Beware of Dmitry Bivol
As if there weren’t enough promising talent flowing through the 175-pound pipeline with Artur Beterbiev, Eleider Alvarez and Oleksandr Gvozdyk, you may soon have to learn another name for your future of boxing draft. Dmitry Bivol, 9-0 (7), is another in the ever-lengthening line of Eastern European badasses looking to make his bones and register a memorable first impression with American audiences in the main event of the always-entertaining “ShoBox” series tonight, live from the brand-new MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET/PT). Attempting to derail this freight train is a revitalized Samuel Clarkson, 19-3 (12), a ShoBox veteran accustomed to the bright lights and higher level of competition the Showtime franchise entails. For Bivol, it is an American television debut that matters most, “Everything is amped up a little bit more because it’s on Showtime. But every time I step into the ring, I want to put on a good show for the fans. This time, probably a little bit more so, but the most important thing is to get the win.”
The historically rich light heavyweight division currently counts two pound-for-pound entrants in IBF/WBA/WBO titlist Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev among its ranks and former super middleweight titlist champion Badou Jack is moving up from his division, adding to an embarrassment of riches. The Kyrgyzstan-born (moved to Russia at age 11 with his parents) Bivol has shown himself a hyper-aggressive but controlled prospect – even winning a superfluous WBA interim light heavyweight title – whose aim is to mix with the elite of the division by this time next year. Bivol sees this appearance as the start of that process, “I am very glad that this will be my first fight televised in the U.S. It’s great that this is main event because that motivates me. I look forward to introducing myself to American fans with a great performance and I plan to defend my title with an exciting victory.”
By many accounts, Bivol should have topped off his amateur career with an appearance at the 2012 London Olympics but he was edged out by Russian-born Egor Mekhontsev and some surmised political intrigue could have been at play. Mekhontsev did end up winning the gold medal, so there is no shame in that setback. The previous year, Bivol had won the national title, beating Mekhontsev in that competition and ironically both are now World of Boxing Promotion stablemates, who often spar each other. Bivol also said he has learned a lot sparring with former champion Jean Pascal, over the course of his short pro career to date.
At 26, Bivol is in his physical prime and his perfectly proportioned six-foot frame lends him the base to employ an impressive arsenal gleamed by boxing since the age of six. Bivol says he got a lot of unintentional help, in terms of balance, as a promising ice hockey player, in which he still partakes, living full time in St. Petersburg, Russia, with his wife and two-year-old son. For this fight, Bivol decamped to Los Angeles, six weeks ago, to train at the Wild Card Boxing Club, a hard but essential part of preparation, according to Bivol, “I think that training camp went very good. One of the reasons I decided to come to Southern California to train was that there are so many different sparring partners here. We had a very spirited camp and I consider myself ready for the fight.”
When asked about his boxing and career developments by Anson Wainwright of THE RING Magazine, Bivol says he is satisfied with his current pace of career and skill improvements, “From fight to fight, I’m getting better. Each fight was good; each fight was better and better.” He also understands, because of his Russian background, comparisons to Sergey Kovalev are sure to emerge, “I want to be the world champion. I don’t want to be like Kovalev. I want to be (like) myself. I want to be me, Dmitry Bivol. I want all titles. I want to be a champion, like all fighters who respect themselves. I like Kovalev, as a person, as a boxer, as a fighter.” However, Bivol admitted that, growing up, he idolized more stylish pugilists like Sugar Ray Leonard and Roy Jones Jr.
Speaking of speedy boxers, Bivol says his team concentrated on maximizing his quickness of punch in previous training camps and, this time out, were focused on increasing power and accuracy. They anticipate a need for those stopping attributes more in this fight, as Bivol supposes an antagonistic foe in Clarkson, “I’m expecting for him to get in the ring and push himself and come forward. I know he’ll come out aggressive and try to put the pressure on me. We’ll see.” You will not hear Bivol opening up (perhaps because of the language barrier) with expansive dialog or criticizing an opponent, and a soft-spoken nature has been ascribed to him by those who have interviewed or met him. If looking for a chink in Bivol’s armor beside that, it is difficult to point any out, except that his chin has not been tested and no one has pushed him to react instead of dictate.
The dictating factor is Clarkson has sounded emboldened in interviews and, like Bivol, moved his training camp to maximize this opportunity. Clarkson traveled from Texas to New York City, “I upped intensity a thousand times for this camp. Preparation for this fight has been awesome. I’m ready and I’m excited. This was a very hard camp but it has made me mentally become a stronger person. Physically, I’m definitely a stronger person. Going through life from this day forward, I’m just a different person. I’m not taking anything away from my people in Dallas but I came out here and got exactly what I wanted. I stepped out of my comfort zone and we’re ready for war now. All the hard work is just about done.”
Since joining his new promotional company Uprising Promotions, the 26-year-old Clarkson has been on a nine-bout winning streak, to include an impressive decision over former world title challenger Cedric Agnew. Clarkson is no stranger to ShoBox; he has already dispatched prospects Jerry Odom and Lavarn Harvell on the series, both by stoppage, which should make Bivol wary. Clarkson’s father, his trainer from his first day in amateurs to now, is certain his son pushing harder mentally has been key to new-found success. That along with higher-caliber sparring partners (reportedly went 110 rounds with Sean Monaghan and Joe Smith Jr.), who have been through the quality New York City amateur programs, that may serve as a model for beating someone with Bivol’s amateur pedigree (which ended with a mark of 285-15).
Far from intimidated by Bivol’s amateur statistics, Clarkson threw some condescending shade at Bivol, “We have some tricks up our sleeves. The power was already there but my speed is great now too. Anybody who knows me, you know I’m going for the knockout. If it shows up early, we’re taking it. If it’s later in the rounds, then that’s where we’ll take it. I’m just coming and I’m going to be vicious. I’m always aggressive. I’m not afraid of this guy, so people are going to see a really exciting fight from bell to bell. Fans are definitely going to see an amazing fight.”
A motivated Clarkson sees this as a coming-out party that will put him in the mix for bigger paydays in a suddenly money-laden division, “This is a huge opportunity to prove my abilities to the world. Bivol is a crafty fighter from Russia and had a very impressive amateur career, mostly at 165 pounds. He’s a good fighter and I definitely have to bring my A-game.” However Clarkson may be a bit reliant on old stereotypes in analyzing Bivol, “I’m ready for the challenge because I do really well against European fighters. European fighters are slow and come forward a lot and they’re not big on head movement. We are working hard and have a lot of guys in the gym who fight with a similar style. By fight time, I’ll be ready for anything he has.”
There are no typecast assumptions or overconfidence on the Bivol side of the equation, rightly viewing Clarkson as an high-level opponent, instead of a steppingstone. Bivol has scouted Clarkson as well, seemingly aware of his foe’s tendencies and what lies beyond, if he can overcome this tough task. “Clarkson is a good defensive fighter. He can be aggressive and I expect this to be a tough fight. For me, this is step-up fight, not only because of how good my opponent is but also because of what it means to me. Winning this fight will open the door to many opportunities.”