SANTA MONICA, Calif. — There’s only one World Championship Boxing show left in HBO’s storied 45-year history televising fights, and the A-side honor belongs to Dmitry Bivol.
The Russian is worthy of the distinction. He’s quickly proven himself one of the best fighters in the world. His precision punching is regarded in rarefied air among today’s fighters. His power jab sets everything up; it helped him pick up a light heavyweight title in just 12 pro fights.
Bivol (14-0, 11 knockouts) has never faced a former champion, though; that assignment will finally come Saturday in Atlantic City against Jean Pascal, the Canadian who was once lineal champion at 175 pounds but is now a shell of his former self.
The 27-year-old is unlikely to be presented with any issues against Pascal, but Bivol can surely gain some wisdom matched up against a fighter with a wealth of experience.
“He’s a big name,” Bivol told The Ring one day after he sparred former title challenger Ismayl Sillakh at Churchill Boxing Club. During the session, Bivol showed off his impressive command of range along with his piston-like jab.
“He was a champion. I have never met in the ring a champion. Of course I respect him for all his experience. And if I win I will be better. … If I can take him out in early rounds of course I will do it because people want to see a knockout.”
Bivol acknowledged that the Pascal who fought Bernard Hopkins and Sergey Kovalev twice a piece (in addition to bouts with Chad Dawson and Carl Froch) isn’t the version he’ll meet in the ring.
He was actually expecting to face Kovalev for the vacant Ring light heavyweight championship at the end of 2018, but the Russian was upset by Eleider Alvarez in July, and they’re headed for an early 2019 title rematch. The winner of that bout is at the top of Bivol’s wish list for 2019.
“There are a lot of very good fighters and I like that they are here (at 175 pounds) and I want to fight against every one of them,” said Bivol, The Ring’s No. 2 light heavyweight. “Doesn’t matter to me. I just want to fight against (top guys) for boxing fans. If boxing fans said ‘I want to see Bivol against Badou Jack’ I want to give them that.
“Whole division. I don’t want to fight against the guys on the bottom. I want to fight against the best because I’m one of the best guys.”
With HBO exiting the boxing business — its final show is a Boxing After Dark card December 8 — Bivol is free to fight on any network, clearing the way for unification matchups with the other three titleholders. Adonis Stevenson defends his WBC title against Oleksandr Gvozdyk on December 1 (Showtime). Both Alvarez and Kovalev are network free agents. Artur Beterbiev holds the IBF belt and fights exclusively on DAZN.
Bivol could join DAZN as well; they’re among the platforms pursuing a deal with the Russian power-puncher. Showtime Sports executive vice president Stephen Espinoza told The Ring he also holds keen interest in bringing Bivol to the network. ESPN, which will telecast Alvarez-Kovalev II, remains another option.
“We’re talking to every possible opportunity right now, we’ll have to make a decision after the fight,” Bivol’s manager, Vadim Kornilov, told The Ring. “Each network has a champion. There’s no particular lean toward a network. We gotta figure out which one of these guys actually wants to fight him. So that’s important.
“Dmitry doesn’t want to jump ahead but we’re already in talks for possible unifications next year and that’s our main goal. Beterbiev, Alvarez right now, or the winner of Gvozdyk-Stevenson, they’re all good fights. They’re all good, exciting, competitive fights. There’s not a guy we would try to avoid or try to get first. Dmitry wants to be an undisputed champion. He wants all the belts. That’s his goal; it’s all he talks about.”
Bivol is regarded as the most talented fighter in the division, and he sees improvement in every fight — “more confidence” — but he knows beating Pascal won’t do anything for his resume. In 2019, he wants — no, needs — unification to leave no doubt about who rules the light heavyweights. He won’t be content until he’s cleaned out the stacked division.
“I don’t think I’m the best. I want to prove it,” he said. “People will see my good qualities, that’s why I want to fight the best. When the best fight the best, they’re more remembered. I want to be remembered.”
Mike Coppinger is the Senior Writer for RingTV.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCoppinger
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