Fights take place on two planes. First, there is the ring wherein fighters actually fight one another. This part takes place in a vacuum, where the morality of the fighters is judged solely based on what they do in the ring. Be they coward or hero, they are judged based on how they comport themselves inside the ropes and those judgements go with the fighters when they leave. A boxer who fights bravely is viewed as heroic and vice versa, no matter what the truth is.
The second plane is the business side of things. Where the money is in total control of things. Where smart business decisions overtake the morality of the boxing ring. It is less about fairness and more about maximizing short and especially long term financial gain. When Sullivan Barrera meets Dmitry Bivol on March 3, the fight will have already been raging on this end of things for some time.
It started on November 4 of last year, when Bivol wiped out an overmatched Trent Broadhurst, who was ranked number 11 by the WBA. Barrera was ranked number two, and was obviously dismayed with the decision to overlook him for the time being. Barrera wound up fighting a bizarre man from the Dominican Republic, who sobbed on his way into the ring, knocked Barrera down, was knocked down himself in the same round, and then was deducted points in rounds three, six and eight for low blows.
It could be argued that Bivol needed the Broadhurst fight before taking a step up to fight Barrera, both because he is still a relatively inexperienced pro and because he needed a spectacular looking knockout to build more public interest. While fight fans would have no problem getting up for Bivol vs. Barrera, convincing the more casual fan requires some highlight reel footage. It doesn’t matter if it comes against a part time boxer with a surgically repaired liver.
But enough of that, let’s talk about the fight.
Sullivan Barrera is the definition of an elite contender. His lone loss came against Andre Ward, which is hard to hold against him given the way Ward dominated throughout his career. Since that loss, Sully B has been on a tear, beating four straight opponents, all pretty convincingly. He was the man who ended Vyacheslav Shabranskyy’s undefeated run, and took the shine off of him as a prospect. He has for years been in the discussion as one of the best 175 pounders around.
Barrera is slick, hard hitting, and sound, all things you want in a fighter. His Cuban schooling is evident from the way he can so seamlessly transition from offense to defense and back again. Like many Cuban standouts, Barrera is a natural counter puncher far more comfortable reacting rather than leading. This could be trouble for Bivol, who is apparently a strictly straightforward fighter.
That’s not a knock on Bivol, who has been blowing guys out with this style. Ask Broadhurst, Cedric Agnew, Samuel Clarkson, or Robert Berridge, all of who have been knocked out consecutively by Bivol. None of them made it past the fourth, and Broadhurst didn’t escape the first. Bivol hits real hard, and comes forward relentlessly. While the record and highlights are great, questions remain about the 27-year-old super-prospect.
As great as he’s been so far, no one can say Bivol has been in with a genuinely good boxer like Barrera. Nor has he been in with anyone who can check his chin like Barrera will be able to. We honestly haven’t seen Bivol forced to play any defense or alter his game plan, which is a credit to his power and offensive skills but still doesn’t tell us much. I’ve noticed that he keeps his hands in responsible position when punching, but there isn’t much else to see as far as his defense goes. To beat Barrera, you must have dimensions. The only man to do it so far is the king of dimensions, Andre Ward, and there is no indication so far that Bivol has that level of sophistication.
Now, Barrera has been down a couple of times, and not always against particularly big punchers. It has happened in instances where his opponent figured him out, like Ward, or when a guy like Felix Valera simply bum rushed him. I don’t think there’s anything to question about Barrera’s chin, and even though Bivol is probably the biggest puncher Barrera has seen as a pro, the young Russian will need to prove that he can find a way to deliver that power. Barrera is the test Bivol will need to pass if he wants the big money at 175.
Framed differently, a win for Barrera would mean he finally gets his chance at Kovalev for a price more palatable than what he’s already been offered. Barrera isn’t exactly young, but he’s not aged out of his prime just yet. This fight could mark the beginning of a really exciting stretch for the Cuban, and I’m sure he resents being viewed as a stepping stone for Bivol.
Expect a good fight. Barrera plays good defense, but his counters are hellacious. Bivol, we know, wants primarily to throw bombs off his jab while always coming forward. A classic boxer versus puncher matchup, where both guys have the requisite fistic hammers to facilitate confusion and concussion. Both men have much on the line, and both look prepared to wash the other away in their own blood.