In pro sports that are organized to attempt to meet their fans' expectations, an elimination contest between a stronger team and a weaker team is usually followed rather quickly by a showdown between the strongest opponents. The NFL playoffs, even with the upsets they have seen, all culminate in a few weeks in the Super Bowl, regardless of who wins. In boxing you must wait for such a payoff, if it comes at all. Several of this weekend's fights are examples of this syndrome. ESPN2's 'Friday Night Fights' returns to the air for the first time in 2005 this Friday, Jan. 21, featuring one of the hottest young fighters in the sport today, WBA lightweight champion Juan Diaz (26-0, 12 KOs). But the 21-year-old Diaz, a junior at he University of Houston Downtown, will not exactly be put in tough in this event. His foe will be the 36-year-old Canadian veteran Billy Irwin (42-5, 30 KOs), who has not beaten a top-ranked opponent in many a year. While the fans would love to see a unification bout between Juan Diaz and, say, IBF lightweight champ Julio Diaz, who are not related, that will have to wait, if it ever occurs. The fighters regarded as the top lightweights, WBO champ Diego Corrales and WBC champ Jose Luis Castillo, have an on-again, off-again, on-again fight scheduled for March 5, but even that will only be believed when they step in the ring. The co-feature on the ESPN2 card also has a lot of people shaking their heads. Undefeated 2000 Olympian Calvin Brock (23-0, 19 KOs) will fight his biggest name opponent in Clifford Etienne (29-2-2, 20 KOs). Most people last recall Etienne being knocked to the canvas by Mike Tyson in 49 seconds in Feb. 2003 and then removing his own mouthpiece while the referee administered the count. Brock needs an impressive win over a name opponent to begin to make a name for himself in the unsettled heavyweight division, but it is unclear if even an early knockout by Brock will mean much over an opponent like Etienne. A loss, on the other hand, would set Brock's career back tremendously. Ron Borges has savaged this card in a searing analysis on Boxingranks.com at http://www.boxingranks.com/ . The ESPN2 card, which is coming from the Reliant Center in Houston, Texas, starts at 9 PM ET. Hopefully it is long over by the time a better televised live card starts that same night on Showtime. Also on Friday, Jan. 21, beginning at 11 PM ET, Showtime's 'ShoBox' series returns with a pair of fights. Chris 'The Mechanic' Smith (19-0-1, 12 KOs), an undefeated welterweight who also could use a big win, takes on the scrappy David Estrada (17-1, 8 KOs). Smith can be a technician or a brawler in the ring, and he may just need a variety of tactics against the easily underestimated Estrada. In Estrada's last fight, he spoiled the perfect record of Nurhan Suleymanoglu with a unanimous decision on July 15, 2004. The Smith-Estrada bout is an IBF elimination bout for their No. 2 ranking, so the winner moves up in line for a shot at that belt, which is currently held by undisputed champ Cory Spinks. The 10-round co-feature pits the unbeaten junior middleweight Sechew Powell (14-0, 9 KOs) against Patrick Thompson (8-3-1, 4 KOs). Powell's original opponent, the tougher Aslanbek Kodzoev (15-1-1, 10 KOs), a Russian fighting out of Philadelphia, pulled out of the fight. The Showtime card comes from the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn., and will start at 11 PM ET/PT (tape delayed on the West Coast). The fighters on this Showtime card weighed in Jan. 20 at the following weights:Smith: 146 lbs. Estrada: 147 lbs. Powell: 155 lbs. Thompson: 152 3/4 lbs. On Saturday, Jan. 22, another one of boxing's top competitors enters the ring for the first time in a while, but also against a lesser opponent. Floyd Mayweather Jr. (32-0, 21 KOs), who has not fought since earning a unanimous decision on May 22, 2004, against DeMarcus Corley, will take another step towards a shot at the WBC 140-pound title. Mayweather, sitting at first or second on virtually everyone's pound-for-pound lists, will face the unheralded Henry Bruseles (21-2-1, 13 KOs) of Puerto Rico in a fight taking place at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, FL, and which will be broadcast live on HBO. This bout is meant to set up a showdown, possibly in June, between Mayweather and WBC champ Arturo Gatti, who faces veteran Jesse James Leija next Sat., Jan. 29, in Atlantic City. A lot of people would have preferred that they just had skipped these in-between bouts. But one of boxing's bandit sanctioning bodies has still concocted a way to grab a sanctioning fee from this week's fight between Mayweather and Bruseles. The WBC has declared this fight to be for their newly-created All African title, even though neither Mayweather not Bruseles were born or reside in Africa. Also on the televised portion of the card will be a heavyweight fight. Undefeated Samuel Peter (21-0, 18 KOs) will face Yamplier Azcuy AKA Yanqui Diaz (13-1, 8 KOs). Both men have recent and impressive knockout victories. A little over a month ago, on Dec. 4, 2004, Peter destroyed veteran Jeremy Williams with a brutal second-round knockout that left him motionless on the canvas for several minutes. Azcuy turned a lot of heads when he got a TKO over previously-unbeaten Juan Carlos Gomez in the first round of their fight on Aug 13, 2004. The winner, especially if he is impressive, has a shot at moving up the ladder in that troubled heavyweight division. This card will be shown live in the U.S. on HBO on Sat., Jan. 22, beginning at 10 PM ET/7 PM PT. As always, check your local listings.