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Dmitry Bivol: Canelo Alvarez conqueror has mastered his craft while studying Sugar Ray Leonard

He may have been the betting underdog heading into this scrap but don’t be fooled, the boxing clinic Dmitry Bivol put on against Canelo Alvarez inside a stunned T-Mobile Arena was no upset.

As the so-called pound-for-pound king of boxing, Canelo, hunting more history after becoming undisputed champion at super-middleweight, soaked up most of the Las Vegas limelight ahead of his latest tilt at greatness. Yet little were he, bookmakers and the majority of fans aware of the humbling that lay ahead for him.

Bivol, the reigning WBA light-heavyweight champion, could have argued his case as the best 175lbs fighter on the planet before Saturday’s contest and reaffirmed that notion on the night. He has spent over two decades learning and perfecting his craft, with all that’s missing from his repertoire a body of work and superstar appeal similar to that of Canelo’s.

Dmitry Bivol was the betting underdog heading into his showdown against Canelo Alvarez

But the boxing clinic he put on in Las Vegas should by no means go down as an upset victory

But the boxing clinic he put on in Las Vegas should by no means go down as an upset victory

Unlike his crestfallen opponent, Bivol is a bona fide light-heavyweight with an extensive amateur background who has cruised to victory in all of his professional tests to date. Largely due to his obscurity outside of boxing’s hardcore flock of followers, the Russian’s natural size advantage, pedigree and slick technique was somehow ignored in the lead-up to this one-sided affair.

Bivol’s boxing journey began when he first laced up a pair of gloves at the age of six. He was born in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan to a Moldovan father and Korean mother in December 1990 and made the move to Russia 11 years later. It was there, in St.Petersburg, where he first fell in love with the sport.

Nevertheless, before venturing into it the future boxing champion first tried his hand at karate, with childhood idol and Hollywood legend Jackie Chan inspiring him to take up martial arts.

In the end, a lack of credible opponents drove him away from kung-fu and into the sweet science of boxing.   

‘I always wanted to learn how to fight and protect myself,’ Bivol recently told The Sun.  

Bivol has been boxing since he was six years old, but he initially tried his hand in karate

Bivol has been boxing since he was six years old, but he initially tried his hand in karate

The Kyrgyzstan-born Russian was a huge Jackie Chan fan and wanted to emulate his idol

The Kyrgyzstan-born Russian was a huge Jackie Chan fan and wanted to emulate his idol

But it didn't take him long to begin sweeping up amateur prizes after venturing into boxing

But it didn’t take him long to begin sweeping up amateur prizes after venturing into boxing

‘I watched many movies with Jackie Chan when I was a kid, and I always wanted to learn to fight like him.

‘My father first took me to a training facility to do karate, but there were not many competitions there. Then my father took me to a boxing gym where I fell in love with boxing.’  

It quickly became clear that Bivol’s introduction to boxing was destiny; as he tore through the amateur scene, amassing an incredible 268 victories in 283 contests, the boy from Kyrgyzstan swept up two U17 World Championships, a couple of Russian national amateur championships, gold at the World Combat Games and a AIBA Youth World Championships bronze amongst a host of other prizes.

The only amateur honours which eluded him were dream tickets to the Olympic Games and senior World Championships, competitions he was prevented from competing in behind stablemate Egor Mekhontsev – Russia’s medal machine who swept up Olympic, World and European golds from 2008-12.

After the blow of missing out on London 2012, where Mekohontsev claimed one of his golds, over two years later Bivol bounced back by setting off on his professional path, triumphing in the sixth and final round of his debut against Jorge Rodriguez Olivera in November 2014.

It quickly became clear that Bivol's introduction to boxing was for a reason as he racked up 268 wins in 283 amateur contests

It quickly became clear that Bivol’s introduction to boxing was for a reason as he racked up 268 wins in 283 amateur contests

He then made a swift start to his professional career by winning nine of his first 11 bouts by KO

He then made a swift start to his professional career by winning nine of his first 11 bouts by KO

While it was no surprise given his substantial schooling, he hit the ground running in the big leagues. Nine of his first 11 bouts were won inside the distance, and as he edged towards a world-title shot at light-heavyweight Bivol had a message for curious fans intrigued by his potential.  

In 2017, the up-and-coming star insisted he would let his fists do the talking in the ring, saying: ‘I want the fans to know that since I was a child boxing is my life. I want the fans to know I am always trying to do my best.   

‘I am doing my best in the ring. I don’t like to speak bad about my opponents. I just want my fans to like my boxing style and appreciate my work. I am trying to do everything for the fans.’ 

Bivol is a man of few words, a silent assassin. When he climbs through the ropes his ability speaks for itself.  

Though it is somewhat surprising that he shies away from the razzmatazz of the business given his favourite fighter to watch growing up was flashy box-office sensation Sugar Ray Leonard.

Leonard dazzled fans in the ring and became a household name outside of it, but the former is what captured his imagination as a child and still to this day.

His favourite fighter to watch growing up and to this day was the flashy Sugar Ray Leonard

His favourite fighter to watch growing up and to this day was the flashy Sugar Ray Leonard

Bivol previously described Leonard as a 'rabbit' who was 'so dangerous' when in the ring

Bivol previously described Leonard as a ‘rabbit’ who was ‘so dangerous’ when in the ring

He studies tapes of the boxing legend before stepping into the ring for his own contests

He studies tapes of the boxing legend before stepping into the ring for his own contests

‘I love to watch fights with Sugar Ray Leonard before my fights. I learn from his fights,’ he said. ‘I also like to watch Gennady Golovkin, Vasyl Lomachenko, Terence Crawford and Manny Pacquaio, but my favorite is Sugar Ray Leonard.’   

Bivol was particularly fascinated by what he described as Leonard’s ‘disguise’ inside the squared circle, adding during a chat with Hannibal Boxing in 2018: ‘The way he looks is very interesting. It’s disguising, it’s misleading. 

‘He looks like a rabbit… but he’s so dangerous.’

Before his 12th professional outing Bivol clinched a first world title, achieving the feat in almost half the number of fights as hero Leonard (26) when he was elevated by the WBA from interim to full champion. Up against Australia’s Trent Broadhurst in November 2017, he won emphatically inside the first round to first retain the strap he still holds today.

With seconds of the opener remaining, Bivol landed a crisp right hand straight down the pipe which sent Broadhurst tumbling to the canvas. Referee Howard Foster waved the contest off within seconds and his maiden title triumph was sealed.

‘Maybe the best punch of my career,’ Bivol said in his post-fight interview with Sky Sports. ‘I like my right hand. It’s very strong. I was 95 percent sure that the fight was over because it landed clean and it felt like a strong punch. Everyone wants to see knockouts.

Bivol became a world champion when he knocked out Trent Broadhurst in just his 12th pro bout

Bivol became a world champion when he knocked out Trent Broadhurst in just his 12th pro bout

‘Every boxer needs to think they’re the best in the word. I hope one day that I can be the best pound-for-pound one day.’

Four-and-a-half years later, Bivol has taken his greatest step yet towards fulfilling that pound-for-pound dream. The systematic, dominant beatdown of Alvarez in Sin City has finally made the sporting world sit up and take notice.

While his latest victim may have bitten off more than he could chew up at an unnatural weight class, Bivol was still mightily impressive on the night, rattling off a series of crisp combinations which overwhelmed and demoralised Canelo throughout.

However, despite his career-best display the 31-year-old does not yet consider himself pound-for-pound king.

When asked if he has now replaced Canelo at the sport’s summit, Bivol replied: ‘No. In my mind I just beat the guy who wanted my belt. 

‘He was a super-middleweight. Yes, he had a belt before at light-heavyweight, but I don’t feel like I am the king today. I’m just better than Canelo today. 

On Saturday night he secured a career-defining victory over Canelo at the T-Mobile Arena

On Saturday night he secured a career-defining victory over Canelo at the T-Mobile Arena

Yet despite the dominance of his win, Bivol does not consider himself pound-for-pound No 1

Yet despite the dominance of his win, Bivol does not consider himself pound-for-pound No 1

‘I don’t even feel I am the best in the light‑heavyweight division because I don’t have all the belts. I’m just one of the best.’

A unification battle with fellow light-heavyweight master Artur Beterbiev is the logical next step for Bivol once a contracted rematch with Canelo is complete. Nevertheless, on the back of such a crushing loss, and with Gennady Golovkin waiting in the wings for a more appealing trilogy bout at super-middleweight, the Mexican may think twice about taking it.

Toppling Beterbiev, his fellow unbeaten Russian who will hold the other three light-heavyweight marbles if he beats Joe Smith Jr this summer, would provide Bivol with even greater leverage in the pound-for-pound debate. For now, though, he is simply happy to have emerged from the shadows.

‘I’m glad I proved myself today, I’m the best in my division and I keep this belt,’ he said after outclassing Canelo.

‘If you don’t believe in yourself what do you do? You achieve nothing. I believe and my team believed in me.’ 

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