Sullivan Barrera strives to learn English, earn world title shot

Updated July 7, 2017 - 2:17 pm

Sullivan Barrera was tired of hearing all the younger boxers at his gym speaking English and not understanding what they were saying.

Barrera, who defected from Cuba eight years ago, decided it was time to go back to school. Barrera enrolled in English learning classes at a school near his home in Miami and also took a course online.

The light heavyweight contender got to the point where he could join the conversations at his gym. But Barrera recently had to stop attending class.

Barrera (19-1, 14 knockouts) will face rising contender Joe Smith Jr. (23-1, 19 KOs) July 15 at The Forum in Inglewood, California, during an HBO Boxing After Dark tripleheader.

“I needed to stop because I knew this fight was going to keep me busy,” Barrera, 35, said in Spanish. “Managing both would be hard, and my dream is to become a world champion and this is the fight that could get me there.”

Barrera, who hasn’t fought for a world title, has been on the comeback trail since suffering his first career defeat against Andre Ward 16 months ago. It was a lopsided victory for Ward as Barrera fell down the rankings.

The 175-pound division is loaded, with top champions Ward and Adonis Stevenson, and many contenders such as Nathan Cleverly, Oleksandr Gvozdyk, Artur Beterbiev, Dmitry Bivol and Eleider Alvarez gunning for their belts. The winner of Barrera-Smith could jump to the front of line.

Smith, 27, is viewed as the favorite after making a name for himself in 2016 with upset victories over Andrzej Fonfara and Bernard Hopkins.

Barrera recently defeated a different up-and-comer, Vyacheslav Shabranskyy, in December.

“Joe Smith is a grand fighter and he has shown it in his last two fights,” Barrera said. “It’s a difficult fight for both of us, and this is what the fans of boxing asked for, and I will come out giving them a show.

“I will never forget the Andre Ward loss because I have a lot of pride, but I didn’t hang my head. I got a new corner and I improved in many areas. Boxing fans will soon learn that I belong with the best.”

The slugfest between WBC junior lightweight champion Miguel Berchelt and Takashi Miura headlines the HBO card. Jezreel Corrales defends his WBA junior lightweight title against Robinson Castellanos on the co-main event.

Barrera said he hasn’t given up on speaking fluent English.

“I got my apps on my phone and I try to listen better at the gym,” Barrera said.

Canelo-GGG sold out

The Sept. 16 middleweight showdown between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin at T-Mobile Arena has sold out, Golden Boy Promotions announced Friday.

Tickets information for closed circuit venues is expected to be announced soon along with the undercard.

“The boxing public fully understands that this is the biggest fight in many years, and everyone at T-Mobile Arena on September 16 is going to experience a once-in-a-lifetime thrill of watching the two biggest stars in the sport go toe-to-toe,” Golden Boy Promotions CEO and Chairman Oscar De La Hoya said in a statement.

Contact Gilbert Manzano at Follow @GManzano24 on Twitter.

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