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Is light heavyweight titleholder Dmitry Bivol a legitimate threat to Canelo Alvarez?
That’s the most pressing question going into Bivol’s pay-per-view defense against the undisputed and celebrated super middleweight champion Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
And the answer is yes.
That doesn’t mean Bivol will necessarily win the fight. He probably won’t. Alvarez is around a 4-1 favorite and No. 1 on most pound-for-pound lists – No. 2 on Boxing Junkie’s – for a reason: He’s one of the best fighters of his generation.
It does mean that Bivol has a better chance of beating Alvarez than any other opponent since the Mexican star’s other fight at 175 pounds, an 11th-round knockout of a stubborn Sergey Kovalev in 2019.
Since then, Alvarez has recorded one-sided victories over Callum Smith, Avni Yildirim, Billy Joe Saunders and Caleb Plant, the first and latter two of whom are solid fighters.
Bivol (19-0, 11 KOs) is simply better, at least on paper.
The WBA beltholder has a strong fundamental foundation, having compiled a reported record of 268-15 as part of the Russian amateur program. And he has been impressive since turning professional in 2014, having built a strong resume.
Most notably, in 2018 and 2019, he easily defeated in succession Sullivan Barrera, Isaac Chilemba, Jean Pascal and Joe Smith Jr. That run of victories over seasoned contenders left no doubt about Bivol’s ability.
His last three victims – Lenin Castillo, Craig Richards and Umar Salamov – weren’t as formidable as the four mentioned above but perhaps that’s a result of his rivals’ reluctance to face him even though he holds a major world title.
Cynics will point out the fact that Bivol failed to stop his last six opponents, an indication that he has limited punching power. That probably is one reason Alvarez chose to fight Bivol as opposed to, say, knockout artist Artur Beterbiev.
That said, Bivol is no weakling. He doesn’t have concussive power, as Beterbiev does, but he doesn’t slap. His punches are heavy. Watch the video of his fight against veteran Jean Pascal (embedded here), who was stopped in his tracks by solid shots over and over again.
And it should be pointed out that he did stop 11 of his first 13 opponents.
He also will have a natural size advantage on Saturday. He’s 6-feet tall, compared to the 5-8 Alvarez. He has a reported reach of 72 inches, Alvarez 70½. And, most important, he fought much of his amateur career and all of his pro fights as a light heavyweight.
The only other fighter who could make the same claim was Kovalev, another good boxer who fought Alvarez on roughly even terms until he was finally stopped late in the fight.
What about Bivol’s lack of knockouts in recent fights?
That’s in part the result of his style. He’s a polished technician who focuses more on baffling opponents than hurting them, although, again, he has enough power to keep anyone honest.
He’s a particularly good defensive fighter, which has confounded one opponent after another. He has a knack for avoiding clean punches. Alvarez could have the same experience, at least in the first half of the fight and maybe longer.
One could say Bivol’s a bigger, better version of the capable Saunders, who gave a good account of himself against Alvarez until a punch caused his eye to swell and he couldn’t continue after eight rounds.
Again, Bivol faces an uphill battle against Alvarez. The pound-for-pounder is a master at dissecting and then methodically breaking down his opponents, which generally leads to wide unanimous-decision victories or brutal knockouts.
The point of this column is that fans can expect a competitive fight. Bivol has the ability, he has the size, he has the motivation. An upset would change his life forever.
And I, for one, wouldn’t be shocked to see that happen.