This Saturday, May 7, 2022, Canelo Alvarez (57-1-2, 39 KOs) takes on WBA Light Heavyweight champion Dmitrii Bivol (19-0, 11 KOs).
Along with former 168-pound champion, David Benavidez (25-0, 22 KOs) and current WBC/IBF Light Heavyweight champion, Artur Beterbiev (17-0, 17 KOs), Bivol represents the biggest possible test for the Mexican star right now.
Canelo has been on a historic run over the last few years. Following his hotly contested win over Gennadiy Golovkin (42-1-1, 37 KOs) in 2018, he has beaten five champions across three weight classes in seven fights. There are other multi-division champions in boxing, but none are coming close to doing it the way Canelo has.
Of course, such success comes with a fair amount of criticism. Alvarez occupies a spot previously held by the likes of Floyd Mayweather, Oscar De La Hoya, Roy Jones, and Sugar Ray Leonard. Being the clear “money man” means that there will never be a shortage of payday-hungry opponents and naysayers.
The aforementioned fighters all dealt with similar treatment in their day. Select “Fighter A” as the next opponent, and detractors will claim that you’re ducking “Fighter B.” Choose “Fighter B” and they’ll make similar claims regarding “Fighter C” and “Fighter A.”
Simply put, no fighter in Canelo’s position will ever be able to please anyone, so it’s best to ignore it. He seems to be doing a good job of this.
Dmitrii Bivol, for his part, has thoroughly earned his current position. While his professional ledger isn’t the deepest among contemporary champions, Bivol very much passes the eye test. He can thank his purported amateur record of 268-15 for that.
The Russian’s style is fairly basic.
It features lots of one-twos, one-two-ones, and one-two-hooks, all delivered with above-average hand speed and an uncanny understanding of distance and timing. “Basic” in this context entails a thorough mastery of fundamentals, which is a huge asset in any sport.
The fight itself, to be televised on DAZN Pay Per View, is worth the price ($59.99 for current DAZN subscribers). Canelo’s only previous foray to 175 pounds came against the aging Sergey Kovalev (34-4-1,29 KOs) in 2019. In that fight – an eventual 11th round TKO victory for Alvarez – Kovalev didn’t quite look himself.
He continually fought to Canelo’s level despite his height advantage, and shied away from the aggression he is famous for. Whether that was due entirely to Canelo’s ring generalship, Kovalev’s age, or his damaging fight with Great Britain’s Anthony Yarde just 11 weeks before that, or a combination of the three, is up for debate.
Canelo knows these questions about his ability as a legitimate Light-heavyweight have been swirling. With that in mind, he’s picked the best opponent at 175 pounds to test himself.
In Dmitrii Bivol, Canelo faces a boxer-puncher with a functional size advantage, at the height of his physical powers. Both men are 31 years old, and in their respective primes. It has been said numerous times of Canelo’s recent opponents, but the Russian absolutely needs to bank early rounds in order to have a shot at winning. Bivol has the hand speed, reach advantage, and command of distance in order to do this, not to mention a functional size advantage and plenty of snap on his punches to keep any opponent honest.
Despite having the tools to do this, those early rounds will likely be the most difficult he’s had as a professional. The strategy he should employ will involve sharp jabs and combinations from the outside, while using his legs to maintain distance and (ideally) avoid return fire. If Canelo begins to show any wear or discouragement, gradually stepping up the work rate and tempo will be key to banking late rounds. That is, if Bivol has the stamina.
Even if he loses a few rounds early, Canelo will undoubtedly be landing in return. A body attack underneath Bivol’s jabs and one-twos early will be crucial in slowing the bigger man down and taking his legs away. Canelo’s head movement and composure will yield plenty of openings for this, providing more opportunities in the middle and late rounds.
At that point, it will likely come down to a battle of wills and conditioning, along with the obvious skill. If Bivol is able to win early rounds, it could force Canelo to show more outright aggression. This in turn could open up more angles of attack for Bivol. If Canelo is able to stay even or fully have his way early, then viewers should expect the gap between the two to widen down the stretch. This could lead to a wide points victory for the Mexican.
To my own thinking, the former of these scenarios appears more likely. Look for Bivol to take some early rounds. The middle rounds will see their share of fiery exchanges as the two jockey for position on the cards. Canelo will have to hurt Bivol to get his respect and turn the tide. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that a stoppage is a foregone conclusion. Being that this is the first prime Light-heavyweight Canelo has fought, Saturday night’s bout should go the full 12 rounds.
Canelo vs. Bivol: Who Wins?
Prediction: Canelo Alvarez by unanimous decision, with accurate scorecards being around 116-112.