By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – Sullivan Barrera overcame a rough start Saturday night to defeat Felix Valera.
Cuba’s Barrera got off the canvas from a first-round knockdown, scored one of his own, overcame a point deduction for a low blow and benefitted from the three points Valera lost for low blows to win a 10-round unanimous decision on the Sergey Kovalev-Vyacheslav Shabranskyy undercard in The Theater at Madison Square Garden. All three judges – Don Ackerman (98-88), Glenn Feldman (97-90) and Tom Schreck (97-89) – scored Barrera the winner by comfortable margins.
The 35-year-old Barrera improved to 22-1. The Dominican Republic’s Valera (15-2, 13 KOs) switched southpaw, showboated and often fought with his hands down, but couldn’t build on the momentum he built from flooring Barrera in the first round.
Knowing he needed a knockout to win, Valera demonstratively demanded that Barrera slug with him early in the 10th round, but Barrera didn’t respond to his taunts. Barrera hit Valera with a straight right hand with around 55 seconds left in the 10th and another with about 30 seconds to go in the fight.
After taking points away from Valera for low blows in the third, sixth and eighth rounds, referee Michael Ortega took a point from Barrera for a low blow early in the ninth round.
Valera suffered a third point deduction for a low blow with 1:17 to go in the eighth round, which promoted Valera to shake his head in disbelief.
Ortega deducted a second point from Valera for low blows 25 seconds into the sixth round. He previously took a point of from Valera in third round.
Once Barrera recovered from that punch, Valera got the better of a subsequent exchange of power punches in the center of the ring. But Barrera hit Valera with a right hand that knocked him into the ropes with about five seconds to go in the sixth.
Barrera and Valera simultaneously landed right hands at one point in the fourth round, but neither fighter was hurt.
For the second time in as many rounds, Valera landed a brutal left below Barrera’s belt about 15 seconds into the third round. Ortega deducted a point from Valera for his second such foul.
Barrera emerged from an exchange with a cut across his left eyebrow in the second round. Ortega warned Valera after landing a low blow that caused Barrera to take some time to recuperate with 1:50 remaining in the second round.
Valera blasted Barrera with a counter left hook that dropped him with about 1:25 to go in the first round. Barrera regained that point on the scorecard by recording a knockdown toward the end of the first round, when Ortega ruled that his short left hand knocked an off-balance Valera to the canvas.
By bouncing back to win, Barrera remains the mandatory challenger for WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol and could fight him next. Barrera has agreed to financial terms for a fight against Bivol, which the WBA has ordered to take place prior to April 30.
His promoter, Kathy Duva, told BoxingScene.com that the agreement affords Barrera the option of facing someone other than Bivol in his next fight.
Before Saturday night, Valera had lost only to Bivol (12-0, 10 KOs), who beat him by unanimous decision to win the WBA interim light heavyweight title in May 2016 in Moscow.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.