Saturday, April 01, 2023  |



Sullivan Barrera and father reunited after eight years

Sullivan Barrera (right) alongside Joe Smith Jr. (Photo by Kyte Monroe / BoxStats)
Fighters Network

INGLEWOOD, California – Tens of thousands of people have seen light heavyweight contender Sullivan Barrera fight live since he turned pro in 2009. His biggest fan hasn’t been among them.

Barrera defected from his native Cuba to the U.S. in 2009, leaving his entire family behind so he could make a living with boxing skills honed in the respected Cuban amateur system. His father, Rafael Barrera, has had to watch his son’s fights on video tapes because they aren’t broadcast live back home.

That changes Saturday.

The elder Barrera was able to get a visa to enter the U.S. amid better relations between the two countries, which allowed the fighter to reconnect with a family member for the first time in eight years. He met his dad at Miami International Airport last Thursday.

“It was hard,” Sullivan said of the meeting, meaning it was emotional. He paused to gather himself. “I don’t want to cry. It was hard but it was great. He’s here.”

Rafael, a slight, average-looking man, stood alone about 10 meters away in the halls of the Forum – where Sullivan will fight Joe Smith Jr. on Saturday – as his son was being interviewed for this story, taking it all in.

He was summoned to join the interview and walked over briskly, a huge smile on his face.

For Dad, it’s all like a dream. He is amazed at everything he sees during his first visit to the U.S. – “everything for him is, ‘WOW!’” Sullivan said – and he couldn’t be happier to see his son after so long.

Rafael was asked about the meeting at the airport. He responded by embracing Sullivan tightly, flashing that smile and saying through a translator: “The emotion is unexplainable.”

Neither son nor father seem to regret Sullivan’s decision to leave Cuba.

The fighter saw the move as a chance to improve the life of his family, including his then-3½-year-old daughter, even though he didn’t know when or if he’d see his loved ones again. His mother died four years ago. He’s taking steps to bring her over.

And the father understood. He missed his son and wishes he could’ve seen him fight professionally before now but is happy for him.

“First and foremost, I’m proud,” Rafael said. “I’m very satisfied that my son has accomplished some things in the world. As long as he’s doing well, as long as he’s happy, I’m happy.”

The fight will be special for both men.

“I’m so excited about that. I hope he enjoys it,” Sullivan said. “And, yes, I have to win. My mind is on nothing but victory.”

“I’m going to be right there, this close, watching my son do his thing so … it’s really something,” Rafael said, apparently still not completely convinced this is real. “Am I nervous? No. My son knows what he’s doing. Everything is OK.”

Everything is better than OK.