Dmitry Bivol wants to make a statement vs. Sullivan Barrera
NEW YORK, N.Y. – The light heavyweight division is wide open with four different title holders roaming the upper echelon of the weight class. Dmitry Bivol has one of the sanctioning organization titles, the WBA strap, and the 27-years-old boxer-puncher might have the most upside of the current beltholders.
On Saturday, Bivol (12-0, 10 knockouts) will continue to stake his claim as the “Heir Apparent” when he defends his title against top-10 contender Sullivan Barrera (21-1, 14 KOs) in the co-feature to the Sergey Kovalev-Igor Mikhalkin WBO title bout at The Theater inside Madison Square Garden. The Cuban-born Sullivan is not only a viable challenger but also poses the toughest test of Bivol’s young career.
Bivol first stepped foot inside Madison Square Garden over the Thanksgiving holiday last November to watch both Barrera and Kovalev in separate bouts. The former Russian amateur standout had the opportunity to scout them both.
Barrera survived an early scare when he was dropped in the opening round to win a unanimous decision over Felix Valera whom Bivol also defeated via decision at the Ice Palace in Moscow in 2016.
“I wasn’t surprised that Barrera won or the way in which he beat Valera,” Bivol told THE RING in his native Russian. “But I was surprised that Valera knocked Barrera down in the first round. I was not expecting that.”
With current WBC titleholder and former RING Magazine champion Adonis Stevenson turning 41 this year and having only fought twice in the past two years (vs. less-than-solid opposition), Bivol believes the time is now to get the attention of boxing fans. Kovalev is the other big name in the division and the 34-year-old puncher is still clawing his way back from consecutive defeats to Andre Ward who has since retired and relinquished the titles he won. The other titleholder is Artur Beterbiev, who holds the IBF belt and has not been very active while dealing with an injury and promotional issues.
Bivol on the other hand has been busy with four bouts in 2015, three in 2016 and four again in 2017, including an impressive first-round knockout of Trent Broadhurst in Monte Carlo. Sensing Bivol’s marketability and exciting boxing style, HBO sent a crew to Monaco to broadcast the bout live.
“Some people might think I just showed up out of nowhere to win a world championship but in reality I have been doing this my entire life,” Bivol said. “There is a lot of work that is put in before I even turned professional.”
Bivol said as a boy in his native Kyrgyzstan, he originally wanted to be a mixed martial arts fighter but didn’t see a future in the sport so decided to take up boxing instead and has never looked back.
“People pick up boxing for many reasons and sometimes they fall into boxing but for me I just don’t remember my life without training to be a boxer,” Bivol added.
Growing up in Russia, Bivol admits he never thought he would step foot inside Madison Square Garden let alone fight inside the arena and now that the opportunity is upon him he realizes the magnitude of what is at stake.
“My goal is to focus on my game plan, but most importantly I understand I have to look good on Saturday,” Bivol said. “To look good is most important. I want boxing fans to remember me and to say I want to see him again. I will try to put on a show.”
In Barrera, Bivol has a formidable opponent who reportedly turned down an opportunity to challenge Kovalev in favor of a matchup with Bivol.
“Maybe Barrera thinks I’m young or inexperienced and he can have an easier time; I really don’t know what’s in his head,” Bivol admitted. “I don’t spend too much time thinking about him or any opponent. I am more focused on will I get a good night sleep, or will I have a good breakfast and will I execute on everything we worked on in camp.”
As Bivol was wrapping up his training camp a few weeks ago he had a visit from Ward, who handed Barrera his only professional defeat.
“We talked about my training camp and just talked about life in general,” Bivol said. “He told me his life story and also why he decided to retire when we did. He told me he realized his body was tired and his body was telling him it’s time to stop. I asked him if he had people help him come to this decision and he said yes, his closest people told him to listen to his body.”
Recently Ward has hinted at ending his retirement and for Bivol it would be an honor to get a chance at matching up with a future hall of famer.
“If he does come back I would love the opportunity to face him because he’s an iconic boxer and the leader of this division,” Bivol said. “Ward is best and if I feel I am the best then I have to test myself against the best. That’s sports.”
Bivol is very excited about the prospects of fighting Kovalev or the other beltholders in the division and hopes the business side of the sport wont interfere.
“Fans want to see the best fight the best,” Bivol said. “There are boxing matches that people remember and others that fans forget about right away. If we fight the other champions it can be really great and memorable for years to come. Fans will be willing to pay to watch the great fights and us boxers can earn more money.”
If it were left up to Bivol he can be ready to fight every few months and that’s how he has managed to stay busy since turning pro in 2014.
“I only need two weeks after a fight to rest, that’s it,” Bivol said. “Then after a month and a half in camp we are ready to go, but business can get in the way.”