They say that in boxing closed mouths don’t get fed. Goading a desired opponent into a fight has long been a ploy adopted by those wishing to further their ambitions, and since the birth of social media such provocations have become second nature to hungry young challengers.
But what of boxing’s gentlemen? One of the ironies of this brutal sport is that its competitors are often some of the most genial human beings around. For WBA Super light-heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol, trash-talking simply isn’t in his DNA, but that hasn’t stopped him from feeling a sense of frustration at how reluctant other champions have been to face him.
“That’s part of the culture in Russia. Your parents teach you your whole life to be humble and not to talk too much. Especially stuff you can’t back up. I was treated like that since I was a kid,” Bivol told Boxing Social. “That’s the frustrating part for me because I’m ready for any challenge. I’m ready! Just challenge me! I’m the champion, I have the belt, but it looks like nobody really wants to become the champion right now.
“Even the people who do fight me, they’re just there to survive. But our team is negotiating all the time. We’re offering the fight to all the 168lbs and 175lbs tough guys. The problem is that not many of them are interested in fighting for the world title.”
The Russian is evidently perplexed as to why his contemporaries don’t share his ambition to fight the best opposition out there.
“I know why I can’t fight against Canelo! He wanted to fight [Sergey] Kovalev because he’s more famous than me and because he’s not in good shape right now!” he said.
Bivol (17-0, 11 KOs) is careful not to use terms like ‘cherry-picking’ and ‘ducking’ but, at 29, he feels as if he’s reached a moment in his development that warrants a stiffer test sooner rather than later.
“Right now, I feel better than ever. I have never felt so strong physically and mentally. But I feel like I can get even better,” he said.
“Of course, sometimes I’m angry. But this is professional boxing and I try to be smart and understand this situation. I believe that if I’m patient and I keep winning a couple more fights, it’ll be easier to get the big names.”
The biggest of all these fights is, of course, a unification contest with his fellow countryman, WBC and IBF champion Artur Beterbiev. It’s a classic mesh of styles, the boxer versus the power-puncher, and it’s clear to Bivol that this is one of the most craved fights in world boxing today.
“My goal is to become the undisputed champion at 175lbs, but also to be more famous and to show more people my skills. Of course, I respect him [Beterbiev],” said Bivol. “He is one of the most dangerous punchers in the world right now. And he has two belts. This is what I want to get. It’s worth the risk.
“This fight is very close [to being made] because everyone is talking about this fight, the anticipation of the crowd, everyone is posting requests on social media. Everyone wants to see it happen. And, of course, I have a belt and it means I’m ready to fight against anyone, at any time. I have to be. I would love to fight Artur next. He is the priority. I am a champion at 175lbs, Artur is a champion at 175lbs, whoever’s best – only the ring will show!”
As exciting as this prospect is, demands on Beterbiev to fulfil his IBF mandatory obligation will almost certainly delay that clash. So, Bivol has begun to look down at the super-middleweight division for more immediate challenges. With Callum Smith (WBA Super) and Billy Joe Saunders (WBO) both holding titles at 168lbs, this could be good news for British fight fans.
“I would love to fight Callum Smith in Liverpool’s stadium! That would be great!” exclaimed Bivol excitedly. The Russian was immediately animated as conversation moved to potential opponents at super-middleweight, including Danny Jacobs and Gennady Golovkin. “I can make 168lbs, no problem. I have breakfast on my weigh-in day at 175lbs! I can move down for any champion or big name,” he said.
It’s the artistry of boxing that appeals most to the Russian, outthinking his foe as opposed to simply trading leather, and this becomes especially clear when he discusses his own boxing heroes.
“When I started training, Mike Tyson was the superstar, but I quickly understood that’s not my style. I liked [Muhammad] Ali, the way he moved around and slipped punches, but the guy I really fell in love with was Roy Jones Jr, one of the best ever,” said Bivol. “At the same time, I was watching Pernell Whitaker. What was special for me was the way he never went to the ring to fight for his life, he was never intimidated, he was always relaxed and so confident in whatever he did. I like it when people enjoy their work. But my favourite fighter is Sugar Ray Leonard. He’s the guy I’ve studied the most.”
Having put two weight classes on notice as to his intentions, the champion appears to display a renewed vigour, quietly confident that he’s close to a momentous statement fight that could elevate his career.
“I really want to prove that boxing is a gentleman’s sport, that it’s a sport for real gentlemen. Second, that it’s not the most dangerous sport in the world. If you have the ring IQ and, if you’re smart, it’s not necessary,” said Bivol. “Boxing isn’t just about being tough. When people are watching me fight, I want them to relate me to the smart boxers from history. That when I fought I wasn’t getting hit, I was outsmarting my opponent, hurting my opponent, but doing everything the smart way.”
All he needs now is an opponent. Over to you, Callum.