A critical look at the past week in boxing
The fans were spoiled on Saturday night.
They received not one, but two unusually fine performances in venues separated by around 7,000 miles, first by 175-pound titleholder Dmitry Bivol in the United Arab Emirates and then by 168-pound contender David Morrell in Minneapolis
Bivol (21-0, 11 KOs) reminded us of how he was able to upset Canelo Alvarez in May, outclassing a good, previously unbeaten opponent in Gilberto Ramirez to win a wide decision and set up another big fight.
Ramirez (44-1, 30 KOs) was competitive for the first four rounds. Then, after Bivol settled into the fight, he toyed with the former 168-pound champion the rest of the way to win a wide unanimous decision and underscore the perception that he’s one of the best pure boxers on the planet.
Bivol’s defensive performance was particularly striking: Ramirez landed only 12.2% of his punches, according to CompuBox. No one is harder to hit.
He wants to fight countryman Artur Beterbiev for the undisputed light heavyweight championship. If that doesn’t happen – and it probably won’t because of a prior commitment – he’d happily settle for a rematch with Alvarez.
Neither of those fights is easy but I’d pick Bivol to win both. He’s the best among those three … maybe the best, period.
Morrell (8-0, 7 KOs) demonstrated in his 12th-round knockout of Aidos Yerbossynuly (16-1, 11 KOs) why he’s going to be a handful for the top super middleweights and eventually light heavyweights.
Find a weakness. The Cuban defector is naturally gifted, has polished skills, has punching power and appears to have a good chin. On Saturday, he outclassed a good, rugged opponent, beat him up and then brutally knocked him out.
The fans in his adopted hometown loved every minute of it. The rest of us just nodded in appreciation.
Morrell appears to be special.
Bivol suggested after his victory on Saturday that he’s open to moving down to 168 pounds to challenge for Alvarez’s undisputed championship after outpointing Alvarez at 175 in their first fight.
Let’s hope he doesn’t do it.
It’s one thing to move up a division, as Alvarez did in May. It’s another to shed weight, which can leave a fighter depleted and create a significant advantage for his opponent. And that’s the last thing you want if you’re facing a future Hall of Famer.
Bivol has fought as a light heavyweight his entire eight-year professional career. As he said, “I’m a light heavyweight. This is my weight.”
He needs to remember that. And so does Alvarez.
If the Mexican star wants to turn the tables on Bivol, he needs to do it against a Bivol who is at full strength. That would be at 175 pounds, not 168 or a catch weight. Otherwise a victory in the rematch wouldn’t mean nearly as much.
And Alvarez has had success at 175. He stopped a still-competent Sergey Kovalev to win a light heavyweight title in 2019. A size disadvantage wasn’t an insurmountable obstacle on that night. And there’s no reason it should be in a second fight with Bivol.
Indeed, the first meeting was more about ability than size. That would also be the case in a rematch.
It has to take place at 175 pounds.
Bivol, Morrell and the fans will have to wait for the fights they want.
Bivol is choosing legacy over money when he says that he’d prefer to fight Beterbiev over a rematch with Alvarez in his next fight. You have to think Beterbiev also wants that fight. And, of course, the fans would love to see a matchup between the boxing wizard and the knockout artist.
Instead, it appears that Beterbiev will defend his three belts against mandatory challenger Anthony Yarde early next year.
That’s unfortunate for the fans. Beterbiev-Yarde is mismatch. Yarde has power but he doesn’t have the skill set to compete with a fighter with the ability and experience of Beterbiev, who almost certainly would dominate and ultimately stop Yarde. Knockouts are always fun to watch but I’d rather see a competitive fight.
Bivol will probably fight Beterbiev at some point. The question is when.
He could face Alvarez a second time in May, when the Mexican normally fights. Then, if things go well for Bivol and Beterbiev defeats Yarde, the Russians could meet in the fall.
That seems to be the best case scenario for Bivol.
Meanwhile, Morrell left little doubt on Saturday that he’s ready to challenge one of the top 168-pounders. He would like to face former two-time titleholder David Benavidez next.
However, Benavidez appears headed toward a long-awaited showdown with Caleb Plant. Benavidez-Plant is a much better matchup than Beterbiev-Yarde, particularly after Plant’s one-punch knockout of Anthony Dirrell last month.
It’s just not as good as Benavidez-Morrell, which now seems to be the ultimate 168-pound matchup not involving Alvarez. Why? Because Morrell is a bigger threat to Benavidez than Plant is.
Benavidez-Morrell also could happen next year if Benavidez defeats Plant and Morrell wins an interim fight, which will probably happen.
We just have to be patient.
Jeison Rosario (23-4-1, 17 KOs) turned out to be a one-hit wonder. The Dominican made a big splash when he stopped talented Julian Williams to win two 154-pound belts in 2020. It has been down hill for him since. He was stopped by Jermell Charlo and Erickson Lubin in his next two fights, beat three journeymen in his native country and then was stopped by Brian Mendoza (21-2, 15 KOs) in five rounds on the Morrell-Yerbossynuly card. Rosario is only 27 but appears to be finished as an elite fighter. … Kudos to Mendoza, who ended the fight with a beautiful right uppercut and follow up left in the fifth round of his first fight at 160 pounds. The victory was a break through for the Albuquerque product, who lost a decision o Jesus Ramos only two fights ago. … Say hello to Fiodor Czerkaszyn. The talented Ukrainian middleweight could be around for a while. Czerkaszyn (21-0, 13 KOs) gave a strong performance on the Morrell-Yerbossynuly card, easily outpointing veteran Nathaniel Gallimore (22-6-1, 17 KOs) in a 10-round bout. The former Muay Thai fighter seems to be a slick, clever boxer with heavy hands and a ton of confidence. It will be interesting to see how he fares at the next level. … Undisputed 147-pound champion Jessica McCaskill (12-3, 5 KOs) looked awful for most of her fight against 140-pound titleholder Chantelle Cameron (17-0, 8 KOs) on the Bivol-Ramirez card, losing a wide decision. Maybe the two-timer conqueror of Cecilia Braekhus had trouble moving down in weight. Maybe a collision of heads early in the fight affected her. Maybe Cameron is just significantly better than she is. Whatever the reason, McCaskill had a bad night. She might have a chance to redeem herself. Cameron said afterward that she’d like to move up to 147 to challenge for McCaskill’s titles in that division.