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Barrera Defeats Smith in Los Angeles; Makes A Move Up Light-Heavy Rankings



David Spagnolo pic catches Smith in round one, when the going was good for the Islander.


An attractive triple-header took place at The Forum in Los Angeles on Saturday. Miguel Berchelt defended his WBC super-featherweight world title via UD over Takashi Miura and Jezreel Corrales kept his WBA “Super” version of the world crown at 130lbs, earning a majority decision victory over Robinson Castellanos in a close fight which went to the cards early in the tenth round due an accidental head clash opening up an ugly tear on Castellanos’ right cheek.

These two bouts were very watchable in their own right but I have decided to focus on the the fight which opened the TV broadcast from LA – the ten round 175lb confrontation between Joe Smith and Sullivan Barrera. I enjoyed this fight immensely and it will be interesting to see how the outcome affects things in the talent laden light-heavyweight division.

Coming into battle last night Joe Smith was in possession of the WBC International strap. The puncher from Long Island, New York had a 2016 that most boxers can only dream about. Regarded as a club fighter, Smith travelled to Chicago in June as ‘the opponent’ for home fighter Andrzej Fonfara. It was regarded as quite a surprise when Smith knocked Fonfara out in the opening frame. He followed that up by literally knocking the legendary Bernard Hopkins out of the ring, and the sport in terms of Bernard ever gloving up again, in December. Smith rightfully received all the plaudits for his two shock wins as well as alerting the world to his explosive punching power.

Sullivan Barrera entered the arena last night looking to inch his way closer to the front of the queue of contenders. The Cuban fighter suffered his only defeat as a professional to Andre Ward in March last year but going into the Smith fight had rebounded well with two stoppage victories over Vyacheslav Shabranskyy and Paul Parker where he demonstrated a more attack-minded style to what we had seen previously.

It looked hard to call prior to the opening bell – at this stage of their careers you could make a case for either man winning. Smith via his power, Barrera by means of his greater boxing skills. As it turned out the matchmaking was solid, a very watchable fight was about to unfold.

There was no slow start to this scrap. Smith was advancing, trying to work behind jabs and hooks. Barrera was reading the American’s intentions though and picking him off with jabs and body work. Barrera was winning the round when a left hook from Smith landed on his temple and put him down with 32 seconds remaining. It was more of a balance altering shot as opposed to a punch which had the Cuban seriously hurt but it gave Smith the round 10-8 and highlighted his one punch power.

As round two began Barrera got to work. There were no ill effects from the knockdown as Sullivan began to really find a home for his jab as well as stepping in behind his range finder and landing several impressive right uppercuts. Smith continued to try and find a way to land his jab and hook but even at this early stage Barrera was controlling the distance thus being able to take advantage of his superior skill-set.

The action continued and Barrera kept on accumulating rounds. His overhand right was finding its target frequently and his good mix of jabs to the head and body had Smith constantly off balance and confused. A beautiful attack in round four saw Barrera land a lead right and follow it up with a huge uppercut which shook Smith to the core of his soul. It is to the New Yorker’s credit that he stayed upright, proving his chin is world level.

By this stage Barrera was well established as the boss. Dominating with his quick jab and footwork and having the confidence to throw his right hand regularly, it was starting to look like a long night for Smith. In saying that I couldn’t take my eyes off the fight as there was always the chance Smith could land another huge punch if Barrera got careless for even a split-second.

The second half of the fight continued in much the same vein. Smith looking more and more bewildered and desperate as the rounds wore on, Barrera boxing expertly with a nasty dash of aggression thrown in. Smith again had to eat an enormous uppercut towards the end of the sixth round. His chin once more passed the test but he was hurt by that shot. The ringside microphones picked up some choice language from Smith’s trainer as the dire situation their fighter was facing spilled over into the corner: “We’re going into seven, you need these rounds. Fight this motherfucker and beat him. You want a better life for your fucking daughter, knock this motherfucker out!”

The salty urging from his corner made no difference. Although Smith continued to try he was outclassed on the night. As often happens when a solid puncher meets a more gifted technical boxer the puncher is reduced to looking one dimensional. Smith was able to land a few shots in the closing stages but due to a combination of tiredness and never quite having his feet properly set Barrera had no problems taking these shots.

The fight closed out with Barrera content to box sensibly and he cruised to the finishing line. The judges returned scores of 96-93 and 97-92 twice as their cards correctly reflected what we had witnessed.

The pool of gifted fighters at light-heavyweight is deeply stocked. Acknowledging that Andre Ward is top of the tree, the branches just below the apex are crammed with boxers eager to have the opportunity to take him on. Yes Barrera (20-1-0, 14KOs) has tried once and failed against Ward but he looks to have learned from that experience and improved. Smith (23-2-0, 19KOs) still deserves to be in the conversation when discussing the top 175lb fighters in the world but last night probably taught him he needs to add a few more wrinkles to his game in order to hang around at the top end of the division.

Here’s a list of some of the other big fish at 175:- Sergey Kovalev, Artur Beterbiev, Eleider Alvarez, Marcus Browne, Oleksandr Gvozdyk, Dmitry Bivol and Nathan Cleverly. This is without mentioning WBC world champion Adonis Stevenson as he seems happy holding that particular title hostage and not challenging himself against anyone too dangerous. Add in last night’s combatants and Ward – deeply stocked indeed.

Hopefully over the coming months the exciting light-heavyweight division can deliver a few more contests between these top level contenders. After a few more head to head match-ups between the top boxers we will have a better idea as to who will pose the most threat to Andre Ward. If Ward pursues goals at a higher weight class then we may need to come up with something which is currently fashionable in boxing to determine a new king at 175lbs. Can anyone say tournament?

A boxing fan since his teenage years, Morrison began writing about the sport in July 2016. He appreciates all styles of boxing and has nothing but respect for those who get in the ring for our entertainment. Morrison is from Scotland and can be found on Twitter @Morrie1981.