Rances Barthelemy Renews His Quest for a Third Title in Hostile Fresno


By Arne K. Lang

In 2018, Rances Barthelemy stood on the cusp of becoming the first Cuban boxer to win world titles in three weight divisions. He came up short, losing a unanimous decision to Kiryl Relikh, a man he had previously defeated, and now, six years later, he will attempt to rekindle his career when he touches gloves with Jose Carlos Ramirez on a Golden Boy Promotions card at the Save Mart Center in Fresno. The date is April 27.

Barthelemy vs Ramirez, televised worldwide on DAZN and free to DAZN subscribers, is the hinge, so to speak, between two bigger events. It takes place the week after Haney-Garcia (April 20 in Brooklyn on DAZN pay-per-view) and the week before Canelo-Munguia (May 4 in Las Vegas on DAZN pay-per-view and Amazon-Prime pay-per-view).

Barthelemy, who turns 38 in June, will be the B-side with an exclamation point at Fresno where Ramirez, 31, has an avid following. The ex-Olympian, the son of agricultural field workers, will be making his eighth appearance at the Save Mart Center which has a listed capacity of 16,182 for boxing and his 11th appearance overall in Fresno, the hub city of a region that has been called America’s breadbasket.

Rances Barthelemy escaped Cuba in 2008, settling first in Miami before taking up residence in Las Vegas which has a large Cuban-American population, more than 25,000 according to a 2016 story, many descendants of the first wave of immigrants who had worked in the casino/hospitality sector in pre-Castro Havana.

Even today, although he has been in the U.S. for 16 years, Barthelemy isn’t comfortable conversing in English. Much of what has been written about him came filtered through an interpreter/publicist. The oft-repeated story that it took him more than two dozen attempts before he succeeded in escaping his oppressive homeland, surviving several near-death experiences along the way, is a story that should be taken with a grain of salt.

What is a fact is that Barthelemy, the son of a merchant seaman, had at least one failed attempt. The U.S. Coast Guard intercepted his flotilla, bound for Key West, and Barthelemy and his fellow asylum-seekers were returned to Cuba where he was locked up and interrogated for two days before he was allowed to return to his family. His parents and sister still live in Havana.

Rances finally made it to the U.S. via Mexico, crossing the border into Laredo, Texas. His older brother Yan and younger brother Leduan also escaped and launched pro boxing careers. A gold medalist at the 2004 Athens Olympics, Yan, 44, is retired and running a boxing gym in Fort Lauderdale. Leduan, 34, resides in Las Vegas.

Rances’ first title reign lasted only 27 days. His second-round stoppage of the Dominican, Argenis Mendez, was changed to a no-decision by Minnesota boxing regulators when a video replay determined that the knockout punch had landed after the bell. Barthelemy won the do-over three months later with a wide unanimous decision, capturing the IBF 130-pound belt, and went to win the WBA version of the world lightweight title with a wide decision over Russia’s Dennis Shafikov.

This was the belt that Barthelemy lost to Relikh who saddled him with his first defeat. Four years later, in July of 2022, he suffered his second setback when Gary Antuanne Russell (currently 17-0, 17 KOs) stopped him in the sixth frame. Although Rances was trailing on the scorecards, the stoppage was controversial. Referee Shada Murdaugh was too quick on the trigger.

In his last start, in May of last year, Barthelemy outpointed Omar Juarez, boosting his record to 30-2-1 (15 KOs). The draw came in a lightweight title fight with Robert Easter. As for Jose Carlos Ramirez (28-1, 18 KOs), he’s won two straight, most recently an 11th-round stoppage of Richard Commey, since losing a narrow decision to Scotland’s Josh Taylor in a junior welterweight bout with all four meaningful title belts at stake.

Rances Barthelemy hasn’t been an especially fan-friendly fighter; we won’t sugarcoat it. Several of his bouts have been drab affairs, notably the 12-round snoozefest with Robert Easter. One wouldn’t have seen this coming if one had been present when Rances made his pro debut. He knocked out his opponent in 14 seconds!

Barthelemy trains at Bones Adams’ gym in Las Vegas, a gym with a Cuban vibe in the morning hours. The Cuban contingent there includes up-and-coming welterweight Darian Castro and heavyweight Ricardo Aguero, both recent arrivals. Barthelemy’s attractive Cuban-American girlfriend Ayme Valazquez was a recent visitor from Miami. They share six children, three apiece, but none with each other.

Adams, cognizant that Barthelemy is unlikely to get any breaks from the judges in Fresno, has been working with Rances to punch with more authority. Barthelemy is a young 37, there isn’t an ounce of superfluous flesh on his body, and if he can upset Ramirez, at least one more world title fight will assuredly be in his future.
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