Being the youngest has its drawbacks. Older siblings pave the way, laying foundations for you, planting seeds and setting standards.
“Help your brother’s boat across and your own will reach the shore.” – Hindu Proverb.
Leduan Barthelemy is the youngest of three Cuban professional boxers. The words ‘Cuban’ and ‘professional’ tell you two very important things; firstly, they are of an expected high standard as far as the sport goes. Secondly? They have had to risk everything to escape their home, defecting from Cuba in dangerous circumstances to carve out their legacy.
“It is not easy to risk your life and sacrifice all that you have ever known to go in search of your dreams. At the time I was nervous, anxious, sad but at the end of the day it was the right decision to make.”
Leduan, currently undefeated in thirteen fights and battling this evening (September 26th), told me of his feelings around the Barthelemy brothers defection, honestly and openly.
“I get extremely nostalgic when I think of my time back in Cuba, of having to leave all my loved ones behind and everything else I ever knew. In saying that, I also feel a sense of pride for being able to make such a life changing decision at such a young age.”
I wonder, with both Leduan and Rances now sporting bright blonde mops of hair, whether sneaking across the border would have been as plausible!
The pair’s eldest brother Yan retired from the sport with a decent enough professional record. He was an Olympic gold medalist, however struggled to carry that form into the paid ranks with a slate reading; 13-3, 4KOs. Yan was reportedly the trio’s reason for seeking pastures new and continues to provide learning for his baby brother alongside former World champion middle-child Rances.
“Everyday I learn something new but the most important thing that they preach is to maintain discipline and focus. This is an unforgiving sport and to be able to make it to the top, you need to have both. Yan is currently retired but Rances and I share the same training team and always help one another in training camp. It is a huge motivation to have older brothers like Rances and Yan and seeing what they have accomplished makes me work twice as hard.”
Sharing camp with his brother Rances plays a massive part in his development. He told me of their plans to potentially relocate once again. Their trainer, Ismael Salas, familiar to me and also to London as one of its newest residents;
“I have never been to England but would love to go one day and it may happen soon as my trainer Ismael Salas is training a lot of fighters over there. My brother Rances may move his training camp for his upcoming fight to London and I may go along.”
For now though, all eyes are on tonight’s battle. Leduan is facing his toughest opponent in highly-ranked and unbeaten Eduardo Ramirez. Ramirez, with twenty wins unanswered and two draws, comes into the contest ranked #13 in the World with the IBF.
Eyeing a passage into the World’s elite, the youngest Barthelemy has left no stone unturned despite the distance between himself and the legendary Salas.
Rangy and blessed with that Cuban rhythm, Leduan will be looking to box Ramirez utilizing all of his natural assets. The pair have the same number of knockouts, seven, despite Leduan having fought on nine less occasions.
“I don’t focus too much on the fact that he’s undefeated. My team and I prepared well, know his style and how we want to fight him now it’s just time to execute the strategy.”
As well as his elder sibling, another familiar face was drafted in for sparring during camp. Leduan told me, “My brother Rances helped out a lot throughout camp as did stablemate Jorge Linares so we are more than ready. You can expect a huge victory for Team Barthelemy.”
Ramirez may be the biggest test faced by the baby of the Barthelemy brothers, but he is merely an obstacle. Managed by Al Haymon and regularly fighting on the PBC shows, Leduan’s star is beginning to shine brighter. A win on Tuesday sees him enter the World rankings of at least one governing body and when I asked him to talk me through a twelve-month plan, his aim was clear.
“My route to the top starts with a convincing victory Tuesday night against a world ranked and undefeated contender. The main goal is to become a world champion and compete against the top fighters in the division. In 12 months,
I see myself holding one of the major world titles at 126 pounds.”
Those holding the belts would prove a difficult test with Oscar Valdez (WBO) or Abner Mares (WBA) looking like the beatable strap-holders in the division.
Cuban boxing is enjoying something of a purple patch at the moment. The outstanding performance of Yunier Dorticos in the WBSS and the super-fight between Guillermo Rigondeaux and Vasyl Lomachenko has both the casual fan and the purist counting down the days. Unsurprisingly, Leduan was picking ‘El Chacal’ to beat Lomachenko on December 9th, placing faith in his Cuban schooling.
The clock ticks as I finish chatting with boxing’s newest Cuban contender. He seems eager to push on, desperate to climb in between the ropes isolating himself in the loneliest space in sport. Leduan Barthelemy is enthusiastic and full of energy. Him and his brother Rances are often seen joking, dancing and rarely apart. Two blonde mohawks, rarely ever just one. But his steely determination to succeed is hereditary.
“I feel good about my progress as a professional thus far and am happy with how my handlers, team have developed me along. Every fight has been a learning lesson and aided my growth and ability to mature as a boxer. And now, we are extremely close to fulfilling the dream of becoming a world champion and it begins with this fight on Tuesday.”
He hopes to emulate his World champion brother Rances and his Olympic gold medalist brother Yan. He hopes to make a name for himself. Also, to cement the name of his family in boxing history. Barthelemy.
Written by Craig Scott