Alberto Puello digs a left into the body of Batyr Akhmedov. (Photo by Esther Lin/Showtime)
WBA junior welterweight titlist Alberto Puello will put his belt on the line for the first time against Rolando Romero at an as-yet-to-be-decided venue on May 13.
The fight be featured in a Showtime tripleheader that will include two more junior welterweight contests: rising contender Gary Antuanne Russell vs. fellow unbeaten Kent Cruz and former two-weight world champion Rances Barthelemy against Omar Juarez.
Puello (21-0, 10 knockouts), who is rated No. 9 at 140 pounds by The Ring, worked his way up through the ranks in his native Dominican Republic and holds wins over experienced campaigner Patrick Lopez (TKO 7), previously unbeaten Jonathan Alonso (UD 12) and big-punching Ve Shawn Owens (UD 10).
When Josh Taylor was forced to vacate the WBA title, Puello, 28, was matched with Batyr Akhmedov to fill the vacancy in June 2021. Puello used his tricky southpaw skills to edge past Akhmedov by split decision.
Romero (14-1, 12 KOs) started his pro career in 2016 and built his name on Las Vegas club shows staged by his promoter, Floyd Mayweather. He gained notoriety by controversially beating Jackson Marinez (UD 12) in 2020.
The 27-year-old also holds an emphatic win over Anthony Yigit (TKO 7) but lost when he stepped up to the big leagues against Gervonta Davis (TKO 6) last May.
It’s an intriguing fight; Puello is a rather anonymous champion, but the polarizing Romero will provide some visibility. Puello’s boxing skills should see him win, but he’ll have to be careful of “Rolly’s” power.
Russell (16-0, 16 KOs), The Ring-rated No. 7 junior welterweight, is the younger brother of former WBC featherweight titlist Gary Russell Jr. and bantamweight contender Gary Antonio Russell Jr. He was a standout amateur and represented the U.S. at the 2016 Rio Olympics, reaching the quarterfinals.
After transitioning to the professional ranks in 2017, Russell was impressive, but the 26-year-old southpaw had his breakthrough in 2022, separating himself from the pack by stopping former titleholders Viktor Postol (TKO 10) and Rances Barthelemy (TKO 6).
Cruz (16-0-3, 10 KOs) has largely fought under the radar since turning pro over a decade ago. The 30-year-old St. Louis-born fighter is coming off a pair of eight-round draws with Enriko Gogokhia.
On paper, this is a huge step up in class for Cruz, and Russell will be strongly favored to keep his 100 percent knockout ratio intact.
Barthelemy (29-2-1, 15 KOs) was an amateur boxer in Cuba before defecting to the U.S. to follow his older brother Yan, who was an Olympic gold medalist in 2004. He showed promise in beating the unbeaten pair of Hylon Williams Jr. (UD 8) and Arash Usmanee (UD 12).
After a no-contest result against IBF junior lightweight titlist Argenis Mendez in 2014, Barthelemy won a direct rematch via 12-round unanimous decision to capture the belt. One defense followed before he abdicated and moved up to lightweight, where he picked up the vacant IBF title against Denis Shafikov (UD 12). He moved up to 140 pounds and split a pair of fights with Kiryl Relikh (UD 12/L UD 12), the latter for the WBA title, then went 3-0-1 before the loss to Russell.
Juarez (14-1, 5 KOs) turned professional in 2018. He won his first 11 before suffering a defeat against experienced Filipino All Rivera (MD 10). It proved to be a valuable learning curve for the 23-year-old Texan, who has since beaten Jairo Lopez (UD 8), Ryan Karl (SD 10) and Austin Dulay (UD 10).
Barthelemy will have to use his experience and skills to pick off Juarez, who probably doesn’t have the power to hurt the Barthelemy, but if he can make the Cuban fight at an uncomfortable pace, he could cause the upset.
Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected].