The bright lights of Las Vegas will shine predominantly on Canelo Alvarez this week as he gears up for his latest headline outing in Sin City. But lurking quietly in the shadows is a man who could well pose his greatest threat of the last three years.
For Dmitry Bivol, Saturday night’s lucrative battle with the pound-for-pound superstar is an overdue reward for over two decades of learning and mastering his craft. Not many outside of boxing’s flock of hardcore followers are familiar with the WBA light-heavyweight champion, though by Sunday morning that will likely have changed.
Bivol first laced up a pair of gloves at the tender age of six. He was born in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan to a Moldovan father and Korean mother in December 1990 and made the move to Russia 11 years later. It was there, in St.Petersburg, where his boxing journey would first take off.
Dmitry Bivol (R) is set to lock horns with Canelo Alvarez (L) in Las Vegas on Saturday night
Canelo will receive most attention, but Bivol could pose his toughest challenge since 2018
Yet before venturing into the sport, the future 175lbs champion first tried his hand at karate, with childhood idol and Hollywood legend Jackie Chan inspiring him to take up martial arts.
In the end, a lack of credible opponents drove him away from kung-fu and into the sweet science of boxing.
‘I always wanted to learn how to fight and protect myself,’ Bivol recently told The Sun.
‘I watched many movies with Jackie Chan when I was a kid, and I always wanted to learn to fight like him.
‘My father first took me to a training facility to do karate, but there were not many competitions there. Then my father took me to a boxing gym where I fell in love with boxing.’
Bivol has been boxing since he was six years old, but he initially tried his hand in karate
The Kyrgyzstan-born Russian was a huge Jackie Chan fan and wanted to emulate his idol
But it didn’t take him long to begin sweeping up amateur prizes after venturing into boxing
It quickly became apparent that Bivol had been introduced to boxing for a reason; as he tore through the amateur scene, amassing an incredible 268 victories in 283 contests, the boy from Kyrgyzstan swept up two U17 World Championships, as many Russian national amateur championships, a gold medal at the World Combat Games and a AIBA Youth World Championships bronze amongst a host of other prizes.
The only accomplishments which eluded him as an amateur were dream tickets to the Olympic Games and senior World Championships, two competitions he was prevented from competing in by stablemate and Russian No 1 Egor Mekhontsev.
After missing out on a place at the 2012 Games in London, over two years later Bivol waved goodbye to the amateurs and embarked on his professional path, triumphing in the sixth and final round of his debut against Jorge Rodriguez Olivera in November 2014.
While it was no surprise given his extensive schooling, he certainly hit the ground running in the big leagues. 9 of his first 11 bouts were won inside the distance, and as he edged towards a world-title shot at light-heavyweight Bivol had a message for curious fans intrigued by his potential.
In 2017, the up-and-coming star insisted he would let his fists do the talking in the ring, saying: ‘I want the fans to know that since I was a child boxing is my life. I want the fans to know I am always trying to do my best.
Bivol is a man of few words who instead prefers to let his fists do the talking inside the ring
‘I am doing my best in the ring. I don’t like to speak bad about my opponents. I just want my fans to like my boxing style and appreciate my work. I am trying to do everything for the fans.’
Bivol is a man of few words, a silent assassin. When he climbs through the ropes his ability speaks for itself.
Though it is somewhat surprising that he shies away from the razzmatazz of the business given his favourite fighter to watch growing up was flashy box-office sensation Sugar Ray Leonard.
Leonard dazzled fans in the ring and became a household name outside of it, but the former is what captured his imagination as a child and still to this day.
‘I love to watch fights with Sugar Ray Leonard before my fights. I learn from his fights,’ he said. ‘I also like to watch Gennady Golovkin, Vasyl Lomachenko, Terence Crawford and Manny Pacquaio, but my favorite is Sugar Ray Leonard.’
But his favourite fighter to watch growing up and to this day was the flashy Sugar Ray Leonard
Bivol described Leonard’s in-ring persona as a ‘rabbit’ who is ‘so dangerous’ back in 2017
Like Leonard, he too is a fighter who prides himself on flawless technique and ring generalship
Bivol was particularly fascinated by what he described as Leonard’s ‘disguise’ inside the squared circle, adding during a chat with Hannibal Boxing in 2018. ‘The way he looks is very interesting. It’s disguising, it’s misleading.
‘He looks like a rabbit… but he’s so dangerous.’
In just his 12th professional outing Bivol clinched a first world title, achieving the feat in almost half the number of fights as hero Leonard (26). Up against Australia’s Trent Broadhurst in November 2017, he won emphatically inside the first round to collect the WBA strap still in his possession today.
With seconds of the opener remaining, Bivol landed a crisp right hand straight down the pipe which sent Broadhurst tumbling to the canvas. Referee Howard Foster waved the contest off within seconds and his maiden title triumph was sealed.
‘Maybe the best punch of my career,’ Bivol said in his post-fight interview with Sky Sports. ‘I like my right hand. It’s very strong. I was 95 percent sure that the fight was over because it landed clean and it felt like a strong punch. Everyone wants to see knockouts.
‘Every boxer needs to think they’re the best in the word. I hope one day that I can be the best pound-for-pound one day.’
Bivol became a world champion when he knocked out Trent Broadhurst in just his 12th pro bout
He has held the WBA light-heavyweight strap ever since and defends it vs Canelo on Saturday
Four-and-a-half years and seven more victories later, Bivol is on the cusp of entering the pound-for-pound discussion. The talent is undoubtedly there, yet with his defining victory so far coming against the beatable Joe Smith Jr, the resumé is all that is lacking.
He has also failed to stop an opponent since his dramatic 12th-round knockout of Sullivan Barrera in March 2018. Eight straight unanimous-decision wins have followed, including an underwhelming display against Britain’s Craig Richards last year.
Nevertheless, Bivol appears the type of fighter and character to rise to the occasion. As the opposition becomes tougher, he is only likely to raise his game.
The Russian will be an underdog when he collides with Canelo at Nevada’s MGM Grand Garden Arena this Saturday. His latest foe is regarded by many as the current pound-for-pound king, having recently added the undisputed super-middleweight crown to his glittering prize cabinet.
He has previously enjoyed success up at light-heavyweight, too, knocking out Sergey Kovalev to win the WBO belt in 2019. But at the age of 36, Kovalev was a faded force no longer at the peak of his powers.
While Canelo is favourite, if Bivol can withstand his power he is capable of springing an upset
With Bivol there is a feeling that the best is yet to come. We are still waiting on a truly awe-inspiring performance from the 31-year-old, who may well have his peak years ahead of him.
Artur Beterbiev is considered the division’s top dog yet there is an argument to suggest Bivol is the most technically gifted. He has also never tasted the canvas, which speaks volumes about the strength of his chin and compactness of his defence.
If he can withstand Canelo’s brute power, Dmitry Bivol is skilled enough to sneak under the radar and spring an upset in Las Vegas.