Updated May 5, 2022 - 5:09 pm
If Dmitry Bivol is distracted by the Las Vegas lights, his first mega fight and billing opposite the biggest star in boxing, he certainly isn’t showing it.
The 31-year-old Russian maintains a stoic demeanor. He rarely smiles or deviates from his gruff, monotone speaking delivery. Until he returns to his hotel room. Then and only then is he nervous.
“We were just joking about it. … Dmitry seems really relaxed. That’s only until we get to the room. Then I have to sleep on the couch to make sure I’m around,” his manager, Vadim Kornilov, said playfully as Bivol grinned beside him. “He’s always really, really focused. … I really believe Dmitry’s mindset is part of why he’s here.”
Mindset alone won’t be enough to conquer Canelo Alvarez on Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena. But Bivol (19-0, 11 knockouts) is defined by a whole lot more than the mental toughness that’s powered him toward the precipice of pound-for-pound greatness. He’s the WBA’s light heavyweight titleist — equipped with a bigger frame, fleet feet and the kind of stiff, scoring jab that’s previously pestered the undisputed super middleweight champion.
Perhaps he can dethrone boxing’s pound-for-pound king.
He wouldn’t be here if he thought otherwise.
“If you check Dmitry Bivol’s pulse right now, you might not feel anything,” said his promoter, Matchoom Boxing chairman Eddie Hearn. “He’s ice cold going into this fight. He might be the best 175-pounder in the world.”
A quiet confidence
Bivol is Russian by way of Kyrgyzstan, where he was born and raised until he the age of 11. He was inspired as a child to box, beginning when he was 5 — admiring not the great champions of yesteryear, but action movie stars like Jackie Chan and Jean-Claude Van Damme.
He grew up watching their movies, “wanting to fight like them,” he said this week during the promotion at MGM Grand. His father first enrolled him in karate for a couple months, “then he took me to the boxing gym and I fell in love with boxing,” Bivol said.
Boxing, he says, is more popular than karate, allowing for more the steady kind competition that would eventually steel his skills. He’s an accomplished amateur, bypassing a conventional childhood to tour the world, compile a stellar record of 268-15 and win national, regional and world championships.
“Kids, they have fun,” Bivol said. “But I got the fun in the boxing gym.”
He turned professional in 2014 — signing a deal with Russian promotional firm World of Boxing. He stopped his first six opponents and claimed the WBA’s interim 175-pound title in 2016, earning elevation to full champion the following year amid Andre Ward’s retirement.
Bivol’s partnership with Hearn and Matchroom Boxing began in 2019 clincial decision victory over current WBO champion Joe Smith Jr. He’s since made an additional three title defenses, giving him nine total and making him one of the longest reigning champions in boxing — and a worthy opponent for Alvarez (57-1-2, 39 KOs).
“I’m really glad I can fight against the best fighter in the world,” said Bivol, who trains primarily in Southern California and lives in St. Petersburg, Russia. “This fight against him shows me what my skills cost. How good my skills (are). This is a big challenge for me.”
Bivol’s belief won’t be the issue. He’s reaffirmed that throughout the promotion, knowing he has the tools to trouble the 31-year-old Mexican icon.
Bivol is the natural 175-pounder after all. The champion with the belt that Alvarez covets.
“I’m one of the best light heavyweight fighters, and if you’re not confident in your skills. You’ll never win. You’ll never achieve something,” Bivol said. “Belief helps me to be confident and to be a good boxer in a ring. Because nobody knows. Only God knows who will win.
“What will happen? Only God knows. We can just believe.”
Who: Canelo Alvarez (57-1-2, 39 KOs) vs. Dmitry Bivol (19-0, 11 KOs)
What: 12 rounds, WBA light heavyweight championship
When: 5 p.m. Saturday
Where: T-Mobile Arena
TV: DAZN pay-per-view (streaming, $59.99 for subscribers, $79.99 for nonsubscribers)
Tickets: Starting at $400 on axs.com
Line: Alvarez -500; Bivol +333