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Please don’t attribute what happened to Canelo Alvarez in the ring at T-Mobile Arena on Saturday at the hands of Dmitry Bivol to Bivol’s advantage in size.
That would be wrong.
Size didn’t have an impact on this fight. Bivol retained his WBA light heavyweight title because, on this night at least, he was the better man. He outboxed Alvarez. He outthought him. He out-hustled him.
Bivol didn’t impose his will on a smaller man. He didn’t physically manhandle Alvarez or bully him around the ring. He showed a skill set that had helped him build a 19-0 pro record and win championships in two weight classes, but which people seemed to forget amid Alvarez’s unyielding assault on the history books.
It was remarkable, really, what Alvarez was attempting to do. He unified the four super middleweight titles in a span of a year, then decided to chase the four light heavyweight belts. The first step along that path was going to be the fight with Bivol.
It took a lot of chutzpah for a guy who could still be fighting at 160, if not at 154, to try to do these kinds of things, but that inner resolve and the desire to be great is what makes Alvarez one of the greatest fighters of our lifetime.
This is the kind of a guy he is: He spoke openly about moving up to heavyweight to challenge unified champion Oleksandr Usyk. That’s like the unbeaten high school state champions talking about a game against the Rams. It’s unheard of kind of stuff, and it’s great for the sport.
Alvarez’s quests, first to unify the super middleweight belts, then to chase the light heavyweight belts, and ultimately, to try to put himself into the history books as one of the greatest boxers who ever lived, is what every fighter should strive to do.
We live in an age where too many play it safe, take the low-risk, low-reward fights and don’t remember that they need to cater to the fans who buy the tickets and the pay-per-views if they want to make a decent living.
It just so happened that on Saturday, he met a guy who wasn’t intimidated by his aura or his raucous crowd, who wasn’t overwhelmed by the moment and who went out and fought a professional, championship-level match.
The judges — Tim Cheatham, Dave Moretti and Steve Weisfeld — scored all 12 rounds the same way. They gave Alvarez Rounds 1-4 and then scored seven of the final eight for Bivol, with Alvarez interrupting the streak by taking the ninth.
It seemed like Bivol had won by a far greater margin, not that it matters. According to CompuBox, Bivol outlanded Alvarez in each of the 12 rounds, and for the fight, it was 152-84 in his favor.
Not only was Bivol landing with clean, hard shots, but his defense was tight and he never allowed Alvarez to get unleashed. Alvarez often fights like he’s going downhill, but Bivol’s defense was on point. Alvarez reached double digits in punches landed in only the ninth and 11th rounds.
“That was unbelievable,” promoter Eddie Hearn said. “We talked going into this fight how good Dmitry Bivol is, how tough this fight was and it was a punch-perfect performance. He had to box exactly the way he did to win the fight.
“Did Canelo look a little bit flat? Did he look tired? I think it was the brilliance of Dmitry Bivol.”
Bivol was brilliant, and by the looks of it, he’d beat Alvarez 10 times out of 10. Bivol often fights conservatively, but this time, his moment in the spotlight, he stepped up and delivered an A+ performance.
That doesn’t diminish what Alvarez has accomplished or what he was trying to do. The sport is better when fighters challenge themselves and overcome the odds. George Foreman became an iconic figure in the sport by coming back after a 10-year retirement and then winning the heavyweight title by knockout at 45 years old.
Manny Pacquiao won his first world title at flyweight — 112 pounds — and in 2010, ignored the size and won one at super welterweight (154 pounds). Pacquiao, who is 5-foot-5 with a 67-inch reach, captivated the world by not only challenging the 5-11 Antonio Margarito, but by overwhelming him with his speed.
Those kinds of fights put you on the edge of your seat and bond you emotionally with whoever is trying to do the impossible.
Alvarez should be commended, not criticized, for having the audacity to believe he was good enough to unify the 175-pound division the way he had so easily done with the super middleweight division.
The biggest loser on Saturday was not Alvarez, but Gennadiy Golovkin, who would have received a massive payday for a third bout with Alvarez in September, this time at super middleweight. Since Golovkin’s loss to Alvarez in 2018, his management team sent him down a curious path, knocking off easier fights in what was basically a prolonged wait for another Alvarez bout to occur.
What Golovkin, who remains a great fighter, and his team failed to realize is that you don’t wait for something to happen, you make it happen. That’s what Alvarez did and what Golovkin didn’t do.
So in September, it will be Alvarez-Bivol 2 and, who knows, Alvarez may renew his quest for supremacy at light heavyweight.
He tried, but he lost to a better man.
There’s no shame in that.