12 Rounds With … Rances Barthelemy

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Two-division world champion talks about his 140-pound rematch with Kiryl Relikh this Saturday night on Showtime, having the opportunity to make Cuban boxing history and moving up to even bigger weight classes.

Barthelemy vs Relikh

Two-division world champion Rances Barthelemy lands a punch in his 140-pound match vs Kiryl Relikh on May 20, 2017 in Oxon Hill, Maryland (Tom Casino/SHOWTIME).

Rances Barthelemy has plenty at stake entering his 140-pound WBA championship rematch with former title challenger Kiryl Relikh Saturday night in San Antonio, Texas.

Last May he won a close unanimous decision over Relikh, which has motivated him to make a more definitive statement in the Showtime-televised rematch that serves as the co-main event to Mikey Garcia and Sergey Lipinets’ 140-pound IBF title tilt (10:15 pm ET & PT).

Plus, the former two division champion can become the first Cuban-born fighter to win world titles in three different divisions.

The 31-year-old Barthelemy (26-0, 13 KOs), who lives in Las Vegas, discussed his re-energized training regimen for his rematch against the 28-year-old Relikh (21-2, 19 KOs) and the potential to move up to 147 and 154 pounds.

How much of an adjustment was the rise to 140 pounds to fight Relikh?

I learned that you must come fully prepared and cannot have any hiccups in your training camp. People forget I fought twice at 140 before coming down to 135. One of those fights being [a unanimous decision victory] against former world champion Antonio Demarco, who is known to have power in both hands.

Having fought him at 140, I knew the power and strength was different at this weight compared to lightweight. The biggest difference for this fight that ultimately was a determining factor of my performance was the stress and strain I put my legs during strength and conditioning.

Was there anything about Relikh’s skills and power that surprised you?

There was nothing really surprising. We knew his come-forward style and we knew of his power given his KO percentage on his record. He did exactly what we thought he would do.

The problem was I fought his fight rather than stick to the game plan we worked all through training camp. Once I sat there and began to exchange with him, the wise words of my late grandfather came back to me.

He once told me in my early amateur training in Cuba that you could not beat Russians by attacking the head, but that you had to work on the body. That’s exactly what I did, and it ended up working in my favor.

How badly hurt were you by the knockdown in the fifth round?

He caught me with a good shot that wobbled me, but it was not to the point that I was unaware of what was going on. I didn’t feel like it should have been a knockdown.

But the referee has to make a split-second decision, and I respect it. Starting from the opening bell in Round 1, I felt sluggish and felt my legs heavy. That’s part of the reason that shot took my legs out from under me.

Were you surprised that he got up from being dropped by that crushing eighth-round right to the solar plexus?

Yes I was surprised. I thought that shot would end that fight. That assumption led me to not jump on him right away when he turned his back. Had I done that, I’m sure the fight would have ended, but that was a mistake on my end for retreating.

Why were you convinced that you won?

I have replayed the fight over and over and not once have I have seen myself losing that fight. It was close, but I feel I landed the cleaner, more effective shots.

The problem is people underrate the body shots and the body work that I put in. Those shots were hurting him every time I landed. 

I was in that ring with him and could hear the sound he’d make that let me know they were taking a toll on him.

I have had many sleepless nights over that thought, in a country so rich in boxing history and filled with so many talented fighters, Rances Barthelemy can make history. Two-division World Champion Rances Barthelemy

What adjustments have you made for the rematch?

Bob Santos has come on board and completely changed my strength and conditioning and most importantly my nutrition. I feel rejuvenated and wish I had paid more attention to this aspect of training earlier in my career.

The adjustments in the ring will be to use my legs, my jab and stick to my game plan this time. I plan to give this guy a boxing lesson.

You can become the first Cuban boxer to win a third title in as many weight classes. How much of an incentive is that for you?

Because of it I am working three times as hard. We are training in the morning, the afternoon and at night everyday. Because of it I have hardly been able to see my daughters, my family. I never would have imagined in a million years that I would be in position to make history for a Cuban boxer.

I have had many sleepless nights over that thought, in a country so rich in boxing history and filled with so many talented fighters, Rances Barthelemy can make history. I believe it’s all a part of God’s plan, and all the struggles to defect from Cuba.

The sacrifices, near death experiences, imprisonments, leaving my loved ones behind and being away from my loved ones for so long—that all serves a greater purpose.

Do you want to unify at 140 or move up to 147 or 154 pounds?

I would love to unify titles at 140 if it’s against a big name, top pound-for-pound fighter like Mikey Garcia. If not, I would go up to 147 and look for fights against the top guys there.

No disrespect to anyone, but I no longer want to fight small fights against no-name opponents. So whether it’s at 140 or 147, I just want the big names. And if it there is something more lucrative at 154, we’ll fight there as well.

Who do you believe will win Garcia-Lipinets and why?

I think Mikey Garcia has the edge. He’s a very fundamentally skilled fighter and I don’t think people give him enough credit for that.

I think that’s his advantage against Lipinets, but I think it will be a very entertaining fight. Lipinets is a great, come-forward fighter with power behind his shots.

 How long will you continue to fight?

I think I still have a good 3-to-5 years left in me. I feel rejuvenated with Bob Santos as my nutritionist, strength and conditioning coach, so who knows?

Maybe I can keep going longer than that. I just want to fight big, meaningful fights, leave a long-lasting legacy and making sure my daughters’ future is secured.

For a closer look at Rances Barthelemy, check out his fighter page.

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