Dmitry Bivol: The Light Heavyweight Nature Boy


Dmitry Bivol: The Light Heavyweight Nature Boy

“I think that every professional in whatever they do, they should try to leave a footprint. They should allow for other people to get the opportunity, so I feel if I’m a professional in what I do, it’s easier to get kids involved because older people may not be that interested or take that opportunity, but kids, they’re still fresh. They can take the opportunity if they still want too. Maybe, in that sense, it could work. Maybe someone will get interested and find themselves in the sport of boxing.”

Having just hosted a media workout where kids were invited to watch him train, Dmitry Bivol explained his reasoning for doing something not often done by professional boxers, especially ones that would be virtually unknown to the average teenager. It was two weeks ahead of a fight that happened this past Saturday night on HBO, where he systematically broke down Sullivan Barrera to a twelfth round stoppage victory,. But before cementing his arrival in the light heavyweight division, Bivol had to somehow break the ice with this group, whom didn’t seem all that impressed.

“Why’d they bring us to see a Russian?,” one young woman failed to whisper as Bivol warmed up in the ring, and considering he doesn’t even look like the typical Russian, questions of that would’ve been valid too. Labeled in the press release as troubled teens, they came by way of a local Christian church affiliated with the owner of the gym, and even once Bivol started to hit the mitts with his trainer, only a few seemed to really care or notice. Certainly none of them perceived the measured technique in which Bivol swims through the short combinations with trainer Gennady Mashianov, but the snacks kept them there: not knowing what to look or for, or if this was really it. After the workout, even the formal introduction of Bivol to the kids sustained the awkwardness. Bivol, St. Petersburg, Russia, can speak English, but in order to get a well thought out message to the kids, he had his manager Vadim Kornilov translate. Who knows if they listened, but they were huddled around as Bivol spoke beside dozens of boxing gloves that were begging to be given away. They quietly lined up, eyeing the gloves, but too shy to look at Bivol at the end of the table. Dmitry was just as shy.

Dmitry Bivol Media Workout - February 20, 2018

Dmitry Bivol during a media workout at Legendz Boxing Gym in Norwalk, CA. Photo-Craig Bennett / Main Events

“My life took me to boxing. To be honest with you, if I got to see Jackie Chan, I would probably go up to him and take a photo, and tell him that he motivated me to become a martial artist,” said Bivol. “As a kid, I liked him. I actually wanted to learn to fight because I saw how he fought.”

One by one, Bivol personalized each glove with his signature before wrapping hands and strapping on the gloves tightly. With his hands still wrapped from his workout, he held them out as makeshift targets to each and every kid, quickly establishing some sort of connection without many words, but an encouraging smile. Ironically, the young lady who asked why this guy? was a natural at throwing punches, one of which slipped by Bivol’s hand with enough force to almost hit his face, and officially break the ice. Perhaps it was the newfound realization that throwing punches isn’t as easy as it looks, but they couldn’t help but smile as they aimed for Dmitry’s hands. After a quick photo op, each one went to the other side of the gym to break the gloves in on the heavy bags, and happily tired themselves out as this trip went from weird to enjoyable real quick.

“Probably one of the first things is the language barrier,” said Bivol about what he remembered first coming to the United States in 2015. “I have to transition a little bit so I can talk to everybody, and I’m making improvements in that. Second of all, I really enjoy how people love boxing here. It seems that people in the United States enjoy boxing a lot more than in Russia. There’s a lot more interest.” Of course, that is part of Bivol’s decision to train for fights here in Southern California, where some of the best sparring in the world is available. Bivol still calls Russia home today but, evidently, wants to leave a footprint wherever he spends his time.

Dmitry Bivol Media Workout - February 20, 2018

Dmitry Bivol posing with spectators during a media workout at Legendz Boxing Gym in Norwalk, CA Photo-Craig Bennett / Main Events

Before the kids left, Bivol invited them to watch him spar the following night. It was his last day of sparring, but extended that invitation further ahead of a future fight. Who knows if the experience will resonate or even if they remembered to tune into HBO for his fight, but somewhere in their rooms lay a pair of gloves with Bivol’s name on them. Serving as a constant reminder of that one Russian guy they once saw, and the name Bivol scribbled on them just in case.

In Russian, Bivol translates to buffalo, which, unbeknownst to him, is an American icon in terms of symbolism, and a sacred one to the Native Americans. It didn’t seem all that significant to him, but when asked for what animal he’d like to transform into, Bivol said either a lion or a tiger, but only before breaking up into laughter as he mentioned what his trainer compares him to.

“He always says I’m like a mongoose fighting a cobra.”

By the fifth round of his fight with Barrera on Saturday night, HBO’s Max Kellerman was already compelled to call him a problem for anyone in the light heavyweight division. It wasn’t as if Barrera was out of the fight yet either despite getting thoroughly out-boxed in every sense of the word early on. Armed with a strong left jab, Bivol cancelled out that of his Cuban counterpart by the second, but an accidental clash of heads in the round left Bivol with a small cut above his left eye. It was his first notable sign of adversity in a fight, but it ultimately didn’t matter even though it continuously leaked throughout the night. Bivol had the uncanny ability to fluidly move in and out of the pocket with Barrera, and his defense was highlighted by his knack for catching much of the return fire with his gloves. The tactic also set up many of the short counters Bivol was unleashing on Barrera’s face, and by the fourth, it was abundantly clear he was in command of the fight. In his first shot at a world title, Barrera was getting beat to the punch early on, but was resolute in his effort to try and make something happen. Another accidental head clash in the middle rounds was all that really did happen to Bivol, and it formed a large, bulging swell on his forehead that could’ve been an alarming issue had Barrera been able to score regularly. Bivol slowed down a tad before entering the late rounds, and although mindful of the thing on his head, he wasn’t rattled by the added element and never relinquished control of the fight.

Mashianov must’ve smirked in the corner as his protege was too quick, too sharp, too much for the capable Cuban. Barrera held his head high going into his first world title shot. Having already experienced his lone defeat to Andre Ward and with a string of four solid wins since, going into the fight with Bivol. On this night, fighting Barrera left him physically battered, but Bivol was immune to whatever venom he threw at him or left behind.

“He has good experience and he’s very tall for me. He’s strong – everything – he has good boxing skills,” Bivol said about Barrera two weeks ago. “I think I have a lot of experience to fight against Barrera. I have a lot of fights in amateur and it helps me. This will be bigger fight because my opponent is a bigger name. I am glad, and excited.”

Bivol Vs Barrera

Dmitry Bivol lands a sharp left hand on Sullivan Barrera Photo- Ed Mulholland/HBO

Marked up and with a guaranteed unanimous decision a mere two minutes away in the twelfth, Bivol saw an opportunity to hand Barrera a knockout punch, and went for it. After landing perhaps his strongest of jab of the night, Bivol forced Barrera to take a step back near the ropes only to find another one coming right at him. The 36-year old reacted to the second jab, but didn’t see the power right hand up the middle that caught his chin and sent him to the mat instantly. Laying on his back, and looking straight at the camera for a split-second, all the clean shots Barrera had taken up to that point seemed to have caught up with him in that very instant. He got on his feet in time of referee Harvey Dock’s ten-count, but once asked if he wanted to continue, Barrera reacted with a slight misstep backward, warranting Dock’s decision to wave it off at the 1:41 mark. Having never been stopped before and known for getting up off the canvas to win fights, Barrera (21-2, 14 KOs) was probably fit and experienced enough to be allowed to continue, but in an allusion to one of the nuances within a fight: he didn’t exactly fight off the referee’s embrace.

“Not thinking about that that much. What I would probably be upset about is if my fans didn’t like what they saw. That’s what’s important to me,” Bivol replied when asked if he’d be disappointed if he didn’t score a knockdown against Barrera – something he’s never experienced for himself as an amateur or pro. Needing just one, and showcasing his skills against a top contender up until that point, Bivol put an exclamation point on a great performance with that right hand that harkens back to his HBO debut last November. An event that really only came to fruition after the unified light heavyweight champion of the world abruptly retired.

The day after Bivol’s media workout, Andre Ward, who was the unified WBA, WBO, and IBF light heavyweight champion, showed up to the Legendz Boxing gym for an HBO video feature on Bivol. Ward scouted Bivol during the final sparring sessions of his camp, and had a one-on-one sit down with the 27-year old, touching on the similarities of their humble upbringings, their struggle being a mixed race figures of representation, and the decisions into hanging up the gloves one day.

No one benefitted from the October 2017 retirement of Ward more than Bivol himself. The event elevated him to become the WBA light heavyweight title holder, and with HBO having caught a glimpse of the Russian prospect on the pay-per-view card of Ward’s last fight with Kovalev, the network was compelled enough to follow him to Monte Carlo for his first defense against Trent Broadhurst. Bivol proceeded to knock him out with a right hand just before the first round ended, and with that as the only fight of a matinee telecast in the States, HBO replayed the entire fight a few times just to fill the hour. By the time they signed off in wake of wanting more of what they just saw, Bivol’s potential was realized not to be something in development, but already matured. Bivol is part of a recent wave of Russian and Eastern Bloc talent that has settled in Southern California to train and fight professionally, but that hasn’t always been so successful for them in the past.

“There’s definitely a lot of people like that,” Bivol said when asked about the failed Russian careers in the States, or the ones that never got a shot. “Some people didn’t have the opportunity to come here, some of them maybe came here but didn’t have a good team, they didn’t have the right opportunities. Maybe they had a fight or two, but they couldn’t continue. They couldn’t get to the next level. In my team I have a guy who did fight here in America. His name is Dmitry Kirilov. He was IBF world champion. I think he could be biggest star if he had a team like me. Very talented fighter. I think he could’ve achieved a lot more here if he had the right circle, and there’s a lot of guys like that.”

Kirilov helps Bivol with strength and conditioning while at home in Russia, and perhaps his experience of trying to make a career in the States will help Bivol through his process. Despite acing his step-up fight last Saturday night, there still is no real guarantee he will become a bonafide star in the U.S., however, there is no debating Bivol is one of the absolute best talents at 175-pounds today, and while having the confidence of someone who hasn’t lost a fight in a long time, Dmitry isn’t delusive about it.

“When I was amateur in 2012, maybe,” Bivol recalled about his last defeat after taking a moment to think. “It was a German guy. On the scorecards we were 13 to 13 and we were fighting in Germany. I think I could’ve been better. I think I lost.”

After Saturday night’s performance in New York City, Bivol (13-0, 11 KOs) maintained a non-biased assessment of himself in the post-fight interview with HBO’s Max Kellerman.

“I felt a little bit like an amateur tonight because it was a really great opponent, and Sullivan Barrera showed me a lot of things tonight. I have to work on a lot of things. Thanks Sullivan,” Bivol said through a Russian translator. “In the first few rounds, I was a little reserved. I was thinking how much I need to go the rest of the fight. In the twelfth round, I knew I could knock him out, and I stepped on the gas and the knockout came. I feel like I got the goods to be the best, but I still have a lot of work to do to be the best in the division. I have to fight the best in the division and prove myself against them.”

Dmitry Bivol vs Sullivan Barrera

Dmitry Bivol defends his WBA title against Sullivan Barrera Photo- Ed Mulholland/HBO

Just before and just after his official arrival to the top echelon of the light heavyweight class, Bivol had a Nature Boy quality that showed he’s a cerebral person both in and outside of the ring, and in his parting words, left an open invitation for anyone willing to snake him out.

“We have to go back to the drawing board right now, and see where the cut and the thing in my head came from, and then we have to see who the next opponent is. But it’s not up to me – I don’t choose my opponent – I fight who they put against me. You can be the best only if you fight the best. I’m not going to duck anyone in the division. I have a belt, so whoever wants it, come get it.”


About Albert Baker

Writer/Producer/Director of the Under the Hand Wraps documentary series and owner of Albert Baker is currently based in Fresno, California and has been covering boxing since 2014.

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