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Perez defends title against Maicelo on FNF

Darleys Perez will defend his interim lightweight title in the season premiere of ESPN's "Friday Night Fights" when he faces Jonathan Maicelo on Friday (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET) at the Chumash Casino in Santa Ines, California.

Perez (31-1, 20 KOs), of Colombia, is 3-0 since suffering his first career defeat against Yuriorkis Gamboa in June 2013 and will be making the second defense of the interim belt he won last July on his home turf against Dominican Argenis Lopez.

Peru's Maicelo (21-1, 12 KOs) has also lost only once in his career. In April 2013, he was stopped in Round 8 on FNF by Rustam Nugaev. Maicelo returned to FNF last July when he won a split decision against Art Hovhannisyan.

Perez and Maicelo match up well in terms of age and physique. Both are 31 and stand in at 5-foot-7, with Perez holding a mere half-inch reach advantage. Perez, however, holds a distinct advantage when it comes to experience.

The fighters have different styles, too. Maicelo is aggressive, elusive and explosive, although sometimes his eagerness leaves him dangerously exposed to counterattacks. Perez, on the other hand, is more technical and not as fast, but wields more power.

Perez is very patient and solid defensively, waiting for the right moment to counter. Maicelo isn't known for being as careful defensively. He usually sets the pace and counts on the explosiveness and speed of his combinations.

It's a style that could prove risky for Maicelo against a dangerous fighter in Perez.

"Perez is a very astute, veteran fighter, but I'm taking this fight very seriously," Maicelo said. "My trainer and I have been working in a very smart manner, and I can assure that I'm in the best shape of my life. I know if I win, I can become a world champion, and I'm sure I'll come out on top."

Perez knows he is in for a difficult challenge as well.

"Maicelo is a tough opponent, and I'll have to use all my skills to win," Perez said. "I feel like I have an advantage in this fight, and I know what I have to do to win. It's going to be an exciting fight because we both have a lot to lose. We both need to win to get to the next level, and that's exactly what I'm going to do."

What nobody doubts is how important this bout is for both fighters. That's why both followed a demanding schedule leading up to it. Maicelo fought more than 100 rounds of sparring at his training camp in New Jersey under the careful watch of trainer Butch Sanchez.

Perez, meanwhile, carried out the first stage of his preparations in Colombia and the last two weeks in the Pedro Alcazar Gym in Panama under the orders of trainers Orlando Pineda and Celso Chavez, who was in the corner of former titlist Anselmo "Chemito" Moreno in previous years.

In the co-feature, rising Californian Francisco Santana (21-3-1, 10 KOs), who has won his past nine fights in a row, faces fellow unbeaten Kendal Mena (20-0, 11 KOs) in a 10-round welterweight fight. Santana, who will be fighting for the first time at 147 pounds, was originally scheduled to fight Sebastian Lujan and then Randall Bailey, but both were ruled out.