Despite winning the first match by convincing margins on the judges' scorecards, Rances Barthelemy wants to make an emphatic statement tomorrow night when he looks to become the first Cuban boxer to win world titles in three different weight classes.
It took all of 25 seconds for Rances Barthelemy to realize he’d be in for a long night 9½ months ago.
That’s how far he and Kyril Relikh had advanced into their 12-round, 140-pound WBA elimination match when Relikh rocked the Cuban contender with a right hand to the side of his head. Relikh’s shot buzzed Barthelemy, made him hold and eventually led to him tackling Relikh to the canvas.
Referee Kenny Chevalier didn’t reprimand Barthelemy for that veteran move, which helped him overcome immediate difficulty against the rugged Relikh.
That was the first of several troublesome moments for Barthelemy before he was able to consistently out-box Relikh en route to winning a unanimous decision May 20 in Oxon Hill, Maryland. Judges John Gradowski (116-110), Eugene Grant (115-111) and Don Risher (117-109) all scored the fight for Barthelemy by sizeable margins, but Barthelemy recognizes Relikh gave him everything he could handle.
Barthelemy believes boxing smarter and remaining mindful of Relikh’s power will serve him well when they meet again tomorrow in what figures to be a compelling rematch in San Antonio (Showtime 10:15 p.m. ET & PT). This time, they’ll fight for the WBA super lightweight title Terence Crawford vacated when he moved up to the welterweight division last year.
“I always tell the truth, and Relikh is a powerful puncher,” Barthelemy said. “I won’t take that away from him. I never touched the canvas, though, but Relikh did. On Saturday night, I’m going to put him back on the canvas.”
Chevalier counted a knockdown against Barthelemy (26-0, 13 KOs, 1 NC) in the fifth round of their first fight.
Belarus’ Relikh (21-2, 19 KOs) wobbled Barthelemy by beating him to the punch as they exchanged left hooks. The ropes held up an off-balance Barthelemy and Chevalier correctly began counting with 52 seconds to go in the fifth round.
The Las Vegas-based Barthelemy made it to the end of the fifth and regained his strength during the sixth round. Barthelemy blasted Relikh with a right hand to his midsection late in the eighth round.
That punishing punch forced Relikh to take a knee with 12 seconds left in the eighth round. Barthelemy hurt Relikh again in the 11th round, when he ripped Relikh with two straight left hands to the body that made Relikh move away from him.
As successful as he was later in their first fight, the taller, rangier Barthelemy is committed to using his jab and his legs more throughout their second bout.
“I’m going to change a lot heading into the rematch,” Barthelemy said. “Last May, I wasn’t myself. I didn’t feel like I had my legs coming into the fight and I wasn’t able to perform how I usually do. This time my conditioning and nutrition is much improved. I’m going to use my legs and use my jab, and put on a boxing clinic.”
“ People thought it was a close fight, but I’m here to make history and erase any doubt. This is going to be a great show, with great action all night long. ” Two-division World Champion Rances Barthelemy
Relikh thinks he did enough in their first fight to beat Barthelemy, who will attempt to become the first Cuban-born boxer to win world titles in three weight classes Saturday night.
“I don’t think I lost the first fight, but that’s up to the judges,” Relikh said. “This time, we will be much better and not leave it in the judges’ hands, if we have the opportunity.”
Barthelemy believes neutralizing Relikh’s power will make their rematch much easier for him. The former IBF featherweight and IBF super featherweight champion expects less exchanges and to fight from distances that’ll allow him to pick apart his shorter, slower opponent.
“I studied [Relikh] a lot,” Barthelemy said. “So I expect the same type of performance that I’ve studied based off what he’s done in his past fights and what he did with me in our last fight. I know he’s strong, he’s a hard-hitter, and he always looks for that punch. I expect that this time around as well. He likes to exchange – that’s another thing I’m looking for. I know he’s going to come with all those tools into the ring, so I expect that and my team has prepared exactly for that.”
The 28-year-old Relikh will try to avoid losing a third straight fight. He has lost back-to-back, 12-round unanimous decisions to Barthelemy and Ricky Burns, a former two-division champ from Scotland.
“Two world-class fighters are going for the world title, so of course I’m going to be at my best,” Relikh said. “This is going to be a fight you cannot miss on Saturday.”
The 31-year-old Barthelemy hopes a victory over Relikh and the leverage gained from winning a world title will lead to a high-profile fight. Barthelemy mentioned facing Mikey Garcia (37-0, 30 KOs), who will try to become a champion in a fourth weight class when he challenges IBF junior welterweight champ Sergey Lipinets (13-0, 10 KOs) in the main event Saturday night.
More meaningful fights can’t occur, however, without conquering Relikh in their mandated rematch.
“Everyone knows that the first fight with Relikh was an unbelievable war,” Barthelemy said. “People thought it was a close fight, but I’m here to make history and erase any doubt. This is going to be a great show, with great action all night long. The fight fans here in San Antonio are great and I hope everyone shows up for it.”
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