By Keith Idec
Sullivan Barrera feels Felix Valera wasn’t really trying to win when he fought Dmitry Bivol last year.
Barrera, who has studied that fight closely in preparation for his own fight against Valera on Saturday night, thinks Valera felt Bivol’s vaunted power early and then just tried to survive all 12 rounds against the hard-hitting champion from Kyrgyzstan. Bivol beat Valera by unanimous decision to win the WBA interim light heavyweight title from him in May 2016 in Moscow.
“In that fight, Valera was content to go the distance with Bivol,” Barrera told BoxingScene.com through a translator. “He wasn’t there to do anything other than survive.”
The Dominican Republic’s Valera (15-1, 13 KOs) suffered a long laceration above his right eyebrow after an accidental clash of heads early in the fourth round against Bivol (12-0, 10 KOs). He told BoxingScene.com that he was worried about that cut over the final eight-plus rounds and it impacted his performance.
“Even before the cut,” Barrera said, “he wasn’t doing anything, either.”
Bivol beat Valera convincingly on all three scorecards (119-107, 119-107, 116-111).
If Barrera wins Saturday night in New York, he is likely to battle Bivol in his following fight. The Cuban-born contender is the mandatory challenger for Bivol’s title and already has agreed to a purse for a fight against Bivol that the WBA has ordered to take place prior to April 30.
“My only focus right now is on the biggest fight of my life against Valera,” Barrera said. “It doesn’t matter if I sign a contract or not. I have to handle my business against Valera. I’m 100-percent focused on beating Valera.”
Barrera (20-1, 14 KOs) hopes he doesn’t have to spend much of their scheduled 10-round bout chasing Valera.
“Valera moves a lot, which can make the fight boring or difficult for me,” Barrera said. “Once he feels my power, he will move. But one of the things I learned in the Cuban school is how to attack, how to stop that. My No. 1 thing is making sure I don’t let him move. I credit the Cuban boxing school for that.”
HBO will televise the Barrera-Valera bout as part of a “World Championship Boxing” tripleheader from The Theater at Madison Square Garden (10 p.m. ET).
In the main event, Russia’s Sergey Kovalev (30-2-1, 26 KOs) and Ukraine’s Vyacheslav Shabranskyy (19-1, 16 KOs) will fight for the vacant WBO light heavyweight title Kovalev once owned. The three-bout broadcast will begin with a 10-round super featherweight bout between Jason Sosa (20-2-4, 15 KOs), of Camden, New Jersey, and Cuba’s Yuriorkis Gamboa (27-2, 17 KOs).
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.