Dmitry Bivol produced a near-faultless performance to end Canelo Alvarez’s reign of dominance and retain his WBA light-heavyweight title in the early hours of Sunday morning in Las Vegas.
Bivol used his superior size and precise technique to brilliant effect, subduing and frustrating Canelo for much of the fight, with the Mexican’s single punches unable to stem the sheer volume of shots being returned in his direction.
All three judges scored the bout 115-113 in the Kyrgyz-born Russian’s favour, with Canelo’s plans to face Gennady Golovkin in September wrecked after just the second defeat of his professional career.
“You need to give respect,” Canelo said in the ring afterwards. “He’s a great champion. In boxing sometimes you win and lose. Tonight I lost. No excuses.”
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After being crowned undisputed champion at super-middleweight last year, Canelo was fighting at light-heavyweight for just the second time in his career, having stopped Sergey Kovalev in 2019.
From the opening bell though, it was clear that Bivol, an unbeaten champion in the prime of his career, would present a far trickier test as his height, reach and relentless piston-like jab made it almost impossible for Canelo to close the distance.
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The first four rounds still remained close, even if they were all inexplicably scored in Canelo’s favour on all three judges’ scorecards. His single shots were admittedly the most eye-catching, with one vicious uppercut in the fourth round snapping Bivol’s head back against the ropes, but they were only brief interruptions to a constant stream of punches.
Any hope offered to the partisan crowd packed inside the T-Mobile Arena was promptly extinguished as Bivol became increasingly confident to hold his feet in combinations, catching Canelo’s single shots on his arms and guard, and prising open the Mexican’s own defence with an intelligent variety of punches.
A prolific amateur, Bivol remained light on his toes, springing out of corners as Canelo attempted to pin him down and he refused to be goaded into a mistake as the Mexican’s frustration became unavoidable in the middle rounds.
It was never that Bivol was simply happy to sidestep danger either. He accelerated again in the eighth, backing Canelo up against the ropes and unleashed a fierce series of combinations that left Alvarez’s face red and his face a little forlorn.
There was a chink of light in the ninth as Bivol briefly tired, allowing Canelo to finally hold his feet and rip thudding hooks, but the Russian’s defence refused to shatter under the weight of the punches. It was his left bicep that blocked most of the blows and it was gorily swollen after the bout in pictures reminiscent of the same injury inflicted on Callum Smith.
But there was no weakness for Canelo to seize on this time. The punishment he’d already endured was beginning to ransack his spirit and the fatigue had rendered his legs heavy and reduced his movement almost to a plod.
And so it was Bivol who looked as though he may produce a spectacular finish himself in the eleventh round as Canelo seemed to become resigned to defeat, and the Russian raised his arms in celebration after extinguishing the prospect of any late drama when the final bell rang.
There had been a lingering fear that Bivol may be deprived of his deserved victory on the judges’ scorecards, and although the rightful winner was declared, they still didn’t accurately represent the margin by which Bivol had dominated. He landed 152 punches to Canelo’s 84 throughout the fight, over four times as many jabs, and it was hard to make a case that Canelo won more than four rounds.
To his credit, Canelo offered no complaints or excuses about the verdict and took his first defeat since facing Floyd Myweather Jr back in 2014 with good grace. He insisted he will activate a rematch clause, despite the conclusive nature of the fight. “This doesn’t end like this,” he said. Bivol for that matter replied “no problem” and if Canelo is to gain redemption, it may well require the greatest performance of one of boxing’s most decorated careers.
Photo Credit: Getty