Dmitry Bivol the bilingual
A few weeks ago, while at Legendz Boxing, in Norwalk, California, this scribe dropped by to see WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol, 12-0 (10) – who faces Sullivan Barrera, 21-1 (14), on Saturday night at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, on HBO – spar with former cruiserweight contender Lateef Kayode and prospect Kevin Newman.
Afterward I interviewed him as his manager Vadim Kornilov had also come to the gym. For years, Kornilov had translated my interviews for one of his past clients Ruslan Provodnikov, another Russian boxer.
But as I asked Bivol the first question, imagine my surprise as he answered it and a few others in English.
There are still instances in which Kornilov will have to interpret for Bivol, who will speak through his manager in Russian. It’s clear that this is still very much a work-in-progress for the 27-year-old Bivol, who came into the conciousness of American boxing fans last year but actually made his Stateside debut in his fourth pro bout, in 2015, at the OC Hangar in Costa Mesa, California.
A couple of weeks later, at the same gym, a media day was held for Bivol and, when asked how long he had been learning our language, he answered, “Since five years, maybe. But last year I learned more, so one year maybe.”
He noted, “I had around 10 classes with teacher, maybe, and I learned myself. I watch movies; I read books.”
“To be honest, I was amazed myself when I heard him speak at the press conference in Monaco with (Trent) Broadhurst,” admitted Kornilov, who was suprised by his fighter’s sudden ability to converse in English. “That’s the first time he spoke himself and I didn’t expect that. A lot of people on the team that work with us have been helping him, having him watch shows. That helps him a lot and he’s a smart kid.
“I really believe that intellect has a lot to do with a boxer’s success rate as well. This kid’s got intellect.”
Speaking of television shows, what’s on Bivol’s menu?
“I watch the show ‘Friends.'”
Friends?! That’s his favorite show?
“That’s not my favorite show but it helped my English,” countered Bivol with a laugh. (Fair enough. I wonder what he thought of Ross and Rachel.). He added, ”I watch ‘Desperate Housewives’ with my wife.”
It’s clear who handles the remote control in the Bivol household.
But Bivol’s ability to communicate will be invaluable, in efforts to promote and market him in America. Nicole Duva, the COO of Main Events (which, last fall, entered a deal with World of Boxing to be the American promoter for Bivol), told UCNLive.com during his media day, “I think that’s huge. The biggest obstacle that a lot of these foreign fighters face in the United States is that they just can’t do the same amount of media, where they don’t get the same type of opportunities. They have trouble with radio; they have trouble with television and being able to speak English is just a game-changer.
She continued, “And he’s so young that, by the time he gets in those big fights, where he gets that real mainstream media interest, he’ll be ready and be able to speak English fluently.”
Main Events has experience in promoting a Russian standout, having guided the career of WBO light heavyweight titleholder Sergey Kovalev (who fights in the main event on Saturday night).
“I think the marketing plan for Dmitry is actually significantly different than for Sergey. They’re both Russian and they’re both light heavyweight champions but, aside from that, they don’t have that much in common. Their personalities are really different; their backgrounds are really different. Dmitry’s kind of a citizen of the world. He was born in Kyrgyzstan. His father I think is Moldovan. His mother is Korean and he grew up in St. Petersburg. So there’s all these demographic groups he can appeal to and we’re going to try to reach all of them,” said Duva.
For this event, Duva explained, “For March 3rd, we are implementing a plan that we worked out with a Korean marketing agency that appeals to Korean-Americans in New York, in New Jersey and Queens.”
As Bivol interacts with the media, you’ll see that, even with him not being as fluent in English as he’d like to be, his friendly manner is very evident and he does his best to accomodate the press.
“That”s what it’s all about,” said Kornilov. “Everyone says you want a fighter to connect in full with the fans here. So he’s got to try to speak to them because the fans, they love you as a personality; they love you as a boxer but they don’t want to hear me speak. They want to hear the fighter speak. I told Dmitry, ‘You’ve got to connect with the fans,’ and that’s what he’s doing now. This is a part of the learning experience – learning English and connecting.”
Bivol admits that learning a new tongue at this stage isn’t easy. It’s one thing to pop in a few Rosetta Stone lessons; it’s a whole ‘nother ballgame to actually conduct interviews.
“It’s so difficult because I know only one language; it’s Russian language. But you have a goal, you can do more,” he said back on February 20. “I’m going to fight in America and I know that people want to see when I speak English.”
When Bivol is asked if he’s now comfortable doing interviews in English, he answered, “I don’t know; now I feel not comfortable.”
But there’s no doubt that Bivol is very comfortable speaking the language of boxing and, in “Sully B,” he’s facing the toughest test of his career to date. An emphatic victory will be the loudest statement he can make.
Asked how he envisioned this match-up, he answered, “I don’t know exactly but it’s one that people will be glad of the fight. I want to do what I can. I can move good; I can put pressure. I hope it will happen in the fight against Sullivan Barrera. I hope I will be the winner.”
Here’s this week’s edition of “The Next Round,” with Gabe Montoya and Yours Truly.
On this week’s edition of “The 3 Knockdown Rule,” with Mario Lopez and me, you’ll hear from Kathy Duva of Main Events and we debate the quality of Pizza Hut.
It was announced that the May 5 rematch between middleweight king Gennady Golovkin and Saul Alvarez will be distributed across the country in movie theaters…Danny Roman successfully defended his WBA 122-pound title versus Ryo Matsumoto on Wednesday in Tokyo, Japan…Meanwhile Luis Nery had to forfeit his WBC bantamweight title as he came in waaaay over the 118-pound limit. Only Shinsuke Yamanaka can win it at this point…Seriously, when is it going to warm up here in Southern California?…It’s not going to rain out here on March 10, right?!…Seriously, Pizza Hut is the worst…I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.