LAS VEGAS – Despite his fame, acclaim and intention to reign supreme for years to come, Canelo Alvarez Saturday night ran headlong into the firm reality that weight classes are meant to be obeyed.
How he’s going to navigate that will be a tricky dilemma given all we know about the confidence, ego and pride that resides, inescapably, within the sport’s elite champions.
Russia’s Dmitry Bivol, producing a scintillating performance in which he flexed superior activity, strength and skill, produced a unanimous-decision upset of Mexico’s Alvarez at T-Mobile Arena.
Judges Tim Cheatham, Dave Moretti and Steve Weisfeld all scored the bout 115-113 for Bivol, who successfully defended his World Boxing Association light-heavyweight title for the eighth time and improved to 20-0.
“I proved myself today. I’m the best,” Bivol said in the ring.
As he undertakes the sober accounting of his defeat, Alvarez will review how Bivol out-punched him in all 12 rounds.
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ROUND BY ROUND:Dmitry Bivol upsets Canelo Alvarez by unanimous decision
Some ringside observers thought the scoring could’ve been wider given the way he frustrated and fatigued the four-division champion and highest-paid fighter on the globe.
Bivol out-landed Alvarez, 152-84, in total punches, 46-10, in jabs and 106-74 in power punches, often rocking Alvarez’s head backward and forcing him to retreat for respites by the ropes due to the punishment.
The world’s undisputed super-middleweight champion, Alvarez explained the admirable reasons he originally sought the fight.
“I’m looking for challenges that take me out of my comfort zone,” Alvarez said. “Tonight, I was looking for greatness. I gave the best of me.”
Taking stock began immediately. At his post-fight news conference, Alvarez softened his in-ring pronouncement that he would definitely exercise the rematch clause to fight Bivol again.
“We’re going to go see what’s next, talk about it and we’ll let you know,” Alvarez said. “We’ll have to wait and see what happens.”
One potential obstacle to a Bivol rematch is already churning.
Bivol and his manager, Vadim Kornilov, said after the bout they will not agree to the same concessions they made this time around.
That not only includes who’s getting introduced into the ring last. It also will require a reconsideration of who gets paid what, Kornilov said.
Asked if he’ll accept that renegotiation in defeat, Alvarez said, “We’ll see.”
Whether he cites the difficulty of coming to terms with Bivol or not, dismissing the rematch is the wisest step forward, even if fight promoter Eddie Hearn retains his post-fight opinion that Bivol-Alvarez II is the biggest fight to make.
Bivol said he wasn’t bothered by Alvarez’s power punching, which is saying much, considering how destructive Alvarez was at 168 while effectively breaking the face of super-middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders one year ago this weekend, and then relying on it to stop another champion, Caleb Plant, in November.
Alvarez credited Bivol for being “very difficult to hit around the head area.”
“I enjoyed this fight,” Bivol said. “When he hit me, it gave me more energy. I expected he’d punch me hard. I was ready for this.”
Even Hearn had to admit, “Maybe this was a bridge too far.”
Should he choose to return to 168, significant challenges remain.
Alvarez could keep an already negotiated trilogy bout against bitter rival Gennadiy Golovkin in September. If he wants to re-test his size limits, he could do so against the imposing unbeaten super-middleweight David Benavidez.
And Bivol could move on to meet the winner of next month’s three-belt light-heavyweight unification between Russia’s Artur Beterbiev and New York’s Joe Smith Jr.
As for all that talk about Alvarez trying to become undisputed light-heavyweight champion, of fighting a 200-pound cruiserweight champion in December and pursuing heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk in a 201-pound bout next year?
Let it go – at least for the next year or so.
Of course, doing that is way easier said than done.
Alvarez maintained the proud mindset that may lead him back to Bivol by telling reporters he didn’t believe he lost more than five rounds, even though he conceded, “maybe the weight was a slight issue that didn’t let me feel 100% during the fight … I felt a little fatigued going into the later rounds.”
Bivol was blunter, pointing to Alvarez’s insistence to load up on big punches as his biggest Saturday lapse – because he was giving up too many blows while waiting for the opening, and even when his best punches landed, Bivol seemed unshaken
“He kept hitting me in the arms and I kept hitting him in the face,” Bivol said.
Confronting a -600 favorite on hostile ground, as a Cinco de Mayo Las Vegas crowd roared for boxing’s biggest star, Bivol leaned on his natural assets to deliver Alvarez his first loss since his excusable setback against Floyd Mayweather Jr. 16 fights ago, when he was 23.
“When I saw him walking to the ring and I heard the crowd, I enjoyed hearing that,” Bivol said. “Of course all (the) people are on his side. No problem for me.”
Bivol had to set aside more than the crowd. Many, including Ukraine’s former heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, argued Bivol didn’t deserve to participate in the high-profile bout in the first place given Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Russian athletes have been kept out of the World Cup and other significant global sporting events as a symbol of worldwide protest.
“I felt it was everything against me today,” Bivol said after being told all three judges surprisingly rewarded Alvarez the first four rounds.
At 175 pounds, Alvarez found he was no longer dealing with a 36-year-old coming off a tough fight, as light-heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev was when Alvarez knocked him out in the 11th round in 2019.
This time, against a fellow 31-year-old whose fitness at the bigger weight shined instead of bogging him down, Alvarez was repeatedly beaten to the punch by a former distinguished amateur who showed up in the ring more than 15 pounds bigger than Alvarez thanks to post-weigh-in rehydration.
“I’ve gone up and I’ve fought at 175 – out of my comfort zone, at a weight that’s not mine,” Alvarez said. “There’s no shame in that. I look to challenges that others would be scared to take because they might lose.
“That’s what I’m here for. That’s what I want to do. It’s about taking those 50/50 fights. That’s what people want to see.”
In reviewing his upset loss, Alvarez said his reactions will be guided by the fact he’s so competitive and by the belief, “I have many years ahead of me.
“I’m going to come back stronger.”
The best way to do that is to come back lighter.