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Las Vegas’ Rances Barthelemy wants to be first 3-division champion from Cuba

Updated May 19, 2017 - 7:42 pm

Rances Barthelemy needed a change. Something that would get boxing fans to notice the standout Cuban fighter.

Barthelemy’s 25-0 record with 13 knockouts and two world titles haven’t led to main event bouts.

It might be because of the unfair reputation Cuban boxers have of being dull fighters. Cuba’s biggest stars, Guillermo Rigondeaux and Erislandy Lara, have been overlooked for opting to slowly break down their opponents with skill instead of engaging in brawls that fans enjoy.

The boxer known as “Kid Blast” isn’t Rigondeaux or Lara.

Barthelemy will enter the ring Saturday with Sideshow Bob-type of hair dyed in blue when he faces Kiryl Relikh during a Showtime-televised quadruple-header from the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland.

“My team told me it’s time to change my look, and it’s been awhile since I last fought, so why not return with something different,” Barthelemy, who lives in Las Vegas, said in Spanish. “I started thinking and I started growing out my hair. It got a little out of control.”

If the blue hair doesn’t increase Barthelemy’s fan base, maybe a third division championship will do the trick. The Barthelemy-Relikh bout is a WBA junior welterweight title eliminator to face Julius Indongo.

Barthelemy, a former champion at 130 and 135 pounds, could be the first Cuban to win titles in three weight classes.

“That’s my main motivation,” said Barthelemy, 30. “I want to be the first Cuban to achieve that. I’ve dreamed about having a lot less. First, my dream was just to fight for a world title, not even win it. I never imagined winning two.”

Barthelemy didn’t think he would get the chance to leave Cuba and fight professionally. He saw what happened to his older brother’s career and feared he was headed for the same path.

Yan Barthelemy won a gold medal in the 2004 Olympics, but his pro career stalled because of Cuba’s strict restrictions.

It took Rances Barthelemy more than a dozen escape attempts before defecting to Miami in 2008.

“There were times where I thought I was going to die in the ocean,” Barthelemy said. “Other times, I thought sharks were going to eat me. But I kept trying every few months until I finally got to Miami.”

Barthelemy’s younger brother, Leduan, joined him in Las Vegas and together they work out with renowned trainer Ismael Salas.

This weekend will be Rances Barthelemy’s second trip to Washington, D.C. He was there in August to get his passport before making his first visit to Cuba in eight years.

“Everyone was asking me how I was able to get to the U.S.,” Barthelemy said. “There were so many emotions when I got to Cuba. I’m glad this great country allowed me to go visit and come back here to make a living. That’s why they call it The Land of Opportunity.”

Mayweather Promotions’ next star

Rising star Gervonta Davis will make his first title defense Saturday when he puts his IBF junior lightweight championship on the line against Liam Walsh. The Davis-Walsh bout will open the Showtime card from London at 3 p.m.

Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe has no concerns about sending his young star to Walsh’s backyard.

“No doubt, he’s ready,” Ellerbe said. “He’s boxing’s next big star. He’s the real deal.”

Davis, 22, was in Las Vegas last week finishing his training camp with Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Gary Russell Jr. defends his WBC featherweight belt against Oscar Escandon to headline the card at the MGM National Harbor.

Escandon had his training camp in Las Vegas with trainer Ruben Guerrero.

Crawford back in action

Terence Crawford, one of the top pound-for-pound fighters, makes his 2017 debut Saturday against Felix Diaz on an HBO main event at Madison Square Garden in New York. The card begins at 7 p.m.

“I am very excited for this fight and looking forward to fighting in the big arena where all of the greats have fought,” Crawford said.

Contact Gilbert Manzano at gmanzano@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0492. Follow @gmanzano24 on Twitter.

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