As good as Rances Barthelemy was in winning a world championship at 130 pounds, he might be even better at 135.
The 5-foot-11 Cuba native dominated at 130 largely by using his length to keep his opponents at bay. But in three fights since vacating his title to move up in weight, “Kid Blast” has shown that he can also slug it out.
Rances Barthelemy (24-0, 13 KOs) earned a vacant 135-pound title in his last fight in December when he outgunned fierce Russian southpaw Denis Shafikov over 12 rounds to win a unanimous decision in Las Vegas.
Although possessed a six-inch height and 4½-inch reach advantage, the switch-hitting Barthelemy chose to work inside for much of the bout and exchange with Shafikov, who bled from a cut over his right eye during the late rounds.
“That was a really tough fight and a learning experience. I made it tougher than it should have been,” Barthelemy said. “I had never been in a war like that before, and the adrenaline kicked in.
“The blood made me want to dig down and trade with him in the center of the ring and beat him at his own game. It was the first time I had to go down to the trenches and engage in a fight like that, but I wanted to do it to show that not all Cubans are boring and only box.”
Barthelemy, 29, will attempt to retain his 135-pound championship Friday when he takes on the man who previously held the title, Mickey Bey, at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida (Spike TV, 9 p.m. ET/PT).
Bey (22-1-1, 10 KOs) won his title in September 2014 by beating longtime champ Miguel Vazquez but vacated it last year without making a defense. In his first fight since dethroning Vazquez, the 32-year-old Cleveland native—who, like Barthelemy, now resides in Las Vegas—earned a wide 10-round unanimous decision over Naim Nelson on the undercard of the Barthelemy-Shafikov main event.
Of course, Bey will be facing a far more difficult challenge against Barthelemy, who is excited to fight in South Florida, where there's a strong Cuban population.
“It's like fighting in my backyard, the closest thing to fighting in free Cuba,” said Barthelemy, who defected from his homeland eight years ago.
“I feel I am the best and toughest opponent [Bey] has ever faced, and that my opponents are better than any he’s faced. The adrenaline has me looking forward to defending my second world title in spectacular fashion.”
Barthelemy has looked spectacular at times since climbing in weight, often switching from orthodox to southpaw throughout his bouts, and showing both power and boxing ability from either side.
In his first fight after vacating his 130-pound title, the Cuban star weighed 137½ when he scored three knockdowns in a second-round TKO over Angino Perez in March 2015.
Barthelemy then weighed 139½ for his next bout in June, when he gained a fourth-round knockdown and shut out former 135-pound champ Antonio DeMarco over 10 rounds, before defeating Shafikov.
“Boxers are uncomfortable with my effectiveness in both stances. You have a game plan for me, but it’s different once you get in the ring,” Barthelemy said. “I did not switch stances much until I began training with [Las Vegas-based Cuban] Ismael Salas.
“I had been fighting orthodox pretty much my entire career, but he told me last year, ‘You are a natural lefty.’ My sparring partners tell me I frustrate them. Mickey Bey will have the same problems."
For a complete look at Barthelemy vs Bey, visit our fight page.