Arnold Barboza Jr. sees Jose Pedraza as exactly the type of proven opponent he needs to beat to show he is ready for a junior welterweight world title shot.
The unbeaten Barboza and Pedraza, a two-weight world champion, will fight Friday night in a consequential 10-rounder Barboza must win to advance toward what would be the first championship match of his nine-year professional career. Barboza beat then-undefeated Danielito Zorrilla (16-1, 12 KOs) convincingly on points in his last bout – a 10-rounder ESPN televised July 15 from Temecula, California – but Pedraza’s resume is much more impressive.
Puerto Rico’s Pedraza is 0-1-1 in his past two fights, including a 12-round, unanimous-decision defeat to former WBC/WBO 140-pound champ Jose Ramirez and a 10-round split draw with former IBF lightweight champ Richard Commey. Barboza (27-0, 10 KOs) still considers the 33-year-old ex-champion the most imposing opponent he will have fought since he made his pro debut in June 2013.
“I feel like this is the toughest fight of my career, man,” Barboza told BoxingScene.com. “He has all the experience. He’s fought nothing but the best, so you know, I’m looking forward to proving myself. I know winning this fight is gonna take me to another level.”
Barboza believed a victory over Alex Saucedo (then 30-1) in October 2020 would’ve moved him into position to fight for a title in the 140-pound division. The 31-year-old contender from South El Monte, California has called out champions and former champions since he got up from a seventh-round knockdown to defeat Saucedo on points, yet here he is, simply hopeful that a victory over Pedraza puts him where he feels he belongs.
“It’s been frustrating,” Barboza said. “But look, you’ve gotta keep fighting. You’ve gotta keep putting food on the table.”
Pedraza (29-4-1, 14 KOs), a former IBF junior lightweight and WBO lightweight champ, was supposed to fight former unified lightweight champ Teofimo Lopez (18-1, 13 KOs) on December 10 at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Pedraza pulled out of that bout with an undisclosed illness. Once he was healthy, Pedraza agreed to battle Barboza in a co-feature ESPN will air from Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale, Arizona, just before Mexico’s Emanuel Navarrete (36-1, 30 KOs) and Australia’s Liam Wilson (11-1, 7 KOs) fight for the vacant WBO junior lightweight title in the 12-round main event (10 p.m. ET; 7 p.m. PT).
“Man, I’m hoping it opens a lot of doors, doors that haven’t been open,” Barboza said. “I hope for a title shot, bigger names. But first things first, I’ve gotta get through this fight at this point. We’ll see what happens.”
Commey (30-4-1, 27 KOs) and Pedraza fought to a 10-round split draw in Pedraza’s most recent bout. Barboza expected Pedraza to be declared the winner of their very competitive contest August 27 at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“I thought Pedraza pulled it off, but it was a great fight,” Barboza said. “I saw he could stay in there and fight. Like I’ve said, he’s very versatile – lefty, righty, smart and has a lot of experience. So, it’s gonna be something different and something challenging for me. I’m just ready and looking forward to it. … I hope people come away from this thinking, ‘Man, this guy is ready for a title shot.’ ”
If that title shot were to come against Regis Prograis (28-1, 24 KOs), the hard-hitting WBC super lightweight champion, Barboza wouldn’t hesitate to take it. Barboza is ranked eighth among the WBC’s contenders in the 140-pound division.
“With open arms, I would welcome that any day,” said Barboza, who is also ranked fourth by the WBO. “He’s a great fighter, a strong fighter. He’s a champion and I think he’s the best at 140. Why wouldn’t I wanna fight the best at 140 to see where I’m at? That’s the kind of fight we’re looking for.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.