ON Wednesday (March 23) Roc Nation Sports hosted the final press conference for Andre Ward (28-0, 15 KOs) and number one rated IBF light-heavyweight contender Sullivan Barrera (17-0, 12 KOs) at Lake Merritt Amphitheater in Oakland, California in advance of their March 26 fight at Oracle Arena in Oakland.
Ward and Barrera will meet in 12-round IBF number one position and mandatory position eliminator bout televised live on HBO World Championship Boxing® beginning at 9:45 p.m. ET/PT. NABF Featherweight Champion Joseph “Jojo” Diaz Jr. (19-0, 11 KOs) and top-rated featherweight contender Jayson “La Maravilla” Velez (23-1-1, 16 KOs) were also in attendance on the press conference dais overlooking Lake Merritt ahead of their 10-round NABF Featherweight title fight which will open up the HBO telecast.
Ward vs. Barrera is shaping up to be a highly contested battle between two fighters who both have their sights set on a match-up against Unified Light Heavyweight World Champion Sergey Kovalev.
Below is what the fighters, promoters, trainers, managers and other dais guests had to say at the press conference:
ANDRE WARD, Two-Time World Champion and top-rated pound-for-pound fighter:
“I want to thank everyone for coming out as usual. The Bay Area is a beautiful place. We don’t often get enough credit for the talent that comes out of here, but for the fan base, it’s tremendous. I’m just thankful for being from a place like this and thankful to have the love and support at every event that we bring here. I’m thankful that myself and guys like Marshawn Lynch, Damian Lillard and the Warriors put this place on the map and people are taking notice on the national stage. That is really important to me.
“As far as the fight itself, it’s very simple to me… anybody who knows me, they know how I work and they know how I tick. I don’t get caught up in what’s next. I don’t get caught up in what people are saying. I’m aware of what is being said. I know what my opponent has been saying and I take him at his word. I’ve done everything that I’m supposed to do, like I always do and like I’ve done the last 10 years of my career. I’ve taken on the best… if it’s not another champion then it’s a top contender… and this is no different. You guys just know that I’m focused and locked in like I always am. I’m prepared and I’m ready for war come March 26.”
SULLIVAN BARRERA, Number one rated IBF light heavyweight contender:
“I wanted to say thank you for coming here. I want to say thank you HBO, thank you everyone. Thank you Andre Ward for accepting my fight. I promise everyone who comes to the arena that I have had great preparation and this is a great dream. On that night, I’ll have a great show for everyone.”
DAVID ITSKOWITCH, COO Boxing – Roc Nation Sports:
“Two of the top light heavyweights on the planet will collide on March 26. They have a combined record of 45-0 with 27 KOs and needless to say, neither has tasted defeat as a professional. While each man has a formidable opponent in front of him, they both have their eyes on Sergey Kovalev and his three world title belts, but first they have business to attend to on Saturday night.
“Whenever I come out to Oakland for an event and I’m with Andre at a function where he’s speaking to the media, it strikes me that obviously, he is a special talent athletically, but he’s also a special person and I hope everyone here in Oakland understands and appreciates that. He’s a principled family man who always tries to do the right thing and that is something that is rare in life these days, but it is especially rare in sports. I hope you guys appreciate him. Boxing careers don’t last forever. He’s not going to be fighting forever, so everyone should appreciate what you have here in Andre Ward.
“Andre captured a gold medal at the Athens Olympics and is the last U.S. boxer to have done so. His list of vanquished foes reads like a who’s who of the super middleweight division. He also dominated and knocked out former light heavyweight world champion, Chad Dawson in their 2012 showdown. In his last fight, he dominated two-time world title challenger Paul Smith on June 20 at Oracle Arena. He embarks on the next chapter of his career on March 26, returning to Oracle Arena once again, as he makes his move up to the light heavyweight division ready to do what he did in the super middleweight division…cleaning it out and dominating everyone that stands in his way.”
NICOLE DUVA, Vice President of Marketing and General Counsel – Main Events:
“I would really like to thank Andre Ward. He didn’t have to take on an undefeated fighter in his first fight at light heavyweight, but he did it and I think that is commendable.
“In his last fight, Sullivan became the mandatory contender for Sergey Kovalev’s IBF belt. He could have sat back and waited for his title fight, but instead he saw this fight against Andre Ward as an opportunity to really reach for greatness and he did that. As you all know, Main Events and Roc Nation Sports have big plans for Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev later this year and Sullivan Barrera can really upset that apple cart.
“Both of these men, Sullivan and Andre, have everything riding on the outcome of Saturday’s fight. In the climate that we have in boxing right now, it’s refreshing to see real warriors who aren’t afraid to take risks. They both deserve our respect and admiration for that. This is what our sport should be about.
“Sullivan Barrera is undefeated with a record of 17-0 with 12 wins coming by way of knockout. He just turned 34, a month ago, which you might think is a little old for this point in his career. What you might not know is that he had a successful amateur career in Cuba and then lost several years of his prime while he was defecting to the United States. He’s come a really long way to be here today for this moment and this opportunity. He is hungry, he is confident and he is ready.”
VIRGIL HUNTER, Andre Ward’s trainer:
“This is a fantastic card with fantastic athletes who are trying to make their way in the world of boxing. If this fight was taking place in any other city, it would be a huge event. What we want to do is make sure that Oakland understands, and that the surrounding Bay Area understands, the magnitude of this event so we can continue to bring world class boxing to Oakland. Oakland is a breeding ground for top fighters and we already have them. The more that you support us, the more that these fights will become visible and you will see the big time at the top.
“They say other networks make fighters, but HBO makes stars, so we are glad to be part of this. We ask you to come out and support this fight. Come on out Saturday night and enjoy yourselves for a good night of top boxing.”
BEN LIRA, Sullivan Barrera’s Trainer:
“I want to thank all of the people who put together this super event on Saturday. We are here to put on a great show and Sullivan has done everything to prepare himself for this event. He knows the challenges in front of him, but he believes in himself and he believes that this is his time to show the public and the viewing audience that this is where he is. He is there to make a statement.
“More than anything, we respect Mr. Ward for his achievements, his credibility and he is a super guy in the sport. It’s great to be part of this. We prepared well and we have done everything that we have to do come Saturday to give the viewing audience a super great show because this is what boxing is about. It is about performance and both fighters get to perform at this level at a great event. We are honored to be a part of this event. We have done everything that is possible to ensure that we will come out and put on a fabulous show.”
JAMES PRINCE, Andre Ward’s manager:
“This is a historical moment for us. We are entering the 175 pound light heavyweight division. This is a moment that the town doesn’t want to miss. This is the moment at the beginning of a movement. Barrera just happens to be the first victim and we’re going to deal with him accordingly. We’ve been hearing a lot of talk and conversation taking place where he is concerned, and we know that he believes everything that he is saying. Once again, we are excited about this opportunity and you don’t want to miss this historic moment on Saturday night.”
JOSEPH DIAZ JR., NABF Featherweight Champion:
“Come March 26, I know I have a really tough fight ahead of me. I know Jayson Velez is an experienced veteran in the ring. He’s a warrior. He has a six-inch reach advantage over me so it’s going to be a really great fight. I know he’s coming off of a loss, so I know he really wants to bounce back and show everybody that he’s still a world title contender.
“I had a really great training camp. I’ve been training for eight weeks. This is my first time fighting on HBO, so I really want to showcase who I truly am. I’m 110% ready. I’m ready to give fight fans a war if Jayson Velez wants to have a war. I’m ready to showcase to everybody all the abilities I have inside the ring. I’m very excited to be fighting on the Andre Ward and Sullivan Barrera card. They’re two elite athletes and I’m very honored to be the co-main event for this fight. Come March 26, I promise I’m going to give you a great show.”
JAYSON VELEZ, Top-rated featherweight contender:
“I want to thank God first, obviously he makes everything possible. I want to thank my promoters, Miguel Cotto Promotions and Golden Boy Promotions and my whole team. I don’t have too much to say besides that this is a great fight. Joseph comes to fight. I come to fight. We both want to win. We both take challenges. People keep asking me why I took this dangerous fight and the answer is easy…if I want to be the best, I have to fight the best. Joseph is one of the best.
“I lost my last fight, so I need to win. I want to win. I can’t tell you who’s going to win this fight because we both are great fighters and warriors. He’s Mexican, I’m Puerto Rican, and when you have a Puerto Rican and a Mexican in the same ring, you will see a war. You will see speed, power, everything in this fight. He’s a great fighter and I’m so excited. Thank you to everyone and stay tuned this Saturday and thank you to HBO of course.”
ROBERT DIAZ, Head Matchmaker – Golden Boy Promotions:
“Obviously the main event speaks for itself. You’ve got Andre Ward versus a young undefeated guy like Sullivan Barrera, but the co-main event is going to pit two young, hungry fighters against one another in Jayson Velez and Joseph Diaz. They’re both young. They’re both willing to take on the best fights, the toughest fights and proof of that is how easy it was to make this fight.
“I’m very excited about this fight. You don’t want to miss the 10 rounds for the NABF title.
“Jayson Velez is a young, hungry lion who wants to get back up on the stage and knows how significant a victory over Joseph Diaz is. He understood the opportunity to fight on HBO and on this tremendous card. I want to remind you of the character of Jayson Velez. In a day and age where a fighter that loses wants to take maybe a comeback or tune up, or two or three, before they take a high-risk fight and Jayson Velez is doing it right after. That shows he wants to get back on top and he knows what he has to do to get there…it has to be by stopping a top-level fighter like Joseph Diaz.”
RALPH HEREDIA, Joseph Diaz’s manager:
“It’s an honor to be here, a great opportunity and privilege to be given this opportunity to showcase a talented, 2012 Olympian. To Joseph, this is what we talked about, thank you for being patient, you are ready for the opportunity. We know what a special young man and talented man you are, but now the whole world will get to see on the big stage what a talent, what a real gentleman and what a fighter should be…like Joseph Diaz.
“What can I say about Jayson Velez? He’s a gentleman who knows what’s at stake and has experience. Believe me, you don’t want to miss this. Saturday, you must tune in. It’s going to be an action-packed fight.”
JOSE “CHE CHE” SANCHEZ, Jayson Velez’s trainer:
“I see Diaz as a great fighter, but I have Jayson in very good condition and he’s ready for the fight. I know it’s going to be a good fight because they are ready, and the same thing is true for my fighter Jayson Velez. He worked very hard for this fight and I know he’s ready for the fight.”
TONY WALKER, Director, HBO Sports:
“On behalf of our Executive Vice President Peter Nelson, we are very happy to be here in the Bay Area, with a great crowd and great boxing fans, as we look to bring you this doubleheader on Saturday night.
“It’s not easy pulling together a big boxing match and these teams have pulled together a great card from top to bottom, so even though all the fights won’t be on HBO, if you want to watch some great boxing, go to Oracle Arena and if you have to be at home, check it out on HBO.
“Throughout our 43 years of programming on HBO, boxing has always been an integral part of what we do. We’ve always prided ourselves on having the best fighters and the best matches, and we feel very good that this tradition will hold again as Andre Ward makes his 2016 debut in the ring. In the boxing ring, it’s never recommended that you overlook a hungry, undefeated fighter like we have in Sullivan Barrera, so I would like to welcome Sullivan to the network and thank him for taking on this challenge.
“Opening the TV telecast will be Joseph Diaz against Jayson Velez, two up-and-coming young guys, two young guns, who think they’re ready for the big stage. All in all, it’s going to be a great telecast, 9:45 PM ET we promise you an informative and entertaining night with our broadcast team.”