Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez attempts to wrest the WBA super light-heavyweight title from Dmitry Bivol on Saturday. Will the Russian prove the Mexican pound-for-pound standout’s stiffest test in years, or merely another routine assignment on his way to greatness?
After fighting three times last year en route to unifying the super-middleweight world championship, Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez returns to the light-heavyweight division for the second time on Saturday night, as he attempts to add yet another impressive scalp to a pugilistic CV already teeming with accomplishments by challenging for Dmitrii Bivol’s WBA ‘super’ world title at the T Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
In his previous incursion into the 175lbs class, Canelo (57-1-2, 39 KOs) impressively halted an admittedly past his best Sergey Kovalev in eleven rounds. Bivol, however, is likely to present a far stiffer test than the faded ‘Krusher’.
The 31-year-old Russian (born in Kyrgyzstan to a Korean mother and Moldovan father) is probably at the peak of his powers right now, and is rated by near equanimity of opinion as the second best active light heavyweight in the world (behind Artur Beterbiev).
Bivol is less than six months younger than Canelo and is his superior in amateur pedigree, having won national and youth titles as well as competing in the high-quality Word Series of Boxing before turning over in 2014. By the time Bivol entered the pros, Canelo was already an experienced 44-1-1 pro and former light welterweight champion and on the comeback trail after his September 2013 humbling by the befuddling fists of Floyd Mayweather Jr. Canelo, then, possesses a huge advantage in terms of professional prize ring experience, and is a particular master in the art of pacing himself over 12 rounds.
Some may argue that this is off-set by the Mexican’s physical deficits – at 6’ tall with a 72 inch reach, Bivol has significant advantages of height and length (Canelo is only 5’8” with a 70½” reach). Furthermore the Russian is well accustomed to campaigning at 175lbs, having spent his whole career at the weight.
To many fighters these physical and statistical disadvantages would be a cause for concern, but not – it seems – for Canelo, who is used to fighting foes far taller and longer than him, and whose bull-like strength might even see him – ultimately – campaign at cruiserweight.
Another concern for Bivol backers must be his recent run of form. His last three fights – against fringe at best world level performers Umar Salamov, Craig Richards and Lenin Castillo – all went the distance, leading to suspicions that the Russian may have lost some of his edge, or have begun to stagnate.
For Bivol’s career-best performances we have to go back as far as 2019 – when he widely outpointed Joe Smith Jr – and 2018, when he dominated and stopped Sullivan Barrera. In the former bout, Smith rocked Bivol on a couple of occasions, notably at the end of round ten. If Smith Jr could have Bivol in trouble then surely Canelo will be able to find enough openings to exploit, although the Mexican is likely to find him harder to break down and dominate than his last two victims at 168lbs, Billy Joe Saunders and Caleb Plant.
If Bivol is to win then he will need to utilise his technical skills, particularly his excellent jab, to accumulate points early on and frustrate Canelo. However it is likely he will need to throw more punches than he usually does, and in rapid combinations too, if he is to win a decision against a man who often seems to be given the benefit of the doubt from Las Vegas judges.
Canelo’s ability to work the body and create decisive and potentially fight-ending openings by laying subtle traps, as well as his ever impressive head movement and ring-craft, lead me to believe he will have enough skills in his locker to move through the gears in the second half of the fight and secure a clear points win.
With Bivol’s technique and class a debatable decision in Canelo’s favour also cannot be ruled out, but any form of victory for the Russian would be a major upset.