The two-division champion returned to his roots in preparation for his world title bout versus Robert Easter Jr. Saturday night on Showtime.
Rances Barthelemy didn’t even need to hear the scorecards read at the end of his rematch with Kiryl Relikh last March. Long before the final bell sounded, he knew that his quest to become Cuba’s first three-division world champion wasn’t going to happen that night.
Ten months after outpointing Relikh in their first bout, Barthelemy found himself at a career crossroads. Before he could take his next step forward, the former two-division titlist felt the need to take it back to the beginning.
All the way back to the beginning.
“I knew after the fight that I needed to go back to the basics, but it was more than that,” Barthelemy (27-1, 14 KOs) recalled of the moments following the lone loss of his career. “So, I went home to Cuba. I had long conversations with my mother and also my older brother Yan who pointed out a lot of my mistakes.”
Fresh eyes never hurt, especially when you can’t identify the problem on your own. For Barthelemy, there’s no greater authority on what can be done better than someone who has reached the highest pinnacle.
It’s even better when it’s a member of your own family.
Yan is the oldest of the Barthelemy boxing clan, having captured gold for Cuba at the 2004 Athens Olympics. His pro career wasn't as accomplished, but he enjoyed watching younger brother Rances soar to the top of the super featherweight and lightweight divisions.
What Yan didn’t enjoy was watching his sibling fall into poor ring habits in recent fights, including the loss to Relikh in their 140-pound title fight rematch.
Yan will be in his younger brother’s corner at Las Vegas’ Cosmopolitan when Rances takes on former titlist Robert Easter Jr. for the vacant lightweight championship Saturday night on Showtime (10:00p.m. ET/7:00p.m. PT).
“Talking with Yan when I went home really helped clear my mind and realize all of the things I’ve been doing wrong in the ring,” Barthelemy noted. “He’s now on board and an official part of my team.
“There were a lot of errors to be corrected, and we got rid of a lot of things that have been holding me back in my goal to become a three-division world champion.”
Last December's third-round knockout of Robert Frankel put Barthelemy back in the win column. Training camp for this fight has the 31-year old feeling like the young Rances who looked unbeatable on the way up the ranks and through two title reigns.
Barthelemy was a former amateur standout on course to follow in Yan’s footsteps to the Olympics. He instead followed him in a different way, defecting from Cuba prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, less than two years after his older brother fled to the United States in search of a better life.
Barthelemy turned pro in 2009 and has since settled in Las Vegas, where he currently lives and trains. At 5-foot-10 and with a 72.5-inch reach, he’s proven to be a hellish matchup for nearly everyone in the super featherweight and lightweight divisions.
“ We got rid of a lot of things that have been holding me back in my goal to become a three-division world champion. ” Former Two-Division World Champion - Rances Barthelemy
It took him two tries to win his first world title—only due to a technicality. An originally-ruled knockout win over Argenis Mendez in their first fight was changed to a No-Decision when a review of the ending by the Minnesota commission revealed that Mendez was struck just after the bell sounded to end round two.
Barthelemy left no doubt in the rematch, winning a clean decision to claim the 130-pound crown, which he defended just once before moving up in weight. A similar pattern occurred at lightweight. In December 2015, Barthelemy outpointed Denis Shafikov to win a world title. He defended it once before the two fights with Relikh at super lightweight.
Though Barthelemy won a unanimous decision in their first encounter, there were signs that he had lost his way. Both fighters hit the deck; Barthelemy in round five before he rallied to deck the Belarusian in the eighth on his way to the win and a shot at a third title.
Looking back, the rematch turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“It just wasn’t my time to make history for Cuba,” Barthelemy said. “After the (second) fight, I sat back and analyzed my performance. I didn’t even recognize the fighter in there. So many different things went wrong. We made a lot of changes, and with my brother on board we’re ready to bring it back to the basics that made me a world champion.”
The chance to become a three-division champion will have to wait, but for now there exists the real possibility of entering a third title reign. Standing in his way is a fellow former champion in Easter (21-1, 14 KOs) who, at 5-foot-11, poses a rare height disadvantage for Barthelemy.
He also presents the type of competition Barthelemy seeks in returning to his old form.
“The opportunity presented itself and we’ve never run from a real challenge.” Barthelemy insisted. “He’s a big name, a former world champion. He’s coming off of a tough loss to (former four-division world champion) Mikey Garcia, and I’m sure he has the same goals I do—to return to old form and prove he’s still the best.”
While all his time and energy is focused on Saturday’s championship showdown, it doesn’t even come close to the end game. Job one is to reclaim a lightweight crown. From there remains unfinished business five pounds north.
“We took this fight because it’s a great challenge, but the ultimate goal is to go back to 140 and become the first Cuban in history to win titles at three weights,” said Barthelemy.
All it took was a trip back to where it first began to realize how to get to where he wants to be.
For a closer look at Rances Barthelemy, check out his fighter page.