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Meza-Clay headed to 'Friday Night Fights'

| Thursday, June 18, 2009

People again are calling Pittsburgh the "City of Champions," and Rankin boxer Monty Meza-Clay wants in.

"I've seen the new shirts they've come out with, with (James) Harrison and (Marc-Andre) Fleury," Meza-Clay said. "I might ask Pittsburgh if they'd mind me getting on that shirt. They got a Penguin and a Steeler, would they mind a fighter?"

Meza-Clay fights Fernando Beltran Jr. on Friday night in Laredo, Texas, for the International Boxing Federation's Latino featherweight title. It's the main event on the internationally televised "Friday Night Fights" on ESPN2 and arguably the biggest fight of Meza-Clay's career.

Should Meza-Clay (28-2, 19 KOs) win, he could be back in position to claim top-contender status for the IBF's 126-pound featherweight title. He could even get a direct title shot in either the IBF, where he's currently the fifth-ranked featherweight, or in the World Boxing Organization, where he's at No. 14.

"Perception is everything," said Tom Yankello, 38, who has trained Meza-Clay at World Class Gym in Ambridge for the past 8 1/2 years. "If he can look real impressive, I think it starts the works of either a championship fight, or, worst-case scenario, he's right back at the title-eliminator."

Meza-Clay, 28, fought Jorge Solis to be the IBF's No. 1 contender back in January in Solis' native Mexico. In a decision that sparked controversy, referee Pat Russell stopped the fight in the fifth round after Solis landed a string of clean hits, though he never knocked down Meza-Clay. The fight wasn't televised in the United States, further frustrating Meza-Clay's World Class Promotions/Rice Enterprises team.

"I thought it was a real premature stoppage," Yankello said. "We didn't hit the canvas. We didn't get stunned bad. I would really like to know in that moment what was in that referee's head. There's an argument that we could have won the fight if there wasn't a stoppage."

Now, Meza-Clay has his shot at redemption, and it comes against Beltran, the IBF's fourth-ranked featherweight. Beltran, the current Latino featherweight title-holder, is a 27-year old lefthander with a 32-2-1 record and 18 knockouts. At 5-foot-8, Beltran has the height advantage over the 5-2 Meza-Clay, who says his size can work to his advantage.

"I'm pretty strong for my size," Meza-Clay said. "I'm a lot tougher. It's going to be a war, but I'm going to come out on top. I got my inside game. I'm a lot slicker than him."

Meza-Clay, who says his conditioning is his strongest asset, has been on "Friday Night Fights" before, fighting at home in 2008 at the Pittsburgh Expo Mart in Monroeville. But that didn't compare to the magnitude of Friday's bout.

"This fight's bigger than all of them," Meza-Clay said. "My last fight, people didn't get to see what happened. But this time I get to display my talent. I've got a lot to prove."

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