The last time Rances Barthelemy and Kiryl Relikh met in a boxing ring, both admitted there was plenty more that could have been done by night's end.
Not only do they get a second chance at a lasting impression, but with the stakes even higher this time around—and each with the intention of making sure their performance is what fight fans remember by night's end.
A sanctioned rematch between the pair of 140-pound contenders will serve as the chief support to another title clash in their division, when Sergey Lipinets attempts his first defense versus unbeaten three-division titlist Mikey Garcia on February 10 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. Two super lightweight belts will be on the line during the Showtime telecast, as Barthelemy—who claimed a highly questionable unanimous decision victory in their first meet last May—and Relikh will vie for one of the belts that was left vacant when former two-division World champion and current pound-for-pound king Terence 'Bud' Crawford announced his intention to compete full-time at welterweight.
Not only do the co-feature players plan to leave no doubt versus one another, but plan to throw hands with the intention of sending a message to the winner of the evening's main event as well.
“Obviously the number one goal for 2018 is to bring home that belt on February 10,” points out Barthelemy (26-0, 13 KOs), a former two-division titlist who was already the mandatory challenger for the belt that will be at stake. “Then I want to unify with all the other champions. My New Year’s resolution is to surround myself with good people and win multiple world titles.
"Garcia vs. Lipinets is going to be a great fight and I definitely want the winner. lthough Lipinets is the underdog going into this fight, I think he’s going to give Garcia all he can handle. But I still think Garcia will come out on top, setting up war between us in a unification bout.”
Of course, there can't be a unification bout if you don't bring a belt to the table. Relikh fully plans on disrupting Barthelemy's dream of becoming Cuba's first-ever three-division world champ—and then fulfilling his own goal of collecting all the belts at super lightweight.
“First I have to win this fight in February,” said Relikh (21-2, 19 KOs), who suffered a 12-round decision defeat to Ricky Burns in their Oct. '16 vacant title fight. “But then I have hopes of a great year defending my belt against the mandatory and eventually a unification fight. This will be the year I reach a new level in this sport.
“This is my second time fighting for a world title and it will be a second lesson for me. This is my time to become champion. I need to do much more during this fight. I have to be aggressive right from the start. I’m sure that I need a knockout to get the victory. He can try to run, but he won’t be able to hide from me."
One thing that Barthelemy has never done in his career is run-and-hide. Far removed from the prototypical slick Cuban boxer template, the 31-year old loves the sense of feeling like he was in a prizefight. An overwhelming desire to dig in deep and fight in the trenches has led to several past bouts becoming much closer than needed to be the case. In his previous outing with Relikh, several argued that the decision—even if fair in terms of who deserved to win—wasn't at all indicative of the competitive action that took place.
"The last fight was very close and deserving of a rematch." acknowledges Barthelemy. “I just need to stick to my game plan and show everyone that I’m the best 140-pound fighter in the world. The key will be to stay disciplined and land hard shots all night.
“Winning this title would be a dream come true for me. I’d be the first Cuban fighter in history to win a title in three different divisions."
Relikh looks to add his name to the very short list of boxers from Belarus to win a world title, with Siarhai Liakhovich the only entrant when he briefly held a piece of the heavyweight crown in 2006.
Aware of such history, the 28-year old has watched and rewatched every morsel of his first fight with Barthelemy and looks to leave nothing to chance in the rematch.
“These last few weeks through the holidays have been the hardest of my camp, so there was no room for distractions,” said Relikh. “I spent New Year’s with my family and then I was right back into training camp in the morning.
“I will have my eye on the main event for sure. I’m focused on Barthelemy now, but I want to unify and if that means fighting Garcia or Lipinets, I will be ready.”