SAN DIEGO, March 25, 2016 – American Andre Ward (28-0, 15 KOs) will test his speed, accuracy and ring control at light heavyweight for the first time Saturday against undefeated Cuban Sullivan Barrera (17-0, 12 KOs) in front of his hometown Oakland fans. HBO will broadcast the fight at 9:45 p.m. ET/PT.
Ward’s story is well known to fans. Following his 2004 Olympic gold medal performance and his dominance in the Super Six super middleweight tournament including a victory over Britain’s Carl Froch in 2011, Ward was positioned to become America’s top pound for pound star and a dominant force in boxing.
Then – crickets.
Because of a lengthy contract dispute and several breaks due to injuries, Ward fought just three times in four years. When he finally emerged, he won a ninth round stoppage against Paul Smith of England last June. It seemed Ward was ready to pick up right where he left off. Fans started getting excited about fights against top opponents for Ward including the Holy Grail matchup at light heavyweight with Sergey Kovalev. Then another nine-month layoff ensued, including cancellation of a fight on the Cotto vs. Canelo undercard last November due to a knee injury.
Ward and Kovalev have agreed to a fight tentatively scheduled this November. In the meantime, Sullivan Barrera defeated Karl Morat to become Kovalev’s mandatory challenger. With other obligations already on the schedule for Kovalev, Barrera called out Ward on social media. It worked, setting up Saturday’s showdown between two unbeaten professionals.
Ward’s skills emerged intact with seemingly no ring rust after his last hibernation. He remains a formidable foe, but if there was ever a time for someone like Barrera to take his chances, it’s now as Ward tests himself at a new weight class. Like many Cuban boxers, Barrera has an impressive amateur record of 285-27 including victories over then amateurs Chad Dawson and Beibut Shumenov.
One on One with Sullivan Barrera
Barrera is trained by Abel Sanchez, best known for training middleweight sensation Gennady Golovkin. Sullivan trained along Golovkin in Sanchez’s Big Bear gym, The Summit. Sanchez trains his fighters like Golovkin and Barrera to be fan friendly and aggressive. He told Communities Digital News he took on Sullivan because he was willing to do whatever he asked of him.
“I wasn’t trying to change his Cuban style,” said Sanchez. “What I was trying to do is just make him a little more aggressive, make him sit down on his punches a little bit more, have better balance, a little better positioning and technique with his legs. But we haven’t really changed it. We’ve added to it and by adding the two styles together I think that it just gives more opportunities to do what he has to do.”
Barrera exudes confidence born of his long amateur experience and what he sees as the perfect timing for him to prevail with Ward’s move up in weight. “I’m stronger than Ward. I have the Cuban background and I learned a lot of skills there. More than anything, the determination to overcome anything in front of me will help me defeat Ward,” said Barrera.
“Whatever Ward has, I will adjust to it and overcome it. I have two hands. He has two hands. I have a job to do on March 26.”
VIDEO: One on One with Andre Ward
It would be foolhardy to bet against the ultra-talented Andre Ward. He says he feels completely comfortable at light heavyweight after pushing to make the super middleweight limit of 168 pounds in recent fights. Ward told us in a recent interview just getting to each more was a huge difference in training. “I mean, you definitely feel stronger when you don’t have to strip extra pounds off, you definitely feel stronger. I mean, that’s just, you know, it’s kind of a no brainer,” said Ward.
“But I still feel like I have my speed. I still feel like I have all the things that made me who I was at super middleweight but I also feel a lot stronger at 175. You know, to be honest I’m a lot happier because I didn’t have to kill myself, per se, to make weight. So just definitely happier. I feel very strong and I feel like I still maintained all the things that made me who I was at 168,” Ward told us.
This is the question boxing fans want answered Saturday. Is the light heavyweight Ward as skilled in the same ways at the super middleweight Ward? Barrera will be no pushover and he presents the perfect test for Ward enroute to the expected fight with Kovalev. Few are picking Barrera to win against an opponent who hasn’t lost a fight since he was 12 years old and has barely lost a round. More important, this fight needs to restart Ward’s career which is still sputtering. If he wins Saturday and he manages to schedule another fight this summer, he will fight as many times in 2016 as he has in the previous five years combined.
Ward and Barrera both made weight Friday at the same 174.4 pounds.
On the undercard, top featherweight contenders Joseph “Jojo” Diaz Jr. (19-0, 11 KOs) and Jayson “La Maravilla” Velez (23-1-1, 16 KOs) will fight for the NABF Featherweight belt held by Diaz in a Mexico vs. Puerto Rico showdown.
Diaz is a rising star in Golden Boy stable and promises a great show Saturday. “This is my first time fighting on HBO, so I really want to showcase who I truly am,” said Diaz. “I’m 110 percent ready. I’m ready to give fight fans a war if Jayson Velez wants to have a war. I’m ready to showcase to everybody all the abilities I have inside the ring.
“I’m very excited to be fighting on the Andre Ward and Sullivan Barrera card. They’re two elite athletes and I’m very honored to be the co-main event for this fight,” said Diaz.
Velez is coming off the first loss of his career, which gives him something to prove.. “People keep asking me why I took this dangerous fight and the answer is easy. If I want to be the best, I have to fight the best. Joseph is one of the best.
“I lost my last fight, so I need to win. I want to win. I can’t tell you who’s going to win this fight because we both are great fighters and warriors. He’s Mexican, I’m Puerto Rican, and when you have a Puerto Rican and a Mexican in the same ring, you will see a war. You will see speed, power, everything in this fight.” Music to any fan’s ear wherever you come from.
Diaz made weight at 125.8 pounds; Velez made weight at 125.6 pounds.
Ward vs. Barrera and Diaz vs. Velez, HBO Championship Boxing, Saturday, March 26, 9:45 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego. Gayle can be reached via Google +
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