By: Vishare Mooney
“Of course I want it, but the other champions are busy,” said WBA Champion Dmitry Bivol, (16-0, 11KOs) when asked about his long wait for a unification bout and referring to his peers in the light heavyweight division. Oleksandr Gvozdyk (WBC titleholder) fights Artur Beterbiev (IBF titleholder) on October 18th, and two weeks later, Sergey Kovalev (WBO champion) will entertain Canelo Alvarez’s first bid in this talent packed division. Rather than wait, Bivol will stay busy, fighting the most available and formidable opponent, Dominican boxer Lenin Castillo (20-2-1, 15KOs) in Saturday’s fight in Chicago’s Wintrust arena, a co-feature to the Usyk vs. Witherspoon heavyweight main event, promoted by Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing and streamed by DAZN.
This is Bivol’s sixth defense of the WBA light heavyweight title, and despite not yet having the opportunity to fight for the other belts, his dominance in the ring with his powerful and fluid movements continues to gain the attention of fans and fighters. Bivol recently sat down for a talk with Boxing Insider, during the last days of his fight camp at Combinations Boxing Academy, a new gym owned by Freddie Roach protege, Marvin Somodio in Lawndale, CA. Amiable and relaxed, with long time trainer Gennady Mashianov and manager Vadim Kornilov in the background, Bivol talked boxing, life, and a potential move to Los Angeles. You can see our interview on Instagram @boxingInsidercom.
Photo: Lucas Noonan
At times we see shades of Gennady Golovkin in the Russian/Korean Bivol, the kind of fighter that is humble outside the ring and a terror to his opponents inside the squared circle. Indeed, Bivol was born eight years later than Golovkin, in 1990, in Krygyzstan, neighbor to Golovkin’s birthplace, Kazakhstan. His mother is Russian born, Korean descent while his father is Moldovan. Bivol moved to St. Petersburg when he was 11 and has boxed since he was 6.
During Bivol’s early childhood in Kyrgyzstan, Jackie Chan was an early hero and he started off in martial arts. “Why do you like him,”I asked. “I like that he’s funny and that..” said Bivol, he turned to Kornilov and spoke Russian. Kornilov translates, ““that he is a good person and he will try to defeat negative powers using his skills.”
His stint in karate was short lived. At their local gym, which was split between karate and boxing, Bivol and his father noticed the boxing scene had far more competitions. Bivol noticed the fighters got more medals..he wanted the medals. “I wanted to get more medals, I counted them every time I got one.” Bivol estimates he has around 60 medals, symbols of a stellar amateur career which included 268 wins and 15 losses, including 2 world championships at the junior level.
Bivol turned pro in 2014, though not without reservations. “When I was younger, I saw boxing on TV and I understand that if you want to be a great boxer you have to go pro, but my boxing style was different and I thought I can’t be a good pro boxer, but Gennady said to me, “you can, you have to go pro. I thought no, no I can’t but when I went to America I had a couple sparrings here against pro boxers, I thought, oh, maybe I can.” Mashianov has been Bivol’s coach since 2010 during the height of his amateur career up until now. Perhaps Bivol’s overall success has as much to do with Mashianov’s constant tweaking of his athlete’s abilities as well as Bivol’s natural talent. In observing the pair, Mashianov is ever vocal in his adjustments to Bivol’s form in mittwork and during sparring sessions.
When asked about his opponents, it’s apparent Bivol does his research and can make adjustments midfight. On his March fight UD win against powerhouse puncher Joe Smith Jr. Bivol noted, “Joe Smith is a really dangerous fighter, he’s strong. When he punched me with right hand I felt it with all my body. I felt that I can beat him all fight and I have to be in control.. But he is a little bit slower than I expected of him..I saw his punches,,but one punch I didn’t see, he got me.’ The one punch, referring to Smith’s clipping him at the bell in round ten. Bivol stormed back in the twelfth round decisively winning the fight.
On last year’s win against veteran Jean Pascal, he noted that Pascal favored hooks exclusively and modified his fight plan accordingly. “He has good hooks, he didn’t use straights or uppercuts..and he’s fast..he’s strong too. When I punched Pascal, he threw one hook, he didn’t get me but I saw it’s really fast, so I thought I can’t be next to him I have to use only my straight.” On upcoming fight with Castillo, Bivol surveys him as a good counter puncher with a strong chin and respects his Olympic boxing pedigree.
Bivol wants most to fight Canelo of course and is well aware of Canelo’s strengths. “He has a good defense. This is really good for boxers, not many boxers have a good defense. He has a good defense and he is fast, he is quick and he is powerful for a middleweight, maybe for heavyweight? We will see.”
As our conversation tapered off away from ring talk, we remembered his friend Maxim Dadashev, who tragically passed away last July from injuries sustained during his light welterweight bout with Subriel Matias. Both Bivol and Dadashev met in 2003 grew up in St. Petersburg and went through the amateur system together, celebrated milestones together, both married with young children. “It’s really sad but we chose this. And I love boxing, and I think Maxim chose the same way. Because when he was boxing, when he was in competition, he was great, he felt like he was living. This is our life.”
It was time to wrap up our conversation, with one more sparring session to go, Bivol was to leave for Chicago for fight week. My parting question was to ask about his thoughts in America, would he ever consider moving here? “I like Russia, of course. I like that my parents live there. I have a lot of friends there and the culture this is why I want to be in Russia. But of course in America I see a lot of pluses, maybe for my kids to get an education here.”
Would you live in California? “I would like to live in California. If I move to USA, I choose LA.”