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Viva Cuba - Barthelemy leads island’s boxing revolution

Steve Lillis

1st October 2014

RANCES BARTHELEMY has been one of the few shining lights in Cuban professional boxing this year.

The IBF Super-Featherweight champion makes his BoxNation debut on Saturday when he defends his title against Argentine Fernando Saucedo.

Despite being unbeaten in 21 contests, Rances's progress has slipped under the radar compared to Yuriorkis Gamboa, Erislandy Lara and the fight-mad island's top boxer, Guillermo Rigondeaux (below, left).

Rigondeaux boxer

The elite trio have found 2014 tough, while 'Kid Blast' finally picked up his world title after two controversial clashes against Argenis Mendez.

Barthelemy, 28, thought he had become champion when he 'knocked out' Mendez in January.

He was announced the winner, but footage showed he flattened his rival after the bell had sounded to end round two.

After an appeal to the Minnesota Combative Sports Commission and the IBF, the result was changed to a no contest.

In July's rematch, Barthelemy won 115-111 on the three judges' scorecards to be crowned champion, but that wasn't without incident.

Then, Barthelemy diced with disqualification when body shots strayed low and he was deducted points in rounds nine and ten.

That win for Rances who stands 5ft 11in tall, freakishly tall for his division, has given Cuban boxing a shot in the arm.

Gamboa and Lara have suffered defeats and brilliant Rigondeaux is being avoided by everybody. He might have to chop off a hand to get a fight.

There are other Cuban world champions. Richard Abril holds the WBA lightweight title, but travelled to Finland in mid-September to get his first fight in 18 months.

IBF Cruiserweight champion, Yoan Pablo Hernandez wears the IBF cruiserweight crown, but the German-based southpaw looks beatable these days and has boxed just once this year.

Gamboa made the unwise decision to make a move up to lightweight and was floored four times by WBO Lightweight champion Terence Crawford before losing in nine rounds, just three months ago.

Two days after Barthelemy defeated Mendez, Lara showed his ability but didn't do enough against Saúl 'Canelo' Álvarez and dropped a split decision.

Rigondeaux has had just 104 seconds of action this year, blowing out Thai Sod Kokietgym in a Macau show.

The WBO and WBA Super-Bantamweight had been due to face Chris Avalos. Inexplicably the WBO mandatory walked away from the fight last week after it had gone to purse bids.

Rigondeaux is a victim of his own brilliance, a fate Barthelemy has not yet come across.

Plenty of fans expect Barthelemy's 73 inch reach to be too much for Saucedo who has a 52-5-3 record and whose only loss in the almost ten years came against Chris John in December 2010.

Opportunities appear scarce for Rigondeaux, while Gamboa and Lara ponder the way back there could be a catalogue of opportunities for Barthelemy.

WBC champion Takashi Miura and WBA title holder Takashi Uchiyama might be reluctant to leave Japan, but WBO king Mikey Garcia might jump at a unification fight once his promotional woes are sorted.

It is a wide open division and Barthelemy is getting the chances to prove he can become one of Cuban boxing's most successful professionals.

A big performance on BoxNation this weekend is a step in the right direction.

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