By Marc Livitz: Andre Ward impressively got past Sullivan Barrera in an IBF light heavyweight title elimination bout on Saturday night at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, CA. Ward’s first real stint in the division was a dominant one as he easily outclassed the Cuban fighter whose vast amateur record didn’t effectively translate into professional success.
Jangled nerves and feigns filled the opening minutes of the contest. A few punches landed for each fighter, although a few more for hometown fighter Ward (29-0, 15 KO’s). Andre’s left jab was quick and precise as he landed a number of punches straight down the middle of Barrera’s guard. He landed successive left hooks to the chin to close the second. As Sullivan (17-1, 12 KO’s) looked to press Andre into the ropes midway into the third, a quick left hook high upon his head sent him to the canvas. He rose to his feet, but the knockdown seemed to ignite "S.O.G’ Ward as the Bay Area fighter connected with well placed head shots to end the period.
Andre was utilizing his quick left jab towards Sullivan’s midsection. He had the size of a light heavyweight and kept the speed he had as a super middleweight. Ward continued to rack up left hooks throughout the fifth. A well placed left jab, right hook combination to the head accented the opening seconds of round six. The same technique succeeded a minute later. Barrera continued to follow Ward around the ring and at times stood directly in front of him.
Ward threw a hard left hook to the body and immediately followed it with a right hook towards the end of the eighth. Barrera was sent to the canvas once again, yet referee Raul Caiz, Sr. called it the result of a low blow. More body shots kept Sullivan very much on the defensive.
An accidental headbutt opened a significant cut over Ward’s left eye in round ten. Andre may have taken the incident personally as he went on the offensive to begin the eleventh. His ever present left hook continued to find a landing point upon Barrera’s seemingly immovable head.
The twelfth round rolled into action and Ward didn’t slow down by any measure. He cruised to the win, but he worked every minute of the fight. All three judges were in agreement. Bill Lerch saw the bout 117-108, Steve Morrow turned in a score of 119-109, while finally Pat Russell saw it 117-109. Andre "S.O.G." Ward earned the 29th victory of his stellar career.
"I think I’m starting to evolve and just become more efficient as a fighter", he said afterward. In regard to a possible mega matchup with light heavyweight king, Sergey "Krusher" Kovalev, Ward commented, "I want to fight the best. I’ve always fought the best. It’s not a matter of "if" but "when". I didn’t think about anyone else but Sullivan Barrera before tonight."
Co-Main Report - Diaz Throws Hooks Galore Around Velez
The evening’s co-main event featured unbeaten 2012 U.S. Olympian, California’s Joseph Diaz, Jr. and Puerto Rico’s Jayson Velez in a bout for Diaz’s NABF featherweight title. Southpaw Diaz (20-0, 11 KO’s) looked to utilize his quick right jab to estimate Velez’s tendencies. Jayson looked to counter when he was able as each man remained on the move. Velez (23-2-1, 16 KO’s) scored with a quick one-two to the head at the end of the first round as Joseph returned to his corner with a small cut under his right eye.
They traded substantially hard shots throughout the second. A powerful overhand left hook to Jayson’s head got his attention several times to close the period. Diaz, Jr. was displaying the superior skill. His left hook continued to find its target, although a solid right from Velez broke his stride just a bit in the fourth. The left hand of "JoJo" Diaz, however soon resurfaced even though Jayson continued to be a surely game opponent as the fifth of a scheduled ten rounds was in the bag.
Again and again, the left hand of Diaz landed from different angles and his right hook to the body began to find a home as well. Velez caught a bit of energy in round seven. He connected with a few rights as Joseph may have taken a bit of a break. A well placed body shot from Diaz halted Jayson’s progress. By the end of the eighth, Diaz’s right eye sustained an additional cut, this one on the outside corner of his eyelid. As the bout moved towards the tenth and final round, Diaz was en route to gaining his twentieth career win while Velez surely gained the respect of those in attendance in Oakland.
A hard left from Joseph briefly wobbled Jayson to begin the tenth. Throughout the contest, his accuracy was uncanny. He punched with purpose and didn’t rely heavily on combinations. They exchanged a warm hug as the bell ended the bout. The judges were all in obvious agreement a few minutes later as their scores read as follows: 100-91 (Kermit Bayless), 98-92 (Mike Tate) and 99-91 (Marshall Walker) to give Joseph Diaz, Jr. the unanimous decision victory.
Further Results from Oakland
Maurice Hooker KO 1 Wilfredo Buelvas - Super Lightweight
Daniel Franco KO 8 German Meraz - Featherweight
Aaron Coley UD 6 Urmat Ryskeldiev - Middleweight
Rudy Puga KO 6 Carlos Lozano - Super Middleweight
Junior Yunan UD 4 Cristian Solorzano - Light Heavyweight
Zhilei Zhang KO 3 Tyree Ortiz - Heavyweight
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March 26, 2016[i]