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LAS VEGAS — There are, as they say in the parlance, plenty of good seats still available for the WBA light heavyweight title fight on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena between Canelo Alvarez and Dmitry Bivol.
That’s largely due to the lack of awareness Bivol has with the American fan base. Alvarez is one of the biggest draws in boxing, though it’s no longer a slam dunk to say he’s the biggest considering what Tyson Fury did last month in putting 94,000 fans into the stands at Wembley Stadium in London.
Alvarez, though, is a massive draw, both in terms of selling tickets and pay-per-views. It’s why promoter Eddie Hearn fawns all over him like a 16-year-old on a date with his first big crush while at the same time largely ignoring the presence of Bivol, who, surprise to many, is the defending champion in the bout.
Bivol is so under the radar many haven’t even heard of his country, Kyrgyzstan, a mountainous region just west of China. He was a decorated amateur who went 268-15 and is 19-0 as a pro, including 6-0 in world title fights.
He’s not flashy in or out of the ring, but that doesn’t mean he’s a pushover. He understands Alvarez is the big star and the reason most people will show up, but he’s in Las Vegas to successfully defend his belt.
Alvarez has been moving up in weight and has taken belts from opponents on the regular in the last several years. It’s how he unified the super middleweight belts and won a version of the light heavyweight title that he later voluntarily surrendered.
When Bivol made his grand arrival on Tuesday at the MGM Grand, he was met by a large throng of mostly Hispanic fans who had turned out to greet Alvarez. When Bivol got onto the stage, the crowd began chanting for Alvarez. Bivol beamed, punched his fist in the air, and joined them by chanting, “Canelo! Canelo! Canelo!”
This is the biggest moment of Bivol’s career, and though he’s viewed by many as a lamb being led to slaughter, he’s far more than that. He is one of the best opponents of Alvarez’s career, more talented than anyone the Mexican superstar has fought since facing Gennadiy Golovkin in a 2018 rematch.
Host Claudia Trejos noted to him that Alvarez is known as a belt collector, and Bivol just grinned.
“I’m not thinking about that,” Bivol said. “I’m just thinking about my skills. I believe in my skills and in my victory. This is why I'm here”
Bivol is a better defensive fighter than Alvarez has faced since he met Erislandy Lara in 2014. He’s also four inches taller than Alvarez, though Bivol only has a 1 1/2-inch reach advantage.
Bivol, though, is patient to a fault and that will serve him well in the fight. He’s not going to get into a slugfest with Alvarez, but will challenge Alvarez’s full arsenal of skills.
Alvarez is as popular as he is in part because of his eagerness to take on the greatest fighters of his time. While Bivol isn’t as well known as prior Alvarez opponents like Floyd Mayweather Jr., Golovkin, Miguel Cotto, Sergey Kovalev, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., Amir Khan, Shane Mosley and Daniel Jacobs, among others, he may well be the best behind only Mayweather, Cotto and Golovkin.
Kovalev in his prime may — may — have been better than Bivol, but that’s an argument that could spark a fierce debate. And Mosley may deserve to be in that spot as well, but Bivol is in good company given the quality of opposition Alvarez has faced.
Bivol, though, doesn’t have to take a backseat to anyone. He’s experienced, he’s skilled and he’s prepared.
He’s facing an uphill battle given Alvarez’s popularity and how his style seems to resonate with judges, but he’s non-plussed.
He’s been here before and knows he is good enough to win.
“First of all, I expect a great fight,” Bivol said. “I’ll say it again: I believe in my victory and I’ll do my best to keep my belt and make people happy to see this fight.”
He doesn’t want to make them too happy, though. Boring will be better for him. Jab, move, create angles and box — all things he does extremely well — will be the strategy for him.
If he does, he could shock many, though it wouldn’t be a shock to those who have paid close attention to his career.