Boxing: Albert Mensah

He has had a stellar camp, he says, and friends tell him they haven't seen him this amped and looking this fresh right before a fight in years. He has a new trainer, whom he says is as hands-on and experienced as any he has dealt with ... but Michael Katsidis concedes that he won't truly know what he has left until he steps into the ring against Albert Mensah for this week's "Friday Night Fights" main event at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas.

When Katsidis arrived on our radar screens, he immediately showed a style that suggested longevity wouldn't be one of his hallmarks. After his fan-friendly (if not body- and brain-friendly) rumbles with Joel Casamayor, Juan Diaz, Jesus Chavez, Vicente Escobedo and Juan Manuel Marquez, we are left to wonder how much longer the Australian-born California resident will ply this savage trade.

After scoring a third-round knockdown of Marquez before ultimately being stopped in their November 2010 clash, Katsidis was handled easily by Robert Guerrero in April 2011. He stopped journeyman Michael Lozada four months later, and in his most recent outing, Katsidis dropped a unanimous decision to solid Scot Ricky Burns in a bid for an interim lightweight crown.

I put it to the 31-year-old Katsidis bluntly: How much do you have left?

"I'm curious myself. It's wait-and-see," he said via phone. "I've been strong in the gym. I have a good trainer, Justin Fortune, I'm working with. I'm at an important stage of my career. I think it will be a turning point."

Make no mistake, the vibe I got from Katsidis isn't one of a vet playing out the string or a guy with half his arse in the hammock.

"I'm enjoying what I'm doing," he said. "You've been at this a long time. Let me ask you: Do I sound shot?"

No, indeed.

The 29-year-old Ghana-born Mensah (19-3-1, 7 KOs) shouldn't be a bridge too far for the rugged brawler, who seems genetically unable to think of taking a backward step in a fight. Katsidis sees Mensah -- who lives in Chicago but whose only fight on U.S. soil came in his most recent bout, last July's 12-round majority decision win against Andre Gorges -- as a rangy hitter but something of a wild card.

"With Ghanians," Katsidis said, "you can expect the unexpected."

I expect that unless training has been but a cruel mirage for Katsidis, he will impose his will and heavy power advantage on the 5-foot-10 underdog, who will need to be ultra-crafty to keep from being stopped early in the tangle.

That the bout will be conducted at junior welterweight instead of lightweight figures to help Katsidis. Fortune told me he was aghast to learn that the 5-7 Katsidis had been sweating off weight in a sauna right before fights, instead of paring down gradually, so the trainer thinks his fighter should have an uptick in the stamina department going forward. I asked Fortune, an Australian ex-heavyweight (15-9-2 in 1990-2001, with one comeback loss in 2009), how much he believes his countryman has left.

"You can't tell until he gets into the ring," Fortune said. "We'll know in this fight.
But I'd say he has a few fights left, probably three fights left."

In their first fight together, Fortune wants Katsidis to add a bit more head movement into the mix, pick his spots more often, remain balanced and fight at a measured pace. But the trainer knows the 10-year vet is what he is, and it's hard to rejigger a fighter's style after so many years.

"He won two titles on sheer guts -- sheer balls and guts," Fortune said. "You have to stop him to actually stop him. There are not a lot of them left; they are a dying breed."

Which is why Katsidis is probably right -- that we aren't likely to again see him on FNF.

"My next fight is going to be a huge fight," he said, when asked what would come if he gets past Mensah. "If I couldn't beat the best, I wouldn't do it. And boxing fans appreciate my style."

That they do. Expect Katsidis to wear down Mensah by Round 7 and make him regret relocating to the U.S. to make his mark. And if Katsidis makes it out without getting cut, you should see him shoot up the ranking at 140 pounds, snagging a title shot by late summer.

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