By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – Sullivan Barrera respects Dmitry Bivol, just like all of his other opponents.
Barrera believes, though, that Bivol still has plenty to prove to justify all of the hype accompanying the unbeaten WBA light heavyweight champion during his rise in the 175-pound division. The Cuban contender considers his resume much stronger than the Bivol’s record as a professional and he intends to prove his superiority Saturday night in The Theater at Madison Square Garden.
The scheduled 12-rounder between Kyrgyzstan’s Bivol (12-0, 10 KOs) and Miami’s Barrera (21-1, 14 KOs) will open HBO’s “World Championship Boxing” doubleheader at 10:05 p.m. ET.
“He’s 12-0 with who?,” Barrera said before a press conference Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. “Who he beat? Easy fights. Nobody punched back [at] him. I respect him. He’s a champion right now, but he needs to prove it Saturday night. He needs to beat Sullivan.”
Barrera, 36, and Bivol, 27, have one common opponent. Both boxers beat the Dominican Republic’s Felix Valera (15-2, 13 KOs) by unanimous decision.
Valera dropped Barrera in the first round of their November 25 fight at The Theater. Barrera recovered and easily out-boxed Valera in their 10-rounder to secure his shot at Bivol, for whom he is the WBA’s mandatory challenger.
In just his seventh pro bout, Bivol won a 12-round unanimous decision over Valera and took the WBA’s interim light heavyweight title from him in May 2016.
Bivol said Wednesday that Valera was the best opponent he has faced during a pro career that began in November 2014. Barrera has fought former pound-for-pound king Andre Ward (32-0, 16 KOs), the only fighter to beat Barrera, and beaten light heavyweight contenders Joe Smith Jr. (23-2, 19 KOs) and Vyacheslav Shabranskyy (19-2, 16 KOs).
“I’m the biggest test for him,” Barrera said. “I told you – I respect him because he’s good, he’s young. But he don’t have this test before. He has 12 [wins] and 10 knockouts, but he didn’t have this test.”
The Bivol-Barrera winner is expected to eventually get a shot at WBO champion Sergey Kovalev (31-2-1, 27 KOs). Kovalev is heavily favored to defeat fellow Russian Igor Mikhalkin (21-1, 9 KOs), the IBO champ, in HBO’s main event Saturday night.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.