His jet black hair glistens under the spotlight, sweat beading as he glides viciously from attack-to-attack. The youthful expression worn on the face of the prince of Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan is deceptive. Calm in the face of the fire, his transition from poise to predator is seamless.
Undefeated Eastern warrior Dmitry Bivol (14-0, 11 KO’s) had become a World champion just over a year ago, and has cemented his position as one of the division’s elite with wins over Sullivan Barrera and Isaac Chilemba in his opening two defences. When talking exclusively to Boxing Social, the former Russian amateur star revisited a childhood blessed with the experience of growing up in a mixed-heritage household.
“My parents are from different blood – but not from different countries. My mother was born in the USSR, in Kazakhstan and my father was also born in the USSR, when Moldova was part of the Soviet Union. They are from different blood, but they have [some of] the same culture. It’s not easy for me (laughs)! My family has two different cultures, so sometimes we celebrate some Korean holidays and sometimes we celebrate Moldovan [holidays]! It’s different!”
As the son of Korean-Moldovan parents, family had traditionally been a constant, merging values from both his mother and father. He continued, “Family is the number one thing in my life. Every time I do something in boxing or in life, I imagine that my family are watching me. I imagine my kids are watching me and I don’t wanna do something that they might regret, or do something that would make them think bad [things] about me. It’s a big motivation and it is the only thing [I truly care about] in my life.”
Dmitry struck me as a quiet man when we had initially spoken last year; peaceful in the midst of the chaos that often surrounds him. His English had drastically improved from previous visits to the UK and he was warming to boxing’s increasing media obligations with the ever-growing interest in his profile.
After turning heads as an amateur, Bivol was destined for the upper echelons of the professional game, holding a victory over current WBC super-middleweight champion Callum Smith, now six years in the past.
Dmitry’s record in the unpaid ranks was an astonishing 268-15, all achieved by the age of twenty-four. He had carved out his own hype as a professional, building a reputation in Russia with contests in his native country before being picked up to face American Samuel Clarkson, on US broadcaster Showtime.
Now, facing Jean Pascal, a one-time former mentor and sparring partner, he was looking to continue his march towards unification fights in the New Year. Pascal, the established former World champion, had welcomed the young Bivol into his camp when the elder-statesman held the WBC light-heavyweight title. With the belt warming the waist of the younger man, Bivol remained focused on the task at hand with no time for sentiment.
“First of all, I respect him [Pascal]. He was a great fighter with good stories and he was a champion. Yeah, he has a lot of experience and I know he wanted to retire, but he has come back [for this fight]. I know that whoever has been a champion previously is always dangerous. I respect him because he took this fight. We wanted a fight against Joe Smith Jr, but he chose to fight on DAZN. We gave Pascal an offer and he took the fight. I am glad that he took it and I’m thankful.
“When I was sparring Pascal, I felt great within myself.” Elaborating, Dmitry continued, “I could do a lot of things, but he was really quick and strong. I know that things are changing sometimes and this is a good example. Many years ago, he was the champion, but now, I am the champion. It doesn’t matter for me. I think about him as an opponent and I will do my best to win this fight.”
Readying themselves to meet in Atlantic City on November 17th, the pair had shared the ring for countless rounds in years-gone-by. Pascal was an ageing stepping-stone for the young champion, but there could be no doubt that tougher tests awaited him at 175lbs. A division filled with certified punchers and exceptional champions or former-champions, it had been lacking a genuine rivalry since the Ward-Kovalev double-header.
Bivol admitted, “There are a lot of talented light-heavyweights in this division. For now, the champions are all older than me. I know I have a good chance to be the best in the light-heavyweight division in the near future. I will try to do my best and make sure I become the best fighter in the division. I know that Gvozdyk is a good fighter, [so are] Beterbiev, Kovalev and Alvarez – but I believe in my skills. If I work hard, I will be the best.”
The bout between current WBC champion Adonis Stevenson and Ukrainian challenger Oleksandr Gvozdyk was scheduled for December 1st, whilst the rematch between countryman Kovalev and reigning WBO champion Eleider Alvarez had been rumoured for next year. The possibility of belts changing hands once again left various avenues open for each top contender.
Bivol wasn’t far away from the top of the division. Yet, through conversation, it was clear he undervalued his own progression, striving to remain grounded and determined to continue improving. As he approached career-defining fights and began entering his prime, he spoke of his inspiration as an amateur from the small, Russian city of Tokmok, potentially signalling a future changing of the guard.
“My last years as an amateur, I watched Kovalev and I thought, ‘This is a good guy who had a good amateur career and is from Russia’! I wanted to be like him because we were from the same national team and I thought, ‘I can be the best like Kovalev [was]’. Then, I made the choice to go professional. I think there’s been no difficult parts [of boxing as a professional] so far. The most difficult part was turning pro, it was a tough decision but we made it and so far everything has gone well.
“Now, I am only thinking about Jean Pascal, but of course I want to fight against the best guys. It doesn’t matter for me. Alvarez, Kovalev or Beterbiev – I just wanna fight. I don’t want these difficult things with [World] organisations. I will fight whichever is easiest with the governing bodies, but I want to fight the best. I watched the fight [between Beterbiev and Callum Johnson]. Beterbiev is still stronger than most people in the light-heavyweight division, but every plus has it’s negative. He has good power, but not a good defence. That’s what I saw.”
The mouth-watering contests on the horizon left boxing fans crossing their fingers. Bivol’s technical ability was fascinating, with his rapier right hand devastating Trent Broadhurst and Sullivan Barrera, brushing aside two World-ranked fighters like dust in the wind. Effortless.
Only twenty-seven-years-old at time of writing, he was approaching his peak as an athlete of his size and stature. It seems, from the outside-looking-in, that Bivol lives the life of a model professional. Backed by the Russian outfit ‘World of Boxing’, and as a stablemate of Alexander Povetkin and Sergey Kuzmin, their promotional pulling power and financial weight signalled the potential for interesting fights in the coming months.
Following the introduction of the World Boxing Super Series, Callum Smith had been crowned the inaugural winner of the Ali Trophy at super-middleweight. After having fought on a Matchroom Boxing show previously, Bivol didn’t rule out the possibility of slimming down – as opposed to bulking up – in the hunt for World honours at a second weight.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be in the cruiserweight division because I’m not a big guy! But, I can make super-middleweight, I could move down for big fights. My weight class is light-heavyweight and super-middleweight – if I was a cruiserweight I would be too slow and too fat! And ugly (laughs)!
“A good match [at super-middleweight] would be Callum Smith, David Benavidez or Gilberto Ramirez. It doesn’t matter for me, I just wanna fight a good name for the super-middleweight [world] titles.”
Article by: Craig Scott
Follow Craig on Twitter at: @craigscott209