They know they are geographically close and that they can make history together.
With an imaginary embrace, Sullivan Barrera and Luis Ortiz wished each other the best of luck Friday.
Barrera (21-1, 14 KO) fights Saturday on HBO at Madison Square Garden with the hope of becoming the lightweight champion of the World Association by beating Russian Dmitry Bivol (12-0, 10 KO). But Barrera will be keeping tabs on what happens in Brooklyn as well.
“I would like Luis to be crowned world champion because that would be something very big for Cuba and Latinos,” Sullivan said. “He is a good person who has fought hard to reach this position as the challenger. Like me.”
Barrera went through some difficult times — training and working tirelessly — until finding stability thanks to his manager Luis Molina.
Little by little, he made his way onto small-scale billboards before rising to become one of HBO’s regulars, where he has lived important moments, including his only defeat against Andre Ward.
“If someone deserves to be a champion, that’s Sullivan, who has worked very hard,” said Ortiz, who is fighting at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. “I’m convinced he’s going to win, that … we are going to win. It is what we have earned and what we deserve.”
Ortiz (28-0, 24 KO) will take on Deontay Wilder (39-0, 38 KO) on Showtime. He will try to do what no other Latino has been able to do in a heavyweight division that has been dominated by brothers Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko.
Three Cubans have had opportunities to win the heavyweight title but could not do it. Jorge Luis González lost to Riddick Bowe in 1995, and Vitali Klitschko defeated Juan Carlos Gómez in 2009 and Odlanier Solís in 2011.
“That is going to end this Saturday because Cuba will have its champion,” Ortiz said. “I am inspired by a tremendous force, which comes from my family, my people and my country. Everyone expects to see me take the crown, and I will not disappoint them.”
Ortiz and Barrera also know that winning Saturday would equal the feat of March 21, 1963, when Luis Manuel Rodríguez (107-13, 49 KO) and Ultiminio Ramos (55-7-4, 40 KO) won crowns, the welterweight and the featherweight, respectively, at Dodger Stadium.
That March night in 1963, the opportunity they had hoped for finally arrived and they did not let it escape. Rodriguez got a unanimous decision over Emile Griffith.
Ramos won with a 10th-round knockout of Davey Moore.
Unfortunately, many in Cuba barely knew of the big careers that Rodriguez and Ramos enjoyed.
“Now it’s different, people look for the news, they find out, they want to know what Cuban sportspeople do in the United States and in the world,” Ortiz said. “Sooner or later, people in Cuba will know what we’re doing. The glory of Sullivan and mine, is not only ours, but of all Cubans wherever they are. “