WHEN unified light heavyweight champion Andre Ward announced his retirement on September 21, the division was split wide open. With Ward’s IBF, WBO, and WBA world titles now vacant, the contenders at 175lbs are clamouring for their chance to fight for the belts.

Top contender Sullivan Barrera (20-1, 14 KOs) is no exception. The Cuban standout has made it clear he wants nothing more than to fight for a world title and, ideally, a decent payday. Currently ranked #2 by the WBA, Barrera was stunned when the sanctioning body announced on September 25 that their #1 ranked contender, Dmitry Bivol, would be facing #11 ranked Trent Broadhurst on November 4 in a bout for the world title.

“My team is working hard to get me a fight,” Barrera said when asked about the WBA title situation. “I think the WBA will make it right. Hopefully I’ll fight before year’s end. I want to fight for the title. This is my job—this is something I’ve worked so hard for, since I was a young boy.”

Recently, Barrera turned down an offer to face former world champion Sergey Kovalev, who was last seen in the ring in June when he was stopped by 8th round TKO courtesy of Andre Ward. Kovalev is now scheduled to face Vyacheslav Shabranskyy on November 25, live on HBO.

Sullivan clarified the details of that offer. “I was offered the fight with Kovalev, but it wasn’t for a title. They offered me no money—they said $300,000 first, but I said, ‘I’ll take the fight, but if I win you need to guarantee me another fight for more money.’ They weren’t interested in this. So I said, ‘No title, no money—I’d better wait for a title fight, because I know I’m next in the rankings for a title.’

“I took Shabranskyy [in December 2016] for no money. I took Smith Jr. [in July 2017] for no money. I think I showed people with those wins that I’m a good boxer. I just want to be paid fairly. Boxing is my job.”

As a top contender in the light-heavyweight division for several years, Barrera has drawn a line in the sand regarding unsatisfactory paydays. In February of this year, the IBF ordered a purse bid for their #2 contender Artur Beterbiev to face Barrera, who was then rated #6 by the organization. Beterbiev’s promoter Yvon Michel won the purse bid by offering only $251,000—which would mean, with the standard 75-25 split in favor of Beterbiev, Barrera would only have made $62,750. Hence, Sullivan pulled out of the bout and continued his search for a title shot and/or decent payday.

In July, when Barrera faced Joe Smith Jr. (23-2, 19 KOs), Sullivan was dropped in the first round but battled back to win an impressive ten-round decision over the American fighter. Later, it was revealed that Smith’s jaw had been broken early in the scrap—the second time Smith has had to deal with the same injury. (In his seventh professional fight, Smith’s jaw was broken. His jaw was wired shut for six months during his recovery, and his doctor advised Smith not to fight again. But he fought on, and in his 25th bout he faced Sullivan Barrera.)

Prior to the bout with Vyacheslav Shabranskyy (19-1, 16 KOs), many pundits felt it was a 50-50 match-up, and very possible that Barrera would be stopped by the heavy-handed Shabranskyy.

“In every fight they offer me, I’m always the one who’s supposed to lose,” Barrera said.

It was an exciting fight that saw Barrera on the canvas in round two and his power-punching opponent knocked down three times during the course of the contest. But Sullivan used his superior technique to outbox and outwork his opponent round after round, and he came out on top when referee Ray Corona mercifully waved it off to put a stop to the punishment Shabranskyy was taking.

“Stopping Shabranskyy was something we knew we could do,” Sullivan said. “He can punch but his boxing skills are not on my level.”

Andre Ward versus Sullivan Barrera

When asked his thoughts on the retirement of Andre Ward, the only man to have defeated Barrera as a professional, Sullivan had an honest and generous response. “Ward is the best boxer,” he said. “I thank him for the opportunity to fight him. I learned so much from that fight. I think he deserves credit for all he made happen in his career. He made money, fought the best fighters—this is every boxer’s dream, and he did it.”

Following his decision loss to Ward in March 2016, Barrera parted ways with trainer Abel Sanchez and began working with coach Derik Santos. Santos, who previously worked as an assistant under John David Jackson, operates out of south Florida. There is the aspect of convenience since the gym is near where Barrera lives, but Santos and Barrera also click well. Said Barrera, “We are currently training, waiting for the phone to ring for that next opportunity.”

While he waits for his title shot, Barrera had this message for the fans: “I’ll be back soon. Thanks for supporting me. Boxing is a funny business, but I’m strong and the best of me is coming. I’ll fight for a world title soon.”