Dmitry Bivol says title unification showdown with Sergey Kovalev is coming soon
NORWALK, California – The usual hustle and bustle of the Legendz Boxing gym was missing on July 4.
On any other Wednesday, the Southern California training center would be packed with more than a dozen prospects and contenders from around the world – including U.S. Olympian Dominic Breazeale, Mexican heavyweight Andy Ruiz, NABF/NABO 130-pound titleholder Ryan Garcia, Argentine up-and-comer Fabian Maidana, Colombian title challenger Oscar Negrete, and former Irish amateur standouts Aaron and Steven McKenna – but not on this day.
Regardless of the country they hail from, everyone took July 4 off to celebrate America’s independence in the time-honored tradition of backyard bar-b-ques and fireworks spectating; everyone, that is, but light heavyweight titleholder Dmitry Bivol and his sparring partners.
The Kyrgyzstan-born Russian of Moldovan and Korean descent loves this country as much as the next foreign boxer seeking fame and fortune in the good ole US of A, but he couldn’t afford to take a day off when he was one month away from a pivotal HBO appearance.
Bivol (13-0, 11 knockouts) defends his WBA belt against seasoned veteran Isaac Chilemba in the co-feature to the Sergey Kovalev-Eleider Alvarez WBO title bout on Saturday at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City. This is the second time Bivol has fought on HBO before a Kovalev main event (the third time if you count his bout against Cedric Agnew on the Andre Ward-Kovalev II HBO Pay-Per-View undercard). In March, Bivol stopped respected contender Sullivan Barrera in the 12th round in the co-feature to Kovalev’s pedestrian seventh-round stoppage of Igor Mikhalkin.
You don’t have to be The Amazing Kreskin to foresee the plan of HBO and the management behind The Ring’s top two light heavyweights – get the two boxer-punchers to share the ring, not just the show.
“I feel that is the plan and I’m glad,” Bivol told The Ring after a brisk seven-round sparring session with former title challenger Ismayl Sillah and Las Vegas-based super middleweight Kevin Newman.
“I think the Kovalev fight will be soon, maybe at the end of this year or in the beginning of next year. I feel my skills are ready for a fight against another champion.”
If that other champion is Kovalev, who is currently The Ring’s No. 1 contender, Bivol (No. 2) could be fighting for the magazine’s vacant light heavyweight title. Adding to the already high stakes of that showdown is possible pound-for-pound inclusion given The Krusher is currently No. 9 in The Ring’s mythical rankings.
Bivol’s manager Vadim Kornilov believes his fighter should be pound-for-pound worthy if he can beat Kovalev.
“Look what he’s already done in just 13 pro bouts,” said Kornilov. “He’s already faced the kind of contenders that most ranked fighter with more than 20 bouts are still avoiding. Bivol won the WBA interim title against Felix Valera, who was undefeated (13-0), in his seventh pro bout. He won the full title in his 12th fight.
“Even in the pound-for-pound rankings, only (Vasilily) Lomachenko, (Aleksandr) Usyk and (Naoya) Inoue faced top-10 contenders before their 10th pro bouts. Terence Crawford and Mikey Garcia are in the pound-for-pound top five and they were still fighting four- and six-rounders in their first 10-12 pro bouts.”
Bivol, a powerful-but-agile boxer who possesses an educated jab, has been impressive during his rise up the 175-pound rankings. However, the 27-year-old didn’t look unbeatable against Barrera, who had moments and was able to bust the Russian’s face up a bit.
Bivol views the 11 and half rounds he went with the rugged and ring savvy Cuban as an educational experience.
“I learned that I should keep my hands higher and not to waste my power early in a fight,” he said, adding that his education continues between fights with the world-class sparring he receives at Legendz Boxing. “Every training camp, I learn something new. I have good sparring partners here in California.”
Bivol will need to bring a high boxing IQ into the match with Chilemba (25-5-2, 10 KOs), a globe-trotting veteran from Malawi who has faced the best light heavyweights of the past seven years, including Kovalev (who he took the 12-round distance), Alvarez, Tony Bellew (twice) and Oleksandr Gvozdyk. Nobody had an easy time with the 31-year-old former contender.
“He’s a tough and persistent guy,” Bivol acknowledged. “He has a good chin. I expect him to move a lot, jab a lot and look to counter attack.
“He’s not easy opponent. It’s had to look good against him because of his movement. Every fighter that moves a lot is difficult. Of course, I will try to make a good fight that people want to see, to please the fans.”
Beyond his continuing boxing education, future title unifications, Ring titles and pound-for-pound rankings, Bivol wants to cultivate a fan base. He believes is on his way with his recent (and hopefully continued) exposure on HBO.
“I want more people to see my fights,” he said. “I don’t need any more experience for the big fights. I need more fans.”
Email Fischer at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @dougiefischer