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Dmitry Bivol vs. Sullivan Barrera – Preview

Sergey Kovalev

By Sean McDaniel: After toiling away for 9 years as a pro, the 35-year-old Sullivan Barrera (21-1, 14 KOs) will be challenging WBA World light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol (12-0, 10 KOs) for his title next Saturday night on March 3 in the co-feature bout on the Sergey ‘Krusher’ Kovalev vs. Igor Mikhalkin card at Madison Square Garden in New York. HBO World Championship Boxing will be televising the Bivol vs. Barrera and Kovalev vs. Mikhalkin fights live.

This is the Cuban Barrera’s big chance to capture a world title against the 27-year-old Bivol and then use the belt to get bigger fights against the likes of Kovalev, Adonis Stevenson, Artur Beterbiev or perhaps even Andre Ward. Barrera can shake things up if he beats the unbeaten Russian Bivol, who many boxing fans view as the next star in the 175 lb. weight class.

Bivol could be the replacement for Ward as the top guy at light heavyweight. Barrera is in the position to expose Bivol and make a case for himself as the next star. At 35, Barrera is probably too old to have much staying power at the top, even if he does beat Bivol next Saturday. With all the time that will go into trying to setup fights against Stevenson, Kovalev, and Beterbiev, Barrera might age out long before he gets a chance to fight all 3 of those 175 lb. champions in the division.

”I have fought big names before and that’s going to give me an edge. I have been there before, fighting in big fights,” Barrera said in talking about his experience being one of the keys for him to beat Bivol.

As a pro, Barrera has wins over Joe Smith Jr., Vyacheslav Shabranskyy, Felix Valera, Karo Murat, Jeff Lacy, Hakim Zoulikh, Rowland Bryant and Epifanio Mendoza. Smith Jr. is probably the best fighter of that bunch, and he’s still a very flawed guy. He has power, but that’s about it. Barrera’s win over Smith Jr. and Shabranskyy doesn’t prove that he’ll beat Bivol or any of the other champions in the light heavyweight division.

We just witnessed Kovalev stopping Shabranskyy in the 2nd round last November. It took Barrera 7 rounds to stop Shabranskyy in December 2016. Barrera was knocked down in the 2nd round. Bivol hasn’t fought any of those guys, however. It’s unknown how Bivol would do against those fighters, but it’s likely that he would knock them all out, as they’re super talents.

Bivol’s best wins of his 4-year pro career have been against Felix Valera, Robert Berridge, Samuel Clarkson, Cedric Agnew and Trent Broadhurst. Bival and Barrera share a common opponent in Valera. Bivol defeated Valera by a 12 round unanimous decision in May 2016. Bivol knocked Valera down in rounds 6 and 8 in winning by the scores 119-107, 119-107 and 116-111. Barrera beat Valera by a 10 round unanimous decision last November. Valera lost 3 points for low blows. The referee was taking points away at the drop of the hat. It was a strange fight with the way the referee inserted himself into the contest by taking away 4 points. Barrera was knocked down in the 1st round. Bivol did a far better job beating Valera than Barrera.

”We have a plan to adjust to the speed and take it away. We are going to impose ourselves and use our abilities,” Barrera said.

Bivol isn’t noted for having a lot of hand speed. That’s not what Barrera has to worry about in this fight. It’s the punching power and the relentless pressure that Bivol puts on his opponents that should be worrying Barrera, as he’s going to have to deal with being stalked and hit hard for as long as the fight lasts. Bivol hits harder than anyone Barrera has fought before, and it could make it problematic for him to earn a decision if he’s getting pelted with big blows in every round. Barrera has tasted the canvas in his fights with Valera, Shabranskyy and Andre Ward, so there could be a chin problem that Bivol will expose on March 3.

As an amateur in Cuba, Barrera beat Chad Dawson, Beibut Shumenov and Mariano Natalio Carrera. Barrera had a long amateur career, but so did Bivol. From 2012, Bivol was winning the competitions he was entering with him capturing the 2012 Russian National Championships, 2012 European Under-22 Championships, 2013 World Combat Games Gold in Saint Petersburg, Russia and 2014 Russian National Championships. Bivol finished his amateur career with a 268-15 record. When Bivol got into his 20s, he was unstoppable at the amateur level.

“This would be a very important victory obviously because I want to look to the future after this,” Barrera said. ”It would be a dream come true to win the title. And we would see what happens after that. There are a lot of big names out there,” Barrera said.

There are big fights out there for Barrera. It’s unclear whether he would win those fights, but he would have the opportunity to take on guys like Stevenson, Kovalev, Beterbiev and Badou Jack. Each of them would present a different type of challenge for Barrera to deal with. In Barrera’s only loss of his career to Andre Ward in March 2016, he was out-boxed by the faster fighter in losing a 12 round unanimous decision. The lack of hand speed is what hurt Barrera in that fight. Barrera’s power was fine, but his slow hands made it easy for Ward to land his quick shots when he would engage. Barrera had his moments in the fight, but it was Ward who dominated and made it look easy in winning. Barrera has done well since that loss in winning his last 4 fights against Felix Valera, Joe Smith Jr., Paul Parker and Vyacheslav Shabranskyy. Those are good fighters, but nowhere near the level of the best in the light heavyweight division. That’s why it’s difficult to say with a 100 percent certainty that Barrera has improved since his loss to Ward. If that were made today, Barrera would likely lose just as badly to Ward as he did 2 years ago in 2016.

Bivol stopped Trent Broadhurst in a stunning 1st round knockout last November in Monte Carlo. Bivol ended the fight with a right hand to the head. Broadhurst, 29, looked over-matched in the fight, and he clearly didn’t belong fighting at this level.

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