Heading into last night’s fight card in Costa Mesa, California, Montreal’s Yves Ulysse Jr. (18-2) was the A-side against Ismael Barroso (22-3-2), the grizzled Venezuelan veteran and a decided underdog. Golden Boy Promotions was backing Ulysse because of his undeniable talent, signing him to a co-promotional deal with Eye Of The Tiger Management. The future looked bright for the quick-fisted boxer some regard as one of the top men at 140 pounds, though others wondered why he has stepped through the ropes only three times in two years. Ulysse vs Barroso represented a welcome return to action for Yves as he made the first defense of his WBA gold title, which he won in a highly competitive battle last April against Canadian rival Steve Claggett.
If Ulysse’s career momentum was on the upswing, Barroso’s was trending in the opposite direction. Having been stopped by Anthony Crolla in his lone title shot in 2016, and having also lost to top prospect Batyr Akhmedov in 2018, Barroso appeared a valuable stepping stone for Ulysse and little more. The consensus pre-fight thinking was that he would make Yves work but ultimately fall short, as he had done in previous match-ups against top competition. Much was at stake for both, with the winner eyeing a possible shot against Josh Taylor, and everyone anticipated a performance from Ulysse that would solidify his status.
But Ismael Barroso must have never got the memo to follow the A-side vs B-side script. In a considerable upset, the teak-tough Venezuelan prevailed by unanimous decision as he consistently outworked his younger foe throughout the match. After twelve rounds, the punch stats of Ulysse vs Barroso told the story; the older man more than doubled Ulysse in output, 964 to 405, and if his connect percentage was lower, he still out-landed Ulysse to the tune of 154 to 98. As the numbers indicate, it was the supposedly battle-worn Venezuelan, not Yves, pushing the pace and throwing combinations. His unflagging, high-octane offense overwhelmed the younger man’s defenses and was the story of the match.
Comparatively, Ulysse was too content to throw single power shots, relying on the hope of scoring with big shots that would hurt or incapacitate his foe. But while he ate a number of hard lead rights, Barroso was never seriously hurt or staggered. Instead, when hit clean, the Venezuelan immediately responded aggressively, striking back with meaningful shots that effectively nullified any of Ulysse’s scoring blows. Especially impressive from Barroso was his commitment to working Ulysse’s ribcage, which slowed down his quicker and more mobile opponent.
Sorely missing from Ulysse’s arsenal was an effective jab, something that can be difficult to establish against a southpaw. It was surprising to this observer to see Yves struggle with Barroso’s stance as one assumed he would have worked extensively with southpaws in his pre-fight preparations. Equally surprising was the lack of adjustments from Ulysse and his team as his tactics never altered as he gave up round after round to Barroso.
Further, on the occasions when Ulysse marched forward with intent to score damaging shots, he often did so with a high guard, blocking shots on his arms. All that did was give Barroso the chance to pile up more points as Ulysse was peppered by a constant stream of short, sharp punches. And give Barroso credit for his excellent conditioning; his work rate never dipped, allowing him to continuously land shots around, under, and through Ulysse’s guard.
No doubt Ulysse’s fans were hoping for a resurgence in the late rounds but instead it was Barroso who maintained the swift pace, determined as he was to put his stamp on the evening. He kept his foot on the gas pedal and continued to out-hustle the Canadian, heeding his corner’s advice to finish strong. And Barroso’s determination was rewarded as he was scored the winner by all three judges. And while Ulysse was visibly angered upon hearing the official verdict, he has no valid argument for deserving the decision. The simple fact is smiling and posturing doesn’t win rounds and Yves consistently failed to even come close to matching Barroso’s work rate.
Ulysse vs Barroso was supposed to be a prelude to bigger things for one of Canada’s top talents. Thus, this loss is a bitter pill to swallow for the 31-year-old Ulysse, who had his sights set on unified champion Josh Taylor had he been victorious. Unfortunately, that dream match-up now vanishes for the foreseeable future thanks to a mediocre performance against an opponent everyone had a right to expect him to vanquish. With title aspirations in his near future, Ulysse had an excellent opportunity to demonstrate his skills and talent, but instead he showed a complete lack of urgency and tenuous effort. Perhaps he overlooked Barroso, thinking his victory was all but guaranteed. But if so, he learned a hard lesson. Being the “A-side” means nothing when the bell rings, and no matter how much better you think you are, you need to prove it with your punches.
Meanwhile the victory breathes new life into Barroso’s career. “I want to thank God for this win,” said the happy winner. “I didn’t just win on my strength; I won by the will of God.”
It’s tough to say where Ulysse goes next, but one thing is sure: he needs to be more active. It’s entirely possible that much of what we saw last night was attributable to ring rust. If he has any hope of regaining his career momentum, he must put together a string of meaningful wins against significant opposition. And while 31 isn’t old, the clock is ticking if he wants to earn a crack at a world title while still in his prime. Hopefully this disappointment can be used to fuel the motivation and urgency needed to right the Yves Ulysse ship and reach the heights his potential has promised. — Jamie Rebner