INDIO, Calif. -- Light heavyweight contender Sullivan Barrera got his chance to fight a big-name opponent in March and lost a lopsided decision to Andre Ward, one of boxing's elite pound-for-pound fighters who went on to defeat Sergey Kovalev to claim three world title belts last month.
It was a forgivable defeat for Barrera, whose goal was to get back into another major fight as soon as possible, and he may have punched his ticket with a tremendous three-knockdown performance in a seventh-round knockout of Vyacheslav Shabranskyy on Friday night at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino.
"With this win, I proved all the people who bad-mouthed me wrong," Barrera said. "This win is for all the boxing fans out there. I want to specifically thank my trainer, Derik Santos. He sat me down, we watched the tapes, and he said to me, 'Sullivan, this is what you have to do to get the win.' This proves that my career in boxing is alive. I want a rematch with Andre Ward."
Barrera said he also would love a shot at world titleholder Nathan Cleverly and that he would go to his home country of Wales to face him.
Headlining an HBO Latino-televised tripleheader, Barrera and Shabranskyy put on an exciting, high-contact fight, but Barrera's combination of power and speed carried the day.
Barrera, in his first fight with Santos after parting ways with 2015 Boxing Writers Association of America trainer of the year Abel Sanchez, started fast, going at Shabranskyy immediately with right hands. He pounded him with rights and then landed a clean one to knock him down in the first round. Shabranskyy made it out of the round, but he was close to being stopped. Then Shabranskyy came storming back in the second round and knocked Barrera down with a right hand in a back-and-forth battle, although Barrera did not appear nearly as hurt as Shabranskyy had been.
Shabranskyy (17-1, 14 KOs), 29, a Ukraine native living in Los Angeles, was down again in the fifth round after getting clobbered with another clean right hand late in the round, and he was taking punishment as the round came to a close.
Barrera (18-1, 13 KOs), 34, a Miami-based Cuban defector who had a big amateur career, was in control when he landed another huge right hand in the seventh round and Shabranskyy went down hard, forcing referee Ray Corona to wave off the fight without a count at 2 minutes, 5 seconds.
"Of course, we would never expect this," said Shabranskyy, who had made his name as a fighter to watch thanks to a decision win against formidable Yunieski Gonzalez in December 2015. "We will decide next steps after we get over this."
Main Events CEO Kathy Duva, Barrera's promoter, said she was impressed with the improvement he showed with Santos as his trainer.
"I thought it was tremendous," Duva said. "I saw such an improvement. The jab, the composure. He and Derik have only been working together for a short time. You step up and take the tough fights and this is what you get."
Ellis destroys Gomez in first round
Welterweight Rashidi Ellis scored a highlight-reel first-round knockout of Eddie Gomez in a stunning result.
On paper the fight was as even a matchup as one could ask for between two up-and-comers. But Ellis (17-0, 12 KOs), 23, of Boston, steamrolled Gomez (19-2, 11 KOs), 24, of Bronx, New York, in devastating fashion.
They felt each other out for the first half of the round, but then Ellis caught Gomez with a huge right hand that sent him to the mat.
He beat the count but was a bit shaky when the fight resumed, and Ellis wasted no time launching another crushing right hand to the chin that sent him crashing to the mat again as referee Eddie Hernandez waved off the fight without a count at 1 minute, 19 seconds.
"I knew he was a good opponent, and we worked on the right hand the whole training camp," Ellis said.
The win was the biggest of his career, one he hopes will launch him to bigger fights.
"It gives me a chance to show the world my talent and what level I am on," said Ellis, who said he was motivated to win by the birth of his first child, a boy, two weeks ago. "I'll fight anybody."
Rios 'just in there having fun'
Santa Ana, California, featherweight contender Ronny Rios (27-1, 12 KOs), 26, used an unrelenting body attack to make Roy "Pitbull" Tapia (12-2-2, 6 KOs), 25, of East Los Angeles, quit on his stool after the sixth round.
Rios went after Tapia's body from the opening bell and pounded him with both hands. He shook him up with body blows in the third round and targeted his flanks throughout the fight.
When the sixth round ended, he was done and referee Corona waved off the fight. Rios won his fourth fight in a row since suffering his lone defeat, an upset fifth-round knockout loss to Robinson Castellanos in October 2014.
"I was just in there having fun," Rios said. "I'm more aware of my surroundings ... I could hear my coach, and relax my arms so much more. I was in the same position Roy is in now at one point in my career, and all I can say is that you learn so much more with a loss than you ever could with a win."
Martin stops Suarez in fourth round
Lightweight prospect Ryan "Blue Chip" Martin (18-0, 11 KOs), of Chattanooga, Tennessee, dropped and stopped Yardley Suarez (19-6, 10 KOs), of Sacramento, California, in the fourth round. Martin floored him with a left hook and moments later got the stoppage when referee Rudy Barragan jumped in at 48 seconds.
The fight was Martin's first with trainer Abel Sanchez, whose camp in Big Bear Lake, California, is where he prepared at. It's the same camp where fighters such as Gennady Golovkin, Murat Gassiev, Andy Ruiz and Denis Shafikov trained.
"Working in Big Bear has been a great experience," Martin said. "Everybody up there is hungry. 2017 is time for me to make a move and that's what my goal is -- to be top a lightweight and be in contention for a belt by the end of next year."
Junior featherweight Javier Padilla (2-0, 2 KO), of Indio, California, had the hometown fans cheering as he knocked out Mexico's Jose Mora (0-2) at 44 seconds of the second round. Padilla dropped him twice in the first round and once more in the second. ... Junior welterweight Vergil Ortiz Jr. (3-0, 3 KOs), of Dallas, drilled Mexico's Nestor Garcia (0-2) with a left hook, flooring him hard in the second round, and referee Eddie Hernandez counted him out at three minutes. ... Santa Ana, California, junior middleweight Alexis Rocha (6-0, 4 KOs), half-brother of featherweight contender Ronny Rios, scored knockdowns on left hooks to the body in the second and third round in a shutout decision against Los Angeles' Abraham Calderon (1-4, 0 KOs). All three judges scored the fight 40-36.