“I don’t feel like I am the king today. I’m just better than Canelo today,” said a modest Dmitry Bivol after his landmark victory over Canelo Alvarez.
The reigning WBA light-heavyweight champion defended his title with a unanimous decision in Las Vegas, putting on a career-best performance to become only the second fighter after Floyd Mayweather Jr. to defeat Canelo.
Shop the Robinson Tracksuit as worn by Dmitry Bivol and his team on Fight Night.
Close scorecards from the ringside judges in Vegas would suggest a tight fight but Bivol was dominant throughout the 12 rounds, sticking to his tactics perfectly to earn the 20th success of his career.
Despite humbly playing down the magnitude of his triumph, Bivol utilised a highly-effective gameplan and outboxed the man regarded as the top fighter in boxing today. Here’s our fight breakdown on how Bivol beat Canelo in Sin City.
Canelo entered the ring at the T-Mobile Arena as the favourite to prevail, in spite of Bivol being the defending light-heavyweight champion. But the 31-year-old stamped down his authority as the natural 175 pounds fighter and quickly established himself in the early rounds of the fight.
Facing the shorter man, Bivol maintained his distance and control using a variety of jabs and mainly straight shots from the opening bell. Sticking a pawing jab out to the high guard of Canelo, the champion was able to dictate proceedings while mixing in more solid jabs and doubling or tripling them up.
As well as leading his attacks off a strong jab, Bivol used it as a defensive move when Canelo was coming in too. Taking short steps back and timing a jab to stifle the Mexican’s approach, he used the stiff arm to nudge his challenger off balance before pivoting out of danger.
Staying off the ropes and circling away from the more threatening positions was a key theme as the rounds progressed for Bivol. Using a high guard to catch and counter Canelo’s constant right hooks, he would circle off and seize the initiative quickly by taking back centre ring for a more promising attacking position of his own.
This immediately put Canelo under pressure, with Bivol’s feints edging him further back to the ropes instead, where he unleashed many eye-catching combinations. With Canelo being a great single-shot counter puncher, combinations thrown from long range were key as Bivol mounted constant onslaughts and forced him to cover up.
Many remarked that Canelo faded down the stretch for a number of reasons, including the extra weight or change of diet, but it was more telling that Bivol subtly landed hurtful body shots in the earlier rounds. These take their toll during the course of a 12-round fight, especially when dealing with a naturally larger opponent.
How Bivol Beat Canelo in Las Vegas
The defending champion was able to capitalise on Canelo’s predictability from the midway point. It was clear the Mexican was targeting the left arm in an attempt to weaken the impact of lead shots (which worked in his victory over Callum Smith) but Bivol braced for these and countered effectively.
Bivol took advantage when he sensed Canelo needed a rest after loading up on his shots, not allowing him to fully reset by sticking out the jab to keep his high guard occupied and making him stay engaged while trying to get a momentary break.
Another decisive factor for Bivol in his victory was his temperament. In a fight that he was cast as the B-side to boxing’s number one name, he showed no emotion and remained calm throughout a composed display.
Despite what the scorecards suggested, it was Bivol’s early dictating of the action that clearly had impact on Canelo mentally as well as physically. One of his few shortcomings is that he possesses a frontrunner’s mentality.
When the fight isn’t going his way or he can’t impose his will on an opponent as expected, he becomes a more passive fighter; sitting on the ropes, shelling up and showing more bravado than shot output. The champion used this to his advantage to cause frustration and refused to be drawn in.
Bivol was able to limit Canelo to landing a record-low amount of punches for a 12-rounder in his 63-fight career, the lowest since falling short to Mayweather in 2013. Many outlined Bivol’s sheer size and strength as keys to a potential victory before the fight, but overall he actually outboxed and out-thought the consensus best fighter in the world to secure a historic result.
Respect and Legacy Earned
Going against boxing tradition, it was the challenger, Canelo, who made his ring walk last and was introduced first, rather than the champion.
But it’s Bivol who has now put himself in prime position ahead of a likely rematch, spoiling the Cinco de Mayo party and scuppering Eddie Hearn’s plans of a Canelo vs. Gennadiy Golovkin trilogy in September.
Unfazed and focused, Bivol’s quiet intensity in the build-up shifted to modest confidence after victory in a showdown billed as ‘Legacy Is Earned’ - even boldly suggesting a move down to super-middleweight for a shot at Canelo’s undisputed crown in the rematch.
Regardless of the next move, Bivol will return to St. Petersburg to reunite with his family with his legacy earned and world title still in possession.
Header image: Ed Mullholland/Matchroom Boxing
Footer image: Mikael Ona