Turns out your girlfriend was lying: Size does matter. At least in the sport of boxing, where it pays to have arms as long as your opponent’s legs, especially when you’re trying to fend off a dude coming at you like a bowling ball destined for a strike.
In winning a 12-round unanimous decision in his adopted hometown of Las Vegas, Barthelemy snatched a vacant 135-pound world title and became a two-time world champ. But it wasn’t easy, namely because Barthelemy didn’t always use his superior length to his benefit.
Early on in the fight, Shafikov was able to bully his way inside on Barthelemy, who largely neglected his jab after Round 1. The tough Russian got right in his chest, hitting Barthelemy with both hands around his guard and just plain roughing up the onetime 130-pound champ.
Once Shafikov got his motor running, that engine purred, with Shafikov laying rubber around the ring, constantly surging forward while Barthelemy settled for pot shots, lobbing one punch at a time.
What’s more, the 5-foot-11 Barthelemy continually negated his six-inch height advantage by crouching down and leaning into Shafikov, only to get his ears hammered whack-a-mole style.
“There were moments when I was trapped into his style of fighting,” Barthelemy acknowledged in his locker room afterward. “It took a moment for me to adjust to that.”
But by Round 8, Barthelemy finally turned the fight his way for good by rediscovering his jab and working behind it to keep Shafikov at bay, then smashing him with sweat-spraying left hands. It was at this point that blood began to pour from a cut above Shafikov’s right eye that would reopen several times throughout the duration of the bout.
“The moment I started throwing the jab more frequently was when I started to notice I was hurting him,” Barthelemy said. “Once I got that cut open, I was able to see that I was really being effective with the jab, so I started throwing it a bit more.”
Still, Shafikov continued to press the action valiantly.
“I was really impressed with his warrior style, coming forward at all times,” Barthelemy said. “He never gave up. That’s something I respect. I was really surprised that he was able to last the entire way with that cut open.”
By Round 10, Barthelemy was feeling his oats, keeping his hands down as if to lure Shafikov in for the attack. He shufflled his feet and windmilled his left hand on multiple occasions, much to the delight of his vocal fan base, which chanted “Cuba!” and waved the island nation’s flags in support of their countryman.
Barthelemy gave his supporters plenty to cheer for in return, pulling away for a comfortable victory by scores of 119-109 and 116-112 twice.
After the fight, Barthelemy barely had time to savor the title he’d just won before talk turned to accumulating more.
“The next one I have my eye on is 140,” he said, surrounded by family and his 3-year-old daughter, “then moving up to 147, all the way up to 154. I’m aiming for four, five, even six titles."
Amid the festivities, Barthelemy was joined by fellow Cuban boxing standout Joel Casamayor, who also held titles at 130 and 135 pounds.
It was a jubilant, poignant moment—a champion of the past celebrating one of the present.
For complete coverage of Barthelemy vs Shafikov, head over to our fight page.
Short and not so sweet: Isiah Thomas' clash with Murat Gassiev ends in a no contest
Isiah Thomas (15-0, 6 KOs) got his bell rung after the bell rung, resulting in a no contest in a fight between two still-unbeaten 200-pound prospects.
Murat Gassiev (22-0 16 KOs) pressed the action early, patiently—yet steadily—walking Thomas down and firing right hands.
But Thomas, with a four-inch reach advantage, skillfully pumped his jab, diffusing Gassiev’s charge and then cracking him with left hands.
Thomas was asserting control of the fight early, but as Round 3 came to a close, Gassiev blasted him with a pair of shots after the bell, sending Thomas careening into the ropes.
After referee Jay Nady intervened, Thomas stumbled to his corner, clearly dazed. During the between-round break, Nady went to check on Thomas, who claimed he was unable to continue fighting because of the accidental late punches. As such, the fight was ruled a no contest.
Also on the televised portion of Friday's card, Eric Walker (12-0, 6 KOs) hammered out a unanimous-decision victory over Chris Pearson (13-1, 10 KOs) in a battle of previously undefeated 160-pound prospects. In an all-action, crowd-pleasing shootout, both fighters stood in front of each other and threw bombs, with Walker’s head-snapping uppercuts proving to be the difference as he pulled away for the win (80-72, 79-71, 78-74).
In the show opener, 135-prospect Gervonta Davis (14-0, 13 KOs) force-fed Luis Sanchez (17-5-1, 5 KOs) a buffet of right hands en route to a ninth-round TKO victory. The Baltimore-born fighter earned his fifth stoppage in as many fights in 2015.
Give Sanchez his due, however: He was the only one of Davis’ opponents this year to make it past three rounds.
For full coverage of Barthelemy vs Shafikov, visit our fight page.