A few days prior to the light heavyweight showdown between Canelo Alvarez and Dmitry Bivol, a relative of mine asked, “Is Canelo’s opponent any good?”
My immediate reaction was to say that he was a solid fighter and certainly “good.” However, I knew what they really wanted to ask was if Bivol was even a remote threat to beat Alvarez and if the fight was even worth watching as they had never heard of the defending champ.
Bivol (20-0, 11 KOs) isn’t exactly a cross-over star but hardcore fans would likely agree he was at least a formidable challenge for the mega-star that is Canelo. And while I didn’t predict an upset and figured Canelo would find a way to win, I did tell my relative that it wouldn’t be an easy fight given Bivol’s style, size, and strength.
Well, needless to say, Bivol proved to be quite difficult while handing Canelo (57-2-2, 39 KOs) only the second loss of his career while retaining his WBA 175-pound crown on Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, on the DAZN PPV, promoted by Matchroom Boxing.
The first four rounds were more or less what I expected, with Bivol popping his jab, staying at a distance, and holding up his guard, while Canelo, who generally starts slow, looked to get a read on his opponent and look for counter opportunities.
By the end of the fifth round though, I started telling those I knew that were watching, that Canelo and his corner needed to start hitting the panic button. In that fifth round, Canelo, who was now starting to grow visibly frustrated, lay on the ropes to try and goad Bivol into opening up. Bivol did just that and unloaded with a six-punch combination that landed clean and then stepped back, stayed composed, and got back on defense.
Canelo found no opening, did not counter, and simply waved Bivol on to get back on the attack. Bivol was too smart for that though. He was picking his spots by jabbing his way in and only looking to connect with 2-3 punch combos at a time, then refusing to trade recklessly, making himself a challenging target for Canelo.
Add to that Bivol’s advantage in size and strength, and Canelo’s inability to land double-digit punches in any round, plus the fact that he couldn’t hurt Bivol and you had a recipe for disaster. As the fight got into the later rounds, you could clearly see that the steam was off of Canelo’s punches completely and his body language made it obvious he was mentally defeated.
To his credit, Canelo tried and tried but by the time the final bell rang, you knew in his heart that he had lost, despite saying in the post-fight interview that he thought he did enough to win – he also accepted the loss and didn’t make a stink over it.
A third fight with Gennady Golovkin was looming for later in the year for Canelo but he’s stated he wants to exercise his rematch clause with Bivol. But should fans expect anything different in second go around?
I’d like to think in a rematch, Canelo will come in more motivated and aggressive, but if Bivol can stick to his strategy again, it’s not hard to imagine Canelo’s early push could get stifled and leave him frustrated one more time. Styles make fights and Bivol has the kind of style that would present problems for anyone, but particularly those who feed off an opponent willing to trade punches or can be forced to fight going backward.
In a way, the rubber match between Canelo and Golovkin is even more interesting but surely Canelo will want to try and avenge his loss later this year. It will make for a fascinating rematch but until now, we can only wonder if Bivol is to Canelo as Vernon Forrest was to Shane Mosley or Jermain Taylor was to Bernard Hopkins.