By Robert Aaron Contreras
Posted: November 5, 2015
The Lightweight division may be boxing history’s most compelling story arc. Its ensemble cast is as rich as it is diverse: Jack McAuliffe and Joe Gans, pioneers extraordinaire; Henry Armstrong, the “blackout” hitter; Barney Ross, the champion war hero; Roberto Duran, the evil ring scientist; the untouched and unspoiled Benny Leonard; and so, so many more.
Today, however, the 135-pound weight class is the runt of the “Original Eight.” It hasn’t seen a bonafide superstar put their roots down since maybe Juan Manuel Marquez in 2010 or even Floyd Mayweather Jr. before then.
One-time super Featherweight world champion Rances Barthelemy, for one, originally opted to skip right over the division and fight twice at Junior Welterweight instead.
That is, until next month.
Barthelemy (23-0, 13 KO) contends for the vacant IBF Lightweight belt against Denis Shafikov (36-1-1, 19 KO), a bruising former title challenger, on the December 18 edition of Premier Boxing Championships airing on Spike TV.
Barthelemy, who defected from Cuba in 2008 after a staggering 38 attempts, foresees only victory in his future.
“The title is mine,” Barthelemy told Round By Round Boxing through a translator. “I know what it takes to be a champion and win a world title. I feel very confident in my training, especially with Ismael Salas.”
Given the nickname “Kid Blast” by his former manager, Barthelemy currently hones his fistic craft under the tutelage of Ismael Salas, the illustrious Cuban trainer who has worked with champions both big and small like Guillermo Rigondeaux and Danny Garcia.
The fight between Barthelemy, 29, and Shafikov, 30, has been bounced around the country from Florida, where it was originally scheduled to take place on the undercard of Erislandy Lara’s title defense at the end of November, to New York in support of Daniel Jacobs and Peter Quillin’s championship fight in the first week of December, before finding home in Las Vegas.
The IBF ordered the matchup after the most recent titlist Mickey Bey inexplicably pulled out of a mandatory defense against Shafikov in June before relinquishing the belt altogether.
This will also be a rare instance of where a Top Rank promoted boxer squares off with a fighter managed by Al Haymon, who Barthelemy signed with in March 2014.
Haymon, who rival promoters Golden Boy and Top Rank have filed lawsuits against, is as polarizing a figure as a man who never sits down for interviews can be.
But Barthelemy wants to set the record straight:
“Al Haymon, in my honest opinion, is probably the best thing that has happened to the sport. He really takes care of his fighters and brings them the big purses they actually deserve.
“He’s revolutionizing the sport of boxing.”
When Barthelemy hooked up with Haymon last year, he joined a star-studded stable of clients that included one Floyd Mayweather Jr. – who Barthelemy looks up to – and current Junior Welterweight champion Adrien Broner.
Barthelemy’s last two outings, his most recent of which was a wide decision victory over former champion Antonio DeMarco in June that saw all three judges give him nine of 10 rounds, took place at the Junior Welterweight limit of 140 pounds.
With the dearth of talent at Lightweight, 140 pounds is where the money is. And that’s where Kid Blast will return.
“The only reason I came back down in weight,” Barthelemy said. “Is to grab a second world title in a second weight division. After I grab this world title, I plan to move back to 140 to fight big names.”
While Barthelemy mentioned he doesn’t plan on competing at 135 pounds for long, that doesn’t mean a unification bout is entirely out of question.
“I am thinking about fighting once or twice at Lightweight,” Barthelemy said. “I plan on unifying the title with [WBO champion] Terry Flanagan.
It’s an appealing matchup. Barthelemy, a fine switch-hitter, is a gigantic Junior Welterweight, let alone, a Lightweight. There isn’t a quality fighter at 135 or 140 pounds that can match the Cuban’s 5’11” frame outside of Viktor Postol. Flanagan, who is promoted by Frank Warren, almost does, measuring in at a lengthy 5’9” (per BoxRec.com).
That’s taller than any of the other sanctioning bodies’ Lightweight champions and a big four inches taller than the stout Shafikov who gets his crack at Barthelemy in December.
Barthelemy, however, has done his homework, making note of his Russian opponent’s unrelenting pressure-fighting and strength.
And he’ll always have his roots to fall back on.
“I come from the world famous Cuban school of boxing,” Barthelemy continued. “That’s really pushed me and has given me the fundamentals and appropriate tools that I need to stay undefeated here in the states.”