Contenders take the forefront as Sam Soliman and Enrique Ornelas tangle in a middleweight showdown at Soboba Casino on Friday. The casino is 30 miles southeast of Riverside, California.

“It’s a great opportunity for me to fight a great boxer like Sam Soliman,” said Ornelas, 26, by telephone. Ornelas now lives and trains in Las Vegas.

Make no mistake. Pleasantries won’t be exchanged when Ornelas steps into the ring against the perplexing Australian Soliman (32-8, 13 KOs). Both are fighting for the chance to meet middleweight champion Jermain Taylor. The middleweight contest will be televised by Showtime and is promoted by Goossen Tutor Promotions.

“Sam Soliman is a very awkward fighter,” says Wayne McCullough, who trains Ornelas. “We’ve had six months to prepare for him.”

A previous engagement was postponed last August, so Ornelas stepped in the ring against a last-minute sub, Raul Munoz, and demolished him in one round.

“It’s difficult to prepare for one style than change to another,” Ornelas (25-2, 15 KOs) said of his fight against Munoz. “Now we’ll see if I’m prepared for Soliman. He’s very tricky.”

Soliman’s record of eight losses may look unimposing, but middleweight boxers and experts in the game know the rather small Aussie can be slippery as a Moray eel.

“When I saw a tape of his fights I didn’t know what to make of it,” said Winky Wright, who won a decision against Soliman last December. “He throws a lot of punches. I’ve never seen a style like his.”

McCullough agrees.

“He (Soliman) gives everybody problems because he throws a lot of punches and he’s hard to hit,” said McCullough, a former world champion who knows a thing or two about firing punches in mass production. “But Enrique is a hard worker. He’ll be ready for Sam Soliman.”

Both middleweights are hoping a victory insures them a match against Taylor, who holds the WBA, WBC and IBF titles, or against WBO titleholder Arthur Abraham, who’s nursing a broken jaw suffered in his last fight against Edison Miranda.

Speaking of contenders, undefeated heavyweight hopefuls Jason Estrada (7-0) and Travis Walker (21-0-1, 17 KOs) meet in a 10-round bout on the undercard.

Estrada, a 2004 U.S. Olympian, seeks a foothold in the top-10 rankings.

“I’ve been fighting a lot of guys with losing records,” said Estrada, 25, a native of Providence, Rhode Island now training in New Jersey. “Finally I get to fight someone with an undefeated record like myself. I know Travis Walker, it should be a great fight.”

Walker and Estrada have met in the amateurs. Now they meet at the pro level.

“I always had a pro style. That kind of hurt me in the Olympics,” said Estrada, who fought in Greece but lost in the first round. “I beat Travis in the amateurs and I’ll beat him again.”

Walker is a regular in the Inland area where he’s fought eight times and won them all, with five of those wins coming by knockout.

Morongo Casino show

Near Palm Springs, Two Feathers Promotions has another fight card featuring featherweights to heavyweights at Morongo Casino on Friday, Nov. 17.

British middleweight prospect Patrick Maxwell (11-1, 9 KOs) meets Las Vegas veteran Cabien St. Pierre (8-19) in a six-round bout. Maxwell is trained by Thell Torrance and is fighting for the second time on American soil. He won by knockout a month ago in Philadelphia.

Also on the card is Michael Franco (4-0, 3 KOs) in a six-round featherweight bout against Eddie Utorov (7-8) who owns a knockout win over Bobby Boy Velardez back in 1999. That’s no small feat. Though he lost to Velardez by decision in a rematch, he’s a veteran who’s engaged Rocky Juarez and Pete Frissina. It should be an exciting match. Franco has impressed many with his rapid improvement in the ring. For tickets and information call (951) 283-9893. The first bout begins at 7:30 p.m.

Friday results

Rico “Suave” Hoye battered Sam “The Punching Policeman” Hill for nine rounds before a right hand knockdown forced referee Ray Corona to stop the fight at 2:15 of the 10th and final round of the light heavyweight contest at the Quiet Cannon in Montebello. Hoye seeks another world title opportunity. Last year he lost to IBF titleholder Clinton Woods in Great Britain by decision. Hoye, originally from Detroit, is now training at the Broadway Gym in South Central L.A.

In another light heavyweight contest, Jesus “Chuy” Ruiz proved he still packs a lot of power in those fists. He blasted a right to Rodney Moore’s body twice and dropped the veteran at 1:20 of the first round. Referee David Denkin didn’t bother to count as Moore gasped on the floor. Ruiz had been away from boxing for almost three years after losing a decision to Paul Briggs in Australia.

Jose Navarro won by unanimous decision against Gabriel Elizondo for the NABA junior bantamweight title in San Antonio. Now would be a great time for Navarro to meet former world titleholders Fernando Montiel or Martin Castillo in a battle royale. All three are popular in Southern California. It’s a natural.

Vicente Escobedo (11-1, 10 KOs) stopped Ramon Guevara at the end of the fifth round in Chicago. The junior lightweight prospect is now trained by Freddie Roach and Justin Fortune and will lace up the gloves immediately in two weeks for a match against Julian Rodriguez (17-12-3). The fight takes place at the Arco Arena on Nov. 30, in Sacramento.

Heavyweight wrap-up

Evander Holyfield captured a unanimous decision over Fres Oquendo whose punch-and-hold tactics failed against the former world champion. The win by Holyfield, 44, puts him back in title contention.

Wladimir Klitschko’s seventh round knockout against Calvin Brock was a tribute to Emanuel Steward’s tutelage. The cagey boxing trainer steered his fighter through the rough waters and is an astute judge of opponents. Hopefully, Steward allows Klitschko to meet one of the other titleholders such as WBA titleholder Nicolai Valuev, WBC titleholder Oleg Maskaev, or WBO titleholder Shannon Briggs.

C’mon Emanuel, let them fight.

Fights on television

Thurs. Versus TV, 7:30 p.m., Bobby Pacquiao (27-11-3) vs. Hector Velazquez (45-11-2).

Fri. Telemundo, 11:30 p.m., Jhonatan Perez (12-0) vs. Alejandro Hernandez (15-3-1).

Sat. HBO pay-per-view, 6:30 p.m., Manny Pacquiao (42-3-2) vs. Erik Morales (48-4); Omar Nino (24-2-1) vs. Brian Viloria (19-1); Ricardo Castillo (29-1) vs. Mike Arnaoutis (17-0-2).