Championship boxing is on the horizon and one particular battle is a true test for a world famous undefeated. Two-time world champion and top rated pound-for-pound pugilist, Andre “S.O.G.” Ward faces off against Cuba’s undefeated swinger Sullivan Barrera in a light heavyweight matchup that has Ward making his light heavyweight debut after enjoying a seven-year reign as super middleweight champ.
Ward vs. Barrera, a 12-round IBF number one position and mandatory position eliminator which is presented by Roc Nation Sports in association with Main Events, takes place on Saturday, March 26, 2016 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. The event will be televised live on HBO World Championship Boxing beginning at 9:45 p.m. ET/PT.
The fight is an IBF Light Heavyweight title eliminator in which the winner is the mandatory challenger for current champion, Russian Sergey Kovalev.
"It was the right time to move to light heavyweight,” said Ward after the final media workout. “It was a combination of not having the right guys to fight or guys that didn't want to fight me. I want to be great. These are the types of moves you have to make. I'm a student of the sport and when I study the sport, this is what greats have always done. They move up. The great ones find a way to get it done and I want to be in that conversation.”
Ward (28-0) had been out of competition and embroiled in legal battles with former promoter, the late Dan Goossen, who died after a short battle with liver cancer in 2014.
Ward returned after an almost two year absence last June where he scored a ninth round TKO over Briton Paul Smith at Oracle Arena in his hometown of Oakland, CA.
The upcoming fight is yet again at Oracle and is a product of Ward’s desire to get closer to Kovalev while not padding his record with an easy fight.
"Barrera is a big body," Ward told TSL. "He's confident. Seems to be a good puncher. We did not pick him because he's a soft touch. We picked him because he was going to get me ready and show me what this weight class is all about. If you look at my career, there's a place for tune-ups, which I haven't had a lot of. You want to fight the best and if you aren't fighting the best, you want to fight the number one contender. That's what we're doing.”
The undefeated Barrera (17-0) is the former WBO Latino Light Heavyweight champion, He scored a fifth round KO victory in his last fight in December over Karo Murat, which set him up for the IBF Light Heavyweight title elimination fight.
"Whatever Ward has, I will adjust to it and overcome it,” said Barrera at the final workout. "I have two hands. He has two hands. I have a job to do on March 26. I know Ward and Kovalev are very highly respected and they create a lot of money and a lot of interest, but they don't know what Sullivan Barrera is capable of doing. I will prove that on Saturday.”
In the light heavyweight division, champion Kovalev has expressed his interest in fighting lineal WBC & The Ring Light Heavyweight champion, Adonis Stevenson for a title unification bout and his frustration with not being granted the fight.
Kovalev has acknowledged Ward’s ambition to move up in weight and face him in his post-fight interview after defeating Jean Pascal in January due to Pascal trainer, Freddie Roach stopping the fight in the seventh round. However, Kovalev seems more focused on the title unification opportunity that Stevenson could provide him.
"I have to just be me. Who I am is enough,” said Ward. “I don't have to show up for Kovalev in the crowd on Saturday night. We just have to implement the game plan. I think that's going to send the message it's supposed to send and if it doesn't, then he'll [Kovalev] get the message when we fight."
Though considered a tune-up of sorts by many, Ward feels like this fight may be the most important test of his dazzling career.
"If I don't win this fight, there's nothing down the road," he said. " If I don't win this fight, I don't deserve to fight for the title. That's the reality of my situation.”
Fighting in the Bay area for the first time and in enemy territory, Barrera’s game plan is simple; finish the fight and upset the apple cart.
"I'm not really a guy that has to look for a knockout," Barrera told TSL. "My boxing skills speak for themselves. I am fighting Andre Ward and fighting here in Oakland, so I don't think a decision will be rendered in my favor.”
That means we have two fighters going for broke. It does't get much better than that.