By John J. Raspanti
Former undisputed super middleweight titleholder Andre Ward (28-0, 15 KOs) will face hard-hitting light heavyweight contender Sullivan Barrera (17-0, 12 KOs) March 26th at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, CA.
Ward, 31, was last seen in the ring eight months ago dispatching over-matched Englishman Paul Smith in nine one-sided rounds. The bout was Ward’s first since early 2014, following an extended legal battle with his promoter, the late Dan Goossen. Ward was scheduled to fight three months ago until a knee injury suffered in training forced him to withdraw. His match with Barrera will be his debut in the light heavyweight division.
Ward’s trainer, Virgil Hunter, likes the match-up.
“That’s my choice, to fight Barrera,” Hunter said in an interview with www.FightHype.com.
“I told Andre that’s a good fight to start out with because he’s got some height behind him."
"We know that this is going to be a tough, tough fight,"said Hunter. "We’re preparing for him just like we would anybody else. There’s never no lack of preparation. It’s a great fight for us coming into the light heavyweight division. We got a lot of respect for him."
The Cuban-born Barrera, 33, first came to prominence in 2000 when he captured the gold during the World Junior Championships games in Budapest, Hungary. In 2009 Barrera defected from his homeland and turned professional--knocking out Anthony Adorno in the opening round. He’s steadily worked his way his up the rankings, stopping an over-the-hill Jeff Lacy in four rounds, and in his most recent bout, knocking out Karo Mura.
Ward shocked many boxing fans six years ago when he stopped heavily favored Mikkel Kessler in Round 11 during Showtime’s Super Six tournament. A year later, he dethroned WBC champion Carl Froch. That victory earned the 2004 Olympic gold medalist the top spot in the tourney. After laying off for 10 months due to a broken left hand suffered before his fight with Froch, Ward met light heavyweight champion of the world, Chad Dawson. Ward dismantled Dawson in 10 rounds.
Shelved for almost a year after another injury, Ward fought and easily defeated Edwin Rodriguez in southern California in 2013. His return against Smith was also his first fight under the Roc Nation banner. Ward’s inactivity has caused some to wonder if his skills are starting to fade.
Smith was able to catch him with a pretty good right hand in Round seven, but the lapse seemed more due to ring rust than erosion. Ward broke Smith’s nose in Round eight, and stopped him minutes later.
Barrera’s trainer, Abel Sanchez, likes his fighter’s chances against Ward.
"That is a good fight for us,” Sanchez told BoxingScene.com a few weeks ago. “Sullivan is thirty-three years old. Sullivan is at the point where he has seventeen fights and he needs to step up and fight somebody, and if it’s Andre Ward, then it’s Andre Ward. It is a good fight because of the position that Andre is in.
“If he is not the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world right now, he is one of them," said Sanchez. "If he is not, it is because he is not active. I look forward to it because we are going to be challenged by a guy who is very talented and I look forward to matching wits with not only Andre but with Virgil Hunter."
Sanchez is right. Barrera basically has nothing to lose. Virtually all the pressure is on Ward. An impressive victory paves the way for a showdown with light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev, possibly in the fall.
A match-up between Ward and Kovalev has been talked about for several years.
Both champions are undefeated.
Kovalev has knocked out 12 of his last 13 opponents.
Ward hasn’t lost a fight since he was 12 years old