The last twelve months were painful for Cuban fighters, often ignored or steered in the opposite direction, denied their opportunity. Reeling from the embarrassing defeat suffered by one of the nation’s greatest ever pugilists, Guillermo Rigondeaux, they were marched towards further disappointment.

Erislandy Lara lost his World title in a unification bout with Jarrett Hurd; Yunier Dorticos suffered the same fate in the semi-final of the World Boxing Super Series; Luis Ortiz came within a lace of his glove from knocking out heavyweight champion, Deontay Wilder, before being stopped; Rances Barthelemy was denied his place in history, losing to Kiryl Relikh when out-hustled in San Antonio.

Another man who’d toiled in a World title contest was the consistent contender, Sullivan Barrera (22-2, 14KOs). On speaking with the frustrated challenger, exclusively for Boxing Social, it was clear he sought redemption as we entered the new year.

“How can you bounce back and become successful once again? Cuban boxing, think about this, we come from a small island and there is only so many of us. Our conditions in the past [were] very bad. I think we have done a lot. Look at Ortiz, Lara, [Yordenis] Ugas – these guys do a lot for Cuban boxing and I don’t think we get enough credit! But, this is life. This is the way it is, so we just have keep fighting and keep showing World [that] we have talent, too.”

Barrera had left his native, Cuba, almost ten years ago, in search of a career which would see him fulfil the potential spotted as he patiently learned to shadow box. Just another youth in Guantanamo Bay. He’d featured for the famed Cuban national amateur set-up, yet revealed how close he had come to missing his opportunity. The nation which forces it’s fighters to choose between their career and their country, splitting young men from their families, had bred the greatest amateur boxers in the history of the sport.

Barrera revealed, “I started [boxing] when I was eight-years-old. Since then, I made the national team on the boxing farm [in Cuba]. I tried to escape [from] Cuba two times and I got caught! On the third time, I [had to] flee via the speed boat to Mexico and then I crossed to the USA.

“It was very difficult for me when I arrived in Mexico. They found out that I was an athlete, so they held me for seven months and tried to ask me for more money. It was a tough time for me, I suffered so much. I would tell [the immigration] people, ‘Just send me back to Cuba!’, [but] luckily, after seven months, they let me go!”

It wasn’t life, as we knew it.

The former World Amateur Championship junior gold medalist had left behind his possessions, his livelihood and a stunning, reported record of 285-27. The entirety of professional fighter’s careers when hailing from Cuba can be summed up with that dusty, tired aphorism – ‘risk versus reward’. Though, many of these boxers are successful based on merit and capital, their existence is altered immeasurably, leaving mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers behind.

Sullivan Barrera had already fought some of the best in the sport. He’d shared a ring with Andre Ward, Dmitry Bivol and fringe contenders Joe Smith Jr and Sean Monaghan. His two defeats had been suffered at the hands of Ward and Bivol, elite-level fighters. However, Barrera was still irked by his loss to the Russian WBA champion, last March.

He confessed, “[This is a] very tough question for me to answer, because I don’t want to take any credit away from Bivol – he is tremendous fighter! But, I was not supposed to fight that night. That was not me. I was very sick, dehydrated and weak, but the fight had to happen! I don’t like talking about this, because it’s not fair for Bivol, but I should have pulled out from [that] fight.

“I would like another fight against Bivol. I know many people probably [have] no interest, but I think a rematch would be different. I am a free agent now, so I can fight anyone! I would like to fight for a [World] title or fight for a mandatory position – anybody – I only want to fight the best!”

Despite calling respectfully for the rematch, it was another, more familiar domestic name that Barrera had been stalking via Social Media. Now, aged thirty-six, the Cuban was desperate to make use of his remaining years in the sport and had been disappointed when a fight with Britain’s Anthony Yarde had failed to come to fruition. East Londoner, Yarde, had received criticism for his selection of opponents last year, with many viewing Barrera as an excellent step-up. Within hours of mentioning the fight on Twitter, Barrera revealed it was never going to happen.

“I looked for a fight with the best available fighters! I only want to fight [the] best. Yarde was looking for an opponent, somehow, it’s crazy this guy is ranked number one by the WBO! But, [he] doesn’t want to fight the best fighters. I am available, but they have no interest!”

Now tangling with free agency, Barrera had increased his presence online, regularly interacting with fans and claiming he was chasing big fights. It was hard to doubt him. Once a man has tested himself with Andre Ward and Dmitry Bivol, you’d struggle to ignore his ‘cojones’.

It seemed deeper than boxing, though. Barrera was still chasing those dreams of glory that have eluded him, thus far. Many of his compatriots have won World titles whilst Barrera had suffered a loss at his only attempt.

The clock is ticking, as he turns thirty-seven in February, with a division truly buzzing with Eastern European talent. It’s tougher now, than it was twelve months ago, to claim a portion of the title. It seemed that realisation had dawned on Sullivan, who like many other Cuban fighters, was searching for a fair crack of the whip.

“This [next fight] depends a lot on other promoters. I am available to fight anyone! I have no promoter, so I just need an opportunity, that’s all I need. I want to fight the best because it helps bring [out] the best in me and in my career, where I am at now, I must only fight the best. I will not be wasting anymore time – if I can’t fight the best, then I’ll retire!”

Article by: Craig Scott

Follow Craig on Twitter at: @craigscott209