By Keith Idec
Felix Valera believes he has signed on for a more difficult fight Saturday night than Vyacheslav Shabranskyy.
Valera and his trainer, Luis Perez, both told BoxingScene.com that they think Sullivan Barrera is a better fighter than Sergey Kovalev. The unknown Valera (15-1, 10 KOs) is scheduled to battle Barrera (20-1, 14 KOs) on the Kovalev-Shabranskyy undercard Saturday night in The Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York.
“I feel Kovalev has weight problems and can’t handle pressure,” Valera said. “I haven’t seen anything like that in Barrera.”
The Dominican Republic’s Valera hopes beating Barrera will get him a shot at Kovalev (30-2-1, 26 KOs), who’ll box Shabranskyy (19-1, 16 KOs) for the WBO light heavyweight title Andre Ward vacated when he retired nearly two months ago. HBO will televise the Kovalev-Shabranskyy and Barrera-Valera fights as part of a “World Championship Boxing” tripleheader (10 p.m. ET).
Russia’s Kovalev is a 16-1 favorite against Ukraine’s Shabranskyy, but Perez and Valera saw significant weaknesses in the former champion during his eighth-round technical knockout loss to Ward (32-0, 16 KOs) in their rematch June 17 in Las Vegas.
“It’s not about the losses [to Ward], it’s about what he showed in the fight,” Perez said. “Barrera also lost to Ward [by unanimous decision], but he didn’t show the same weakness to me that Kovalev showed. I think Kovalev can’t handle pressure, can’t handle body punches and when things don’t go his way, he crumbles.
“And Barrera didn’t crumble under pressure. He kept trying to win. So once again, it’s not that [Kovalev] lost. It’s the way that he lost and the weakness that he showed to me in the [second] Ward fight. He’s not the same fighter he was before the Ward fight.”
Perez considers Cuba’s Barrera boxing’s best light heavyweight now that Ward has retired. That includes WBA champion Dmitry Bivol (12-0, 10 KOs), the only fighter to defeat Valera.
“After Andre Ward retired, to me, the most dangerous fighter out there [at light heavyweight] is Barrera because he can punch and he can box,” Perez said. “I see him as a lot more dangerous than Kovalev. So to me, passing this test against Barrera would put us on top of the scale because, to me, he’s the most dangerous fighter at 175, more than anybody. He’s much better than Kovalev, in my opinion.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.