New York: Sullivan Barrera has had a share of championship fights. The Cuban light heavyweight has been in the ring with elite names in a division that lost energy when Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins took his last punch.
His fight with Hall of Famer Andre Ward went the distance. Four years ago, it was Barrera winning a 10-round unanimous decision over current champion Joe Smith Jr. A fight with Sergay Kovalev, and for one reason or another, could not be made and that one he wanted.
It was that March 3, 2018 night, at Madison Square Garden. Then, Barrera, took Russian Dmitry Bivol to the limit only to be stopped in the 12th and final round for the WBA title. Barrera, in the meantime, was always a boxing hero in Cuba.
But at the Garden, where Bivol made his American debut, Sullivan Barrera arrived. He woke up the boxing world and finally it was realized the talent was there to be champion with his inside ability and power.
Barrera became a name in a division that has since been dominated with the few and far in between wins of Bivol. And there is always an opportunity, if presented, for Barrera to get the rematch.
“I would love that opportunity,” Barrera said to me this week.
Friday evening on DAZN, in his debut with Golden Boy promotions, at the Banc of California Stadium, Barrera opposes undefeated, 41-0 Gilberto Ramirez in the 10-round non-title main event and this could be his biggest challenge.
Because if Barrera wins, well it’s simple, he is once again a player and in the mix for a chance at the light heavyweight title. Undefeated in 25 fights as a professional, along with Cuban National accolades with over 100 fights, does carry some weight. Except for the past two years, because of fallouts of fights with Kovalev, Barrera has been on the sidelines.
“I need to win this fight and when I win this fight then better position about mandatory fight for title,” he said as trainer Derrick Santos Rios assisted with the translation.
This will be the challenge and with more implications than the fights with Ward, Smith, and that one with Bivol. Ramirez, the three-time super middleweight champion,from Mexico can also punch and fight inside.
“I want to try and push him,” Barerra said. “He’s a good boxer, but he has a lot of fights like a constable and pushing.Toughest challenge for sure because beating Ramirez, we’ re going to be on the high level again.”
And that high level is fighting again for the title. But, Barerra said, all of the talk about vying for a championship again will have to wait. He is not looking ahead and if he prevails then the talking can begin about a fight with Bivol in three or four months’ time.
But it is always good to have those aspirations. And he is a fighter determined to become the first light heavyweight champion from Cuba. There have been other great fighters in various weight classes from Cuba that have come up short.
Santos has seen his fighter come to camp with determination. In the past, Barerra was not in condition to go the distance and it was not obvious against Bivol until those championship rounds when stamina appeared to be an issue.
Barrera had that special camp and there was that usual regiment of running. Some other aspects of training were also accomplished, and of course that could tell the story Friday night against Ramirez.
“He has always been a confident fighter, a type of fighter that no matter what he’s going to go out there and try his best,” Santos said. “He’s always respected that, this is his job. This is his sport and the fans respect him. This is his life.”
“In the past, sometimes he came into camp and got in shape in camp,” Santos said. “In this case, he came into camp in good physical condition and ready.”
I asked Santos if there was a preference for a return fight with Smith or Bivol who hold major titles in the division.
“At this point we’re willing to face any of the title holders,” he said. “Joe Smith, return match, Bivol, wherever- whatever. The opportunity to come. We have business.”
The business of course is getting back in the win column and making that statement for a title opportunity Friday night with a viable and tough opponent. Yes, this could be the biggest challenge for Sullivan Barrera.
Rich Mancuso: Twitter@Ring786 Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso
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