Sullivan Barrera se acerca al momento decisivo de carrera. El próximo 3 de marzo enfrentará en el Madison Square Garden a Dmitry Bivol por la corona de la Asociación Mundial (AMB) en medio de un mar de dudas, generadas por aquellos que jamás le han reconocido su calidad en el ring.
El cubano escucha y lee, y solo mueve la cabeza en silencio, esperando el momento en que pueda silenciar a los críticos y elevarse por encima del resto en la acorazada división de las 175 libras.
Ya habrá tiempo para los Kovalevs y Stevensons de este mundo, pero ahora la mente y el cuerpo de Barrera -quien conversó con la prensa vía conferencia telefónica- se concentran en desmontar el mito de Bivol, ese joven que tiene una corona sin haber ganado los galones.
Finalmente llegó lo que esperabas, ¿qué sientes?
"Una alegría tremenda. Vienen a mi mente tantos momentos buenos y malos, cuando parecía que todo era imposible, luego cuando se fueron abriendo los caminos. Le Doy gracias a Dios por esta oportunidad que nos ganamos a sangre y fuego''.
Dice Bivol que su juventud y velocidad harán la diferencia.
"El puede pensar y decir lo que el quiera. El 3 de marzo, arriba del ring, tiene que demostrar que es un campón, porque si no lo hace, entonces nunca mereció ser llamado así y la faja pasará a quien más la quiere''.
Este rival parece muy distinto al dominicano Félix Varela.
"Mi entrenador y yo hemos trazado un plan. Ciertamente, Varela se movió mucho, pero si Bivol viene adelante, eso es lo que estamos deseando; y si viene con otra cosa, también lo estaremos esperando''.
¿Cómo ha sido la experiencia con Chris Algieri de nutricionista?
"He comido más y engordado menos. El simple hecho de no tener que preocuparme por cocinar ya es una fortuna. Chris es un experto. Estoy en peso, fuerte, en realidad, más fuerte que nunca.’’
¿Por qué las apuestas dan a Bivol como vencedor?
"Los fanáticos son bastante exigentes. Eso me da fuerza, con todos mis últimos oponentes salí como no favorito. Así que ya es algo que no me preocupa. Ahora, les digo, los que apuestan a Bivol el 3 de marzo, sabrán que su dinero peligra''.
Esa noche el Garden estará lleno de rusos, ¿alguna presión?
"Ya pasé esa prueba. Yo combatí contra el mejor del mundo, Andre Ward, en su propia casa de Oakland. Es algo difícil, pero mentalmente ya estoy acostumbrado. No hay preocupación en ese sentido''.
¿Cómo reaccionarás si ganas el título?
"Imagínate, yo he venido desde abajo y desde lejos, desde nada. Salí de mi tierra con ese sueño se ser campeón mundial y estoy a muy poco de lograrlo. Fui campeón mundial juvenil en los amateurs y no he olvidado la sensación de triunfo, el peso de la medalla. Quiero vivir todo eso de nuevo''.
DATOS DE INTERÉS
12-0-0 (10 KOs)
21-1-0 (14 KOs)
Bivol is a strong, hard-hitting light heavyweight. He has knockout power in both hands and has been successful overwhelming his opposition with his in-your-face attack.
Barrera has a strong jab he uses well, and has shown numerous times he can overcome the adversity that takes place in the squared circle, thanks to solid endurance and a granite chin.
Although he had an extensive amateur career, Bivol is still only 12 fights deep into his professional career. His inexperience as a pro may come into play if his opponent takes him into deep waters.
Sullivan has great technical boxing skills, but also has a tendency to get into wild slugfests with his opponents. He needs to keep his composure and stay sharp in order to avoid one of Bivol's thundering blows.
There is no question Bivol has been through the gauntlet for his first 12 professional bouts. However, he does not have the experience nor has he faced the level of opposition Barrera has faced thus far.
Although this is his first world title fight, Barrera has been in the ring with some of the best the division has to offer: Andre Ward, Vyacheslav Shabranskyy, and Joe Smith Jr. He has overcome adversity in prior bouts, making him a stronger fighter to this point.
Bivol's power is one of his greatest assets. He throws vicious combinations and possesses significant power in both hands.
Barrera has a powerful jab and a devastating right hand, both of which have played roles in the majority of his stoppage wins.
The champion has solid speed, quick hands and is fast on his feet as well.
The challenger has average speed, and maintains a steady pace throughout the fight.
Due to the way he has steamrolled through his opposition thus far, Bivol has only gone a full 12 rounds once, when he defeated Felix Valera in 2016.
Barrera proved he could go 12 rounds in a decision loss to former titleholder Andre Ward. He earned 10-round decision wins over ranked contenders Joe Smith Jr and Felix Valera.
Bivol's style allows him to be an accurate puncher. He likes to close in on his opponents, leaving them with little room to run.
Barrera's is very accurate when he gets his jab going and puts his punches together behind it.
Bivol's best defense has been his offensive aggressiveness thus far in his short career.
If Barrera commits to the jab, it can be very effective in taking any fighter out of his element, making it that much more difficult to get anything going offensively.
We have yet to see a big puncher have any offensive success with Bivol, so his chin is still a question mark.
Barrera has a granite chin. He has been knocked down, but has never been stopped, and he hass risen to the occasion to finish strong.
Bivol is an aggressive, in-your-face fighter who immediately enters attack mode from the start of the bout. He is heavy-handed and is making a name for himself in the division as a knockout artist.
Barrera is an extremely tough and technical fighter who likes to stick his jab and set up his shots. He also has a brawling style that inevitably comes out when his opponents show they are willing to engage.
Bivol makes his first WBA title defense against one of the hottest light heavyweights in the world in Sullivan Barrera. This is no surprise, however, as Dmitry has faced off against a who's who of opposition in his short career. Although his Cuban opponent believes Bivol is in over his head taking on the WBA's #1 ranked Barrera, Bivol thinks otherwise. He has full confidence in his abilities, and is well aware that if he has his way with Barrera, the sky is the limit for what he can do in the sport.
Barrera has been petitioning for a title shot for years. He has stepped up and faced off against the division's best light heavyweights. After years of hard work and victories over the likes of Joe Smith Jr, Karo Murat, and Vyacheslav Shabranskyy, he has been offered his long-awaited opportunity. Barrera opted to face the less experienced Dmitry Bivol. Barrera feels his route to a title shot was much more grueling than that of the champion, and believes Bivol will not be prepared for such a seasoned and gritty challenger as Sullivan Barrera.
Dmitry Bivol is one of the sport's top prospects, but he lacks the television exposure of Barrera. Despite a loyal Russian following, he may be at a disadvantage here. If he can comfortably handle the challenger in this match, expect his crowd support to increase significantly.
Over the years, Sullivan Barrera has established himself as a crowd-pleasing fighter. He competed at Madison Square Garden in his last bout in which he earned a win over ranked contender Felix Valera. He can expect significant crowd support coming into this bout.