Dimitry Bivol: I just want the sport to be independent of politics

By Boxing News - 06/16/2023 - Comments

By Maestro Amílcar: Usually, when a world-class fighter arrives in New York City, it is to fight on one of the biggest stages in the world. “The Mecca,” as Madison Square Garden is oftentimes called. The iconic venue has hosted some of boxing’s most iconic fights.

Consequently, fighters from across the globe have long dreamt of headlining at “The World’s Most Famous Arena”, oftentimes seeking to replicate the magic created by legends of the sport.

Last weekend, the Garden’s Hulu Theater hosted a fight broadcast on ESPN that saw Scotland’s Josh Taylor (19-1, 13 KOs) lose his Ring Magazine, WBO, and Lineal 140-pound world championship to Teófimo López Jr. (19-2, 13 KOs). In the leadup to the fight, both Taylor and López spoke about the importance of fighting at “The Garden.”

Similarly, the Big Apple is well known for being one of the obligatory stops for press tours announcing some of boxing’s biggest events, which is precisely why Terrence “Bud” Crawford (39-0, 30 KOs) and Errol “The Truth” Spence Jr. (28-0, 22 KOs) made their requisite visit to the “city that never sleeps” this week to announce their undisputed welterweight showdown set to take place July 29 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

New York is where big fights happen and where big fights are announced. Yet, when Russian WBA light-heavyweight champion Dmitry Yuryevich Bivol visited New York recently amidst these aforementioned events, it was not to defend his championship, nor was it to announce his next fight. If anything, Bivol (21-0, 11 KOs) was in New York to remind the media that he is still around and that he is looking to take on the world’s best.

Bivol is in a unique position. The Russian holds the WBA championship at 175 and is widely regarded to be one of the most talented and accomplished fighters in the world, yet he has not fought since November of 2022 when he essentially shoutout Mexico’s Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramírez on his way to a wide unanimous decision.

The Ramírez fight solidified Bivol’s status amongst the upper echelon of the sport’s elites and capped off a stellar 2022 that also saw him soundly defeat Mexican superstar Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (59-2-2, 39 KOs). Bivol’s fight with Canelo took place in May and was intended to showcase Mexican icon in Vegas over the Cinco de Mayo weekend. Bivol upset those plans, but despite winning back-to-back significant fights, he now finds himself without a major dance partner as he enters the summer of 2023.

When Bivol entered a crowded sports bar in midtown Manhattan to attend a media lunch organized by his promoter, Matchroom, he did not hide his frustration about his current situation. The Russian made two things clear when throughout the interview. One, he is not interested in rematching Canelo unless the Mexican puts his undisputed 168-pound championship on the line. Two, he feels singled out, and slighted by, the World Boxing Council (WBC).

The WBC, and its president, Mauricio Sulaiman, insist on banning Bivol from fighting for its titles, be it at 168 against Canelo or at 175 against Bivol’s compatriot, fellow-Russian rival Artur Beterbiev (19-0, 19 KOs). Speaking alongside his manager Vadim Kornilov, Bivol, whose English has improved tremendously over the past few years, explained why he took the Canelo fight, why he really is not interested in a rematch with Canelo at 175, and why he feels the WBC is treating him unfairly by preventing him from fighting for an undisputed championship.

“I took [the Canelo] fight because I [ needed] that fight. I needed to show my skill to all of the world. Now things have changed. I showed my skills,” said Bivol to Maestro A.

The 32-year-old Russian born in Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan, insisted that he did not drive a hard bargain ahead of the first Canelo fight and is not driving a hard bargain now.

“I didn’t say before that fight that I want this and this; I [said] yes, yes yes. Now I want people to hear me and what I want. First of all, I want to fight for the belts. I want to fight for his belts. If it’s possible, let’s do this fight.

Kornilov, who speaks fluent English, went a step further, posing probing rhetorical questions.

“Can you name one person that beat a champion or beat a superstar and went and gave him a rematch, which was not [mandated] on the same terms? Have you ever seen that happen before?

“Canelo said he wants it on the same terms. It doesn’t even make any sense. He wants all the same terms after losing.”

Kornilov then further explained the main roadblock to Bivol agreeing to a rematch with Canelo.

“Canelo is the one that is saying he wants the same terms, but he didn’t specify what, but he has specified that he doesn’t want the fight at 168. He says that he doesn’t want it at 168 because he doesn’t want the fans to say that he pushed Dimitry into his weight class. Well, Dimitry is the one asking to go to 168, so how are the fans going to think that he pushed Dimitry? The reality is that he doesn’t want to do it because he doesn’t want to risk the tiles that he has, but at the end of the day, how many times can you lose and remain champion? That doesn’t make any sense, either. The fans deserve to see the fight in the super-middleweight division because if [Canelo] loses, at least he’s not a champion anymore.”

When asked about his motivation for a Canelo rematch, Bivol made clear that he does not really have one.

“Not even money. I don’t see another plus, to be honest, than money, and now I like my position, to be honest. I beat him at 175, and just give me the chance to fight for the belts at 175 or at 168. I want to fight for the belts.”

The belts Bivol is referring to are those that he does not currently possess, whether they be those held by Canelo or by Beterbiev, the latter the holder of the IBF, WBC, and WBO titles at 175. However, an important roadblock to Bivol being involved in either of those fighters is that since November of 2022, the WBC has maintained a ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers from fighting for its prestigious green belts.

Mauricio Sulaiman cites those countries’ current military conflict with Ukraine as its justification for the WBC banning Bivol and other Russians from fighting for its title. The fact that Beterviev is also Russian is an irony that Bivol is quick to point out.

“If we see that the [Beterbiev] fight can happen, of course, we will try to do everything to get this fight, but why does [Mauricio Sulaiman] not want me to fight for his belt? Why does he want me to ask about some exemption? He has a fighter who is Russian too. It’s Beterbiev. Ok, he’s living in Canada. I was born in Kyrgyzstan and was living there for 12 years, and I am a citizen of Kyrgyzstan, too, because I [was] born there. It doesn’t make sense. It’s two standards.”

The Russian is now faced with the prospect of being frozen out of a significant fight in 2023 unless he and his team act quickly. Canelo is reportedly in negotiations to take on Swedish-born, Dubai-based Badu Jack (28-3-3, 17 KOs) later this year for Jack’s WBC Cruiserweight title. Beterbiev is set to face England’s Callum Smith (29-1, 21 KOs) in late August in Québec City, Québec.

Bivol’s main wish is to distance himself from politics. He is also open to fighting in Europe, something he may need to do to secure an interim fight before a potential blockbuster fight.

“I just want the sport to be independent [of] politics. I really hope it will be one day because I don’t think about anything [other] than my training and my fights.

This sport made me who I am now, and I want to represent the sport in all of this world, in every city, if possible. If it is possible to fight somewhere in Europe, I would like to fight [in Europe].

YouTube video