Shafikov faces Barthelemy for vacant lightweight crown

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LOS ANGELES – Unbeaten Cuban Rances Barthelemy fights for his second world title on Friday when he faces Russian southpaw Denis Shafikov in Las Vegas for the vacant International Boxing Federation lightweight crown.

Barthelemy, 23-0 with 13 knockouts, owned the IBF super featherweight title last year but dropped it to rise into the lightweight ranks. He was won three times since then, most recently a unanimous decision over American Antonio DeMarco last July.

Shafikov, 36-1-1 with 19 knockouts, lost his only prior world title fight by unanimous decision last year to Mexico’s Miguel Vazquez. Since then, he has won three times, the most recent a third-round stoppage of Indonesian Roy Mukhlis last July in Macau.

US fighter Mickey Bey won a split decision over Vazquez to claim the crown last year but vacated it rather than make a mandatory defense against Shafikov last July in Macau, setting the stage for Friday’s matchup.

”I’m very sharp right now and my timing is right where I want it to be. My weight is good and I’m ready to go the distance if I have to,” said Barthelemy, a year younger than his rival at 29.

”I’ll be prepared for anything Shafikov brings to the ring. I’m going to fight my style and dictate the pace. He throws a lot of punches in combinations, something I’ll have to be ready for. This will not be a boring fight.”

The former Cuban national amateur champion defected to the United States before the 2008 Beijing Olympics and turned professional in 2009.

”I’m going to make history by adding another world title to my collection,” Barthelemy said. ”Capturing a world title at lightweight will be a great accomplishment for my career. When an opportunity like this comes your way, you have to seize the moment to be great. That’s what I plan to do against Shafikov.”

Shafikov said he has waited his entire career for this opportunity.

”I’ve been preparing my whole life for this fight and to become a world champion,” Shafikov said. ”While I have a great deal of respect for Barthelemy, I will be victorious.”

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