions and their time together, but realizes things change over time. “This is Arash Usmanee now and we’re preparing for Rances Barthelemy now, not the past.” But if his opponent wants to reminisce fondly, Usmanee is perfectly okay with it. “I hope he thinks he won and he comes with that same mentality, if he does, Arash will kick his ass,” said the thirty year-old of their time spent together in the ring.
Of course anytime two fighters get together in the ring, the first question asked is who got the better of who. "We were on the same team so we weren’t in there trying to kill each other and we were both working on things. But as competitive as boxers are, I didn’t want to get beat, he didn’t want to get beat, I don’t really want to say, but it was a good fight some really good sparring.”
Both fighters turned pro within a few months of each other in 2009 but Usmanee believes that he is the one who has progressed in the time since both have doffed the headgear. “I don’t see much change in him at all. He just has more fights on his record to be honest. My improvement compared to his is so different. I didn’t know the basics for so many years. I didn’t train like a professional, this wasn’t my full time job, I started taking things seriously and it became my career long after these guys already had careers. The change in me was so dramatic compared to most of these guys.”
Asked to elaborate on how he has grown as a fighter over the past five years, Usmanee has a dozen things he wants to say at once before summing it up, “Everything. Where do I start? Knowing where I am in the ring. To being able to gradually break fighters down instead of just going to war. Using my boxing skills instead of just out-hustling them. Now I can out-hustle them in a boxing manner. I just never utilized all of my skills before, I just went to war.”
Usmanee believes his experience and level of opposition will be enough to carry the day against Barthelemy who will be fighting in front of his home crowd along with the bright lights of TV. “There will be pressure on both of us, it’s good to be at home but I had 165 amateur fights and 70 percent of those were outside of Canada. I’m very comfortable being in his backyard. Most of my fights all my life have been away from home. In the boxing aspect there’s going to be pressure. Pressure is what will help you escalate; you can rise to the occasion. I like pressure, I love pressure, it makes me better, but it’s on both of us because the winner gets to go on.”
Part of that pressure will also be the television cameras, something Usmanee is definitely looking forward to. “It’s amazing. I’ve been watching this (FNF) for years, even before I was a boxer. To be on it is kind of a small dream come true. To be on Friday Night Fights, it usually the winner who gets to go on, it’s the spotlight, it’s the time to shine.”