Former junior middleweight world titlist Sergio Mora returns to action on Friday, but it won't be against the opponent he expected.
After seeing his middleweight title shot against Jermain Taylor fall apart in recent weeks following the former undisputed champion's rib injury and subsequent arrest, Mora will face late replacement Abie Han at the Beaux Rivage Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi. The 12-round bout will headline ESPN's "Friday Night Fights" (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET).
Taylor suffered a broken rib during training and was arrested days later on charges of aggravated assault after firing a gun in public and three counts of endangering the life of a child. He was also cited for misdemeanor possession of marijuana.
Mora (27-3-2, 9 KOs), the champion of the first season of "The Contender" reality show, prepared six weeks to face Taylor, but he took the change of opponent calmly and had some words of solidarity for Taylor.
"Everything happens for a reason," Mora said. "But I think Taylor should pray and ask the man upstairs or someone for protection, because he's certainly going to need a lot of help."
Mora, 35, who is advised by Al Haymon, has won four straight fights since his last loss in 2012. He defeated Dashon Johnson in December by unanimous decision in his most recent bout.
Regarding his new opponent, Texan Abie Han (23-1, 14 KOs), Mora avoided any kind of triumphalism. On the contrary, he has great respect for him.
"My coach [Dean Campos] checked him out in recent days," Mora said. "[Han] reminds us a lot of another very tough opponent I faced in the past, Archak TerMeliksetian. Despite his height, Han is aggressive all the time and throws a lot of power punches. His style is difficult, and I will have to be very careful.
"Don't forget that his only loss was against an undefeated and rising prospect like Glen Tapia."
Mora spared no arguments to justify the need for precautions against his opponent on Friday.
"Today, opponent's records don't mean much to me. In my last fight, I fought a guy with 15 losses [Dashon Johnson] and went through hell before getting the victory," said Mora, who got off the canvas to win that fight.
Mora is right to take his opponent with caution. Han, a native of El Paso, has won four fights in a row since his only loss in July 2013.
"I'm always training, but it's just like the last fight, when I was called with less than three weeks in advance to prepare for the fight and I took it because I'm in no position to turn down an opportunity like this," Han said. "I'm thrilled to have another opportunity.
"I'm 30 and I've never starred in a big main event like the one this Friday, or against an opponent with the prestige of Sergio Mora. It will be a big challenge. He has a rare and different style from everything I've faced, but I feel confident that it will beat him."
Han, who trains in Las Cruces, New Mexico, with former world champion Austin Trout, comes from a family of fighters. His father is a martial arts master, and his three sisters and brother practice boxing and martial arts. In fact, his older sister, Jennifer, has been an amateur national champion and as a professional has fought for the International Female Boxing Association's world featherweight title.
For the fight this Friday, Han assures he will maintain his aggressive style, although he will take some precautions.
"I like to hit. I always go forward and set the pace from the middle of the ring," Han said. "If there's nothing happening, I'm always in charge of forcing the action, which can sometimes be my downfall. With my coach [Louie Burke], we've been working to correct that problem."
The battle between Mora and Han is interesting because of the contrasts that make up their styles. There's a slight advantage in height and reach for Han, and he'll seek to work from the inside with strong combinations. Mora will be the one to resort to jabbing to establish an appropriate pace; he will move sideways and seek to surprise from the corners or with a surprise right hand from any position.
It will be a difficult fight to forecast. Mora is the favorite due to his experience, but it is unknown whether the disappointment of not facing Taylor will affect his enthusiasm and hurt his performance. By contrast, Han will be excited about the opportunity to headline a show on national television, and that incentive might be the biggest obstacle to any favoritism for Mora.
In the co-main event, junior middleweight prospect Erickson Lubin (8-0, 6 KOs), 19, faces Michael Finney (12-1-1, 10 KOs) in an eight-round bout at a catch weight of 157.