All eyes were finally on Dmitry Bivol late Saturday night. The Russian boxer basked in the spotlight in the ring at T-Mobile Arena after defending his light-heavyweight title in the biggest fight of his life against Canelo Álvarez.
He was drenched in sweat. His left arm was bright red from Álvarez’s failed attempts to crack his defense. There were no other signs of a 12-round fight against the consensus top pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
Bivol confidently answered questions in English. He joked. He wished the fans, nearly all there to support Álvarez, a happy Cinco de Mayo. The disappointed crowd booed. Bivol continued undeterred.
“If you don’t believe in yourself,” Bivol said, “you achieve nothing.”
Bivol, who is 20-0 with 11 knockouts, was quietly confident all week. He knew he was Álvarez’s stiffest challenge since the Mexican suffered his only other professional loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. nine years earlier. Álvarez was stepping out of his comfort zone to 175 pounds for just the second time. He knocked out Sergey Kovalev in his first try, but Kovalev was battered and overmatched. Bivol, 31, is in his prime.
Yet Bivol was a 5-to-1 underdog who was treated more like a speed bump on Álvarez’s path than an undefeated champion. Born in Kyrgyzstan but raised in Russia, Bivol was dismissed and his background was avoided all week. On Saturday, he was introduced as fighting out of Indio. The Russian flag was absent. The Russian anthem wasn’t played.
The lead-up to the fight focused on everything but the fight. On the return of the Mexican superstar to the Strip on Cinco de Mayo weekend. On where the 31-year-old Álvarez stood among the all-time greats. On what was next for him.
Gennadiy Golovkin originally was scheduled to attend the fight. He was supposed to sit in the crowd to watch Álvarez topple Bivol before Golovkin and Álvarez partnered to hype the completion of their trilogy.
The date of their third fight was tentatively set for Sept. 17, the day after Mexican Independence Day. Eddie Hearn, Álvarez’s promotor, openly spoke about the fight all week. All Álvarez needed to do was beat Bivol. In the end, Golovkin decided not to travel to Vegas. That avoided some awkwardness.
Now the question becomes whether that third bout will be delayed for a rematch against Bivol. Following his loss, Álvarez said he wants a rematch, a natural response for a competitor after taking a beating.
“It doesn’t end this way,” Álvarez said.
That doesn’t mean it won’t.
It’ll be on Álvarez to exercise the rematch clause in his contract with Bivol. In his post-fight news conference, Álvarez reiterated multiple times that his best weight is 168. He said he didn’t feel completely comfortable fighting at 175. He speculated that’s why he was fatigued at the end of the fight.
“That’s where we feel best,” said Álvarez (57-2-2, 39 KOs). “We’re going to see if we’re going to take on this rematch.”
If he doesn’t invoke the rematch clause, he’d return to 168 pounds and continue with his plans to fight Golovkin. It would be a huge pay day against a 40-year-old fighter far from his peak. Less risk and more reward.
Bivol said he’s open to a rematch but hinted that he would want to renegotiate the terms in the contract for a second fight.
“I just want to make sure I can be treated like a champion now,” Bivol said.
Bivol’s other option is to try to unify the titles at 175 pounds. Artur Beterbiev owns two of the other belts in the division. Joe Smith Jr. has the fourth. They’re slated to fight in June. Bivol could fight the winner for the division’s unification.
Bivol said his dream is to be the unified light-heavyweight champion. There’s a chance he’ll assume that title by the end of the year. But nothing in his career will top what happened Saturday, when he finally was given the attention he deserved.