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Dmitry Bivol outboxes, outpoints Canelo Alvarez in stunning upset and star-making performance

Dmitry Bivol takes it to Canelo Alvarez during his defense of the WBA light heavyweight title at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo by Ed Mulholland/Matchroom
07
May

LAS VEGAS – May 7 was a day of upsets.

Dmitry Bivol’s unanimous decision victory over Canelo Alvarez at T-Mobile Arena may not have been as monumental as 80-1 underdog Rich Strike winning the Kentucky Derby earlier in the day, but his masterful boxing exhibition against the Mexican star sent shock waves through the boxing world.

Alvarez, who entered the light heavyweight title bout as the reigning undisputed super middleweight champion and consensus pound-for-pound king, was handed only his second loss in 61 pro bouts.

He remains the 168-pound champ but his status as No. 1 atop the mythical pound-for-pound rankings has likely come to an end. Bivol (20-0, 11 KOs), the consensus No. 2 light heavyweight (behind Artur Beterbiev according to The Ring, ESPN and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board), made an argument for being the best boxer in the 175-pound division.

Bivol, a 31-year-old former amateur standout from Russia, knew he was the best light heavyweight in the ring on May 7 even though Alvarez (57-2-2, 39 KOs) stepped through the ropes as a 5½-to-1 odds favorite.

And still….! WBA light heavyweight titleholder, Dmitry Bivol! Photo by German Villasenor

“I’m the best,” said Bivol, who retained his WBA title by way-to-close unanimous scores of 115-113, said during his post-fight interview with DAZN’s Chris Mannix.

“I keep this belt,” continued the 31-year-old Russian, who paid no attention to oddsmakers or the media that didn’t give him much of a shot at upsetting the four-division champ. “I respect Canelo and I thank him (for this opportunity). I always believed in myself. If you don’t believe in yourself, you’ll never achieve what you want.”

Bivol certainly made a believer out of Alvarez, who gave no excuses during his post-fight interview.

“This is boxing,” a marked up and dejected looking Alvarez said. “He’s a great champion. Sometimes in boxing, you lose. I lost today and he won.

“He’s a really good fighter, he manages his distance very well, and he has a good jab. I also felt his power.

“No excuses. He’s just a great fighter.”

Bivol slips his jab through Canelo’s guard. Photo by Ed Mulholland/Matchroom

Bivol did indeed look like the total package, controlling distance as Alvarez noted, displaying smart punch selection, setting and keeping a fast tempo, all while outworking the crowd favorite without getting too greedy. Bivol continually beat Alvarez to the punch with fast jab-right-jab salvos while avoiding any trap the experienced veteran tried to lure him into. When Alvarez retreated to the ropes and covered up or dared Bivol to attack, Bivol wisely remained out of Alvarez’s reach while nailing him with jabs and 1-2 combinations.

Bivol was not only the bigger and busier fighter, he was the faster and smarter boxer. He was the ring general against a man who is used to being in command at all times during a fight. But Alvarez was out of ideas halfway through this contest. He looked tired and frustrated by his inability to hurt Bivol or even slow down the bigger man’s jab by aiming punches at his left biceps, a tactic that worked against then-super middleweight champ Callum Smith in December 2020.

“I felt his power,” admitted Bivol. “You can see on my arm, he beat my arm up, but not my head, which is better (for me).”

Bivol blocked power punches to his head as well as Alvarez did, but he was able to slip jabs and straight rights through Canelo’s high guard. By Round 11 Alvarez’s frustration was so exacerbated he tried to body slam Bivol during a clinch.

Canelo swings a wide hook to Bivol’s hip. Photo by Ed Mulholland/Matchroom.

Alvarez was reduced to lobbing one shot at a time as he followed Bivol around the ring, looking for a one-hitter-quitter he knew would not come. It was a demoralizing night that sapped the energy from the near-capacity crowd.

And yet, when asked if he wanted to activate the rematch clause in his contract, Alvarez didn’t hesitate to say yes.

“Of course I want to do it again,” Alvarez said. “This was not me at my best.”

But maybe it was as good as he can be at light heavyweight. He looked heavy of foot, less mobile in his upper body than he normally is at middleweight and super middleweight, and his reflexes didn’t seem as sharp as we’re used to seeing. That might come down to Bivol’s athleticism and technical excellence – this was a far cry from the faded version of Sergey Kovalev that Alvarez stopped late in November 2019 – but the additional weight could also be a factor.

Let’s face it, 5-foot-8 fighters can rarely compete against world-class light heavyweights. Dick Tiger, a two-time middleweight champ during the 1960s lifted the 175-pound title from Jose Torres but was soon brutally KO’d by Bob Foster. The only former junior middleweight champ to twice win light heavyweight titles was Thomas Hearns, who is 6-foot-2 with a near-80-inch wingspan and he wielded freakish KO power.

Alvarez is probably better off returning to super middleweight and defending his undisputed crown, which was what he was supposed to do – versus nemesis Gennadiy Golovkin – in September.

During his post-fight interview, Bivol jokingly apologized to promoter Eddie Hearn for ruining those plans, but there’s no reason why that rubber match still can’t take place. If anything, it seems more like an even fight now that Alvarez has tasted defeat for the first time since being outclassed by Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2013.

Canelo-GGG 3 is still a fight worth making. Photo by Tom Hogan-HoganPhotos

Golovkin unified IBF and WBA middleweight titles with a ninth-round TKO of Ryota Murata in April, but instead of being impressed with the 40-year-old veteran’s feat, much Boxing Twitter dreaded what Alvarez would do to GGG if they fought this year. That’s how good Alvarez had looked coming into the Bivol fight.

Prior to Bivol, the last fighter to give him a real fight was Golovkin in 2017 and 2018. Those were tremendous middleweight battles (controversies aside) and the showdown at 168 pounds could be as well.

Bivol, who said he’s game for an Alvarez rematch provided he’s “treated like the champion” (he took short money, second billing and and walked out first on May 7), is better off targeting the winner of the Beterbiev-Joe Smith Jr. WBC/IBF/WBO 175-pound title unification bout next month.

Bivol outpointed Smith in 2019. If Beterbiev wins (as expected) a clash with Bivol would deliver an undisputed light heavyweight champ.

Thanks to his inspired performance against Alvarez, Bivol might enter that potential bout as the favorite, and certainly as the star.

 

Doug Fischer was ringside for this fight report and will add post-fight press conference comments to the article shortly. Come back for updates.

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