Russian boxing world champion Dmitry Bivol is fast becoming one of the most talked-about fighters not only within hardcore boxing circles, but around the world.
With a relaxed and humble demeanor, maturity, and solid boxing skills, the 26-year-old Bivol has quickly established a solid fanbase, which is rapidly growing in size and fervor.
In short, more and more people are paying to see the Kyrgyz-born, St. Petersburg-based fighter practice his trade.
Following a standout stint in the amateurs, Bivol has been carving out a path for himself in the paid ranks, where he currently holds an unbeaten 11-0 record. He has thus far been guided by Russian-American manager Vadim Kornilov, and has consequently fought in his home country and stateside, picking up the World Boxing Association (WBA) interim title on along the way.
Last month, Bivol was elevated to full WBA champ, joining only countrymen Murat Gassiev and Denis Lebedev as Russian world title holders. With his career is still very much in its fledgling stages, Bivol holds the distinction of having won a light heavyweight world title with the fewest fights.
Saturday’s fight, under the bright lights of Monaco, against Trent Broadhurst, the challenger from Australia with a solid but not spectacular 20-1 record, will be his first voluntary defense of the title he won outside the ring.
Speaking from his training base in Monte Carlo, Bivol talked to RT Sport about his idols, ambitions, newfound cult favorite status, and will to dominate the division for years to come.
RT Sport: Right now, there is only Murat Gassiev and Denis Lebedev from Russia who have world championship belts. How much of an honor would it be for you to join their company?
Dmitry Bivol: In actual fact, I don’t really dwell on such things as how many champions we have in Russia. I don’t worry about it. For me, it’s important to just be champion – that in itself is great. And to criticize us for how many of us there are I don’t really dwell on.
RT: How would you rate your progress since moving out to the United States?
DB: I haven’t moved to the States, but our last training camp took place there. I think it really has its own benefits because we have extremely good sparring with some really good boxers.
RT: What has helped your development most of all by training in America?
DB: I always say in interviews and I always say that in America, the training is good because there are really good sparring partners there and it helps a boxer’s development. The best training for a boxer is of course sparring. There you can test all that you have worked on with your trainer on the pads, on the bags. To test is the main thing, and then you can make some more improvements. In a word, sparring.
RT: Do you see perhaps yourself and Gassiev as the next generation of Russia boxers?
DB: I think you could say that and not just me and Murat. There are a lot of talented young Russian boxers, who can also soon become champions.
RT: Which boxers did you idolize when growing up, from Russia and around the world?
DB: Initially, when I was little, there was a lot of talk about Mike Tyson’s name, not being into boxing and watching his fights you thought, ‘Wow, he’s such a strong fighter, with incredibly big powerful arms, I also want to be like him.’ I also really liked such boxers as Muhammad Ali, of course – he’s an idol of boxing. Then Roy Jones Jr, he was a huge name in the early 2000s, I would eagerly await each one of his fights. Then I became acquainted with the skills of Sugar Ray Leonard. I still think of him as my favorite boxer, whose fights I love to watch on repeat a few dozen times – I admire his speed and footwork.
RT: You have quite a cult following, especially among UK boxing fans. Did you know you were something of a cult favorite?
DB: In my last two fights, yeah, my fanbase has increased beyond Russia. They are the guys who are always in the gym in America, let’s say, and whichever gym we go to there will be at least one guy who will come up and say, ‘Oh, I saw your fight on the Kovalev-Ward undercard,’ or, ‘I saw your fight on ShowTime’ against Samuel Clarkson. Also, here, in Monaco, guys from the English promotional company Matchroom said they’ve seen my fights and they were amazing, they loved them. So yeah, I’ve noticed it.
RT: Andre Ward retired a month ago. How did you react to that?
DB: There’s of course a lot to say about Ward’s retirement. First, I want to say that I really respect him as a boxer, because he is a very good champion and a talent. And I will tell you why: because there have been many times where we haven’t believed in him, starting in the amateurs when we thought our Russian boxer, [Evgeny] Makarenko, would beat him in the Olympic Games. In reality, Ward beat Makarenko and went on to become Olympic champion. It was as if it was a one-off. Then there was the ‘Super Six’ super middleweight tournament. Nobody imagined that Andre Ward would win – he won that tournament easily. Then the fights with Kovalev – he won those fights, too. Yes, the first is very debatable, and probably Kovalev even won, that’s what I thought. But in the second fight, he was able to adjust, he was able to professionally move forward, and he did so much for the victory. All said and done, he is a very good boxer, who is still actually quite young and could give the public a few more entertaining fights. Naturally, with such a master boxer, a lot of people who have sparred with him tell me he is a unique fighter. I, myself, would like to test my skills in the ring with a boxer like Ward. We reacted to the news that he’d retired a little surprised of course, but really it’s understandable. He explained it perfectly that his body isn’t following along. You can understand that because you can see how he goes into every fight so well, even if the fight went easy. A boxer’s body and wellbeing becomes damaged from the training sessions for these kind of fights, rather than the fights themselves. The training camps are brutal.
RT: Is it your goal to emulate him, not only in the light-heavyweight division, but in his outstanding career?
DB: You know, it’s not really a goal to outdo or emulate Ward’s or anybody else’s achievements. The goal is to become just one of the best. I want to be the best, and only with that mindset you can become the best. You will never become the best boxer, or a good boxer, if you don’t have some kind of high goal as your most important [one]. You need to want the maximum all the time. Only a bad soldier doesn’t dream about becoming the general – you can explain it like that.
RT: You are quite a humble guy, how are you looking forward to boxing in the glitz and glamour of Monaco?
DB: I don’t think humility and boxing in Monaco contradict each other at all. You are going into a square ring, that’s the same everywhere. It is a ring and you have an opponent in front of you and you need to just box. You don’t need to dwell on where you are boxing, in Monaco or Moscow or Las Vegas or Nizhny Tagil, where I have boxed. For me generally there isn’t any significant difference, it doesn’t really eat away at me. The most important thing is there is an opponent, there are passionate people that want to see the fight.
RT: How do you rate your opponent, Australian Trent Broadhurst, and what message would you want to send him?
DB: I rate him highly. He isn’t really well known, but he has a very high level of knowledge, good movement, he can come forward, he can press, he hits well to the body, he’s fast, he is a boxer who can practically do everything. He’s just not that well known. I am preparing seriously for the fight, because you can never underestimate Broadhurst. A message for him? I don’t have a message for him. Any message to him will be after the fight.
by Danny Armstrong for RT Sport