Fortuna, Franco set for featherweight duel

In a much-anticipated fight in the featherweight division, former interim titlist Javier Fortuna faces Luis Franco in the main event of ESPN's "Friday Night Fights" (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET) from the Buffalo Run Casino in Miami, Okla.

This 10-round bout features a clash of styles between the knockout artist Fortuna (22-0, 16 KOs), an aggressive and physically solid southpaw from the Dominican Republic, and Cuba's Franco (11-1, 7 KOs), who possesses good footwork and technical abilities from a long amateur career of 400-plus fights.

Fortuna, trained by Pablo Sarmiento (the head trainer for Sergio Martinez), is coming off a first-round KO over Mexico's Miguel Zamudio. Before the fight, however, Fortuna was stripped of his interim title after failing to make weight.

"I was surprised when I didn't make weight," Fortuna said. "I am upset by that and I promise it will never happen again."

Sampson Lewkowicz, who promotes Fortuna, provided this explanation: "Javier was alone during the training camp, because his interim trainer, Vicente de la Cruz, didn't arrive on training camp until the day of the fight due to visa problems."

It must be said that Sarmiento did not accompany the fighter, either, since he was training Martinez at the time for his April 27 fight in Buenos Aires against Martin Murray. Another aspect that might have affected Fortuna's preparation was the death of his father in February.

For Friday’s bout, normalcy seems to have returned to Fortuna's camp.

"Javier has had nine weeks of training in Oxnard, California, for this fight," Lewkowicz said.

Franco, who was a member of the Cuban Olympic team in 2004, is coming off a controversial unanimous decision defeat against Argentina's Mauricio Munoz in Argentina. Munoz's subsequent injury, however, opened the doors for Franco to get a title shot against Billy Dib in March. But in an inexplicable decision, Franco decided to retire rather than take the fight for the $20,000 purse.

"[Franco] withdrew from the fight, he stopped training. There are no possible explanations, unless there is a psychotic outbreak involved," Franco's co-manager, Henry Foster, said at the time. Later, Franco himself said, "I am through with boxing, I am quitting."

Franco, who is ironically taking even less money ($15,000) for Friday's bout than he was offered to face Dib, later recanted his decision and decided to return.

The fight with Fortuna could open the door to a title shot, although it will likely prove to be a difficult test. Franco returns to the ring 10 months after his last fight, following an unstable period in his career, which may have affected his preparation.

His trainer, Jorge Rubio, believes Franco will be well-prepared on the night of the fight.

"Luis began his physical preparation two months ago, has trained very hard, and has faced a left-handed sparring partner," Rubio said. "Fortuna is a big puncher, but I believe we are going to win this fight."

Fortuna will likely have his moments early by imposing his frantic rhythm in search of a knockout. Franco will look to move laterally while avoiding open exchanges and countering from distance. If Franco can overcome Fortuna's early assault, he will impose his slower style by relying on technique and good combinations from multiple angles.

In the co-main event, former welterweight titlist Kermit Cintron (33-5-2, 28 KOs) faces Jonathan Batista (14-1, 7 KOs).

Cintron, who continues his comeback fresh off a 10-round draw against Adrian Granados, knows his future likely hangs on a potential victory. Batista, on the other side, is a rising Dominican prospect with solid expectations for the future.