Cold blooded: Dmitry Bivol interview
Shaun Brown speaks to WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol about being humble, growing up in Kyrgyzstan and much more...
Dmitry Bivol was once described as a “humble assassin”.
The 27-year-old used the term “cold blooded” instead when Boxing Monthly asked how he would describe himself in the ring during an interview late last month.
Humble would be a trait taught to him early on in life. The cold-blooded part would come later, ably assisted by the way he analyses his opponents in the ring before taking them apart.
The current WBA light heavyweight champion, who had over 300 amateur bouts, began his foray into boxing at just six years old during the early part of his life spent in Tokmok, a city in northern Kyrgyzstan. He and his family would spend time watching Jackie Chan movies which led the young Dmitry into Osho, a form of karate training. A boxing camp nearby, which presented an opportunity to participate in more competitions, was the form of combat which the Bivol family decided their son should enter leaving karate behind.
While greater rewards lay in boxing for Bivol, such ones in life were sought out by his family in St Petersburg, Russia. His father he thanks for not only moving him from karate into boxing but for also being his “guide”.
“As a kid you enjoy living anywhere,” said Bivol through his manager/translator Vadim Kornlilov as he looked back on his time in Tokmok and St Petersburg where his own partner and children currently live.
“I have great memories and I enjoyed it. It was fun growing up. I understand for my parents that it was a lot harder to find the ability to make a good living in Kyrgestan, so they had to move somewhere they could find more opportunities and St Petersburg was the place that had more opportunities for them as well as for me, and that was part of the reason.
"Overall, I enjoyed living everywhere that I spent my time in my life. I always try to enjoy what I have and try to enjoy it where I am currently. When I come back home to Kyrgsyztan, when I come back there I always have great memories, warm memories about my childhood over there.”
The newest chapter of his life sees him as not only one of the hottest rising stars in world boxing but who many believe is the heir to the throne sat upon by Sergey Kovalev as the number one fighter at 175lbs.
Kovalev and Bivol will share the spotlight on Saturday night in Atlantic City when the pair defend their WBO and WBA world titles against Eleider Alvarez and Isaac Chilemba, respectively. Both men naturally have a growing desire to pit themselves against the best.
With Kovalev we are witnessing a 35-year-old seasoned guardian of the light heavyweights who is now over the mental scars that Andre Ward left on him. All four titles would mean likely retirement for the Russian hardman. Bivol, eight years his junior, is not one who possesses braggadocio and automatically assumes he will soon be 'the man'. There is much learning to do for a boxer who looks like butter wouldn’t melt. Beware the quite ones, however.
“There’s four titles in the light heavyweight division, there’s four champions right now and for me to just say I’m the best is not the way I was raised, it was not the way I was brought up,” he said.
“I don’t feel like saying words. Whoever is the best has to prove it. Whoever can beat and be the best out of the four champions he will be the best, the proven best.”
It is a mark of the man that while he sits there as one of the four champions with his name on many a set of lips, he refuses to believe he can just kick the door down and gatecrash a party that the likes of Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson (WBC champion) have hosted for several years, with Artur Beterbiev (IBF champion) sitting in the corner scowling at anyone who crosses his path just waiting for a career changing opportunity.
Bivol began his professional career fighting three times in Luzhniki, Moscow. After two years the goal was to become a world champion. Mission accomplished when Badou Jack vacated his WBA crown elevating Dmitry Bivol to champion status. A position he confirmed when his meaty jab and quick hands controlled Trent Broadhurst, until a single right hand thumped the Australian just before the end of round one and which ended the fight.
A domination of Cuban Sullivan Barrera would culminate before that heavy right hand would once again put the full stop on the story of their fight, finishing with over a minute to go in the final round.
“I just want to continue and make sure I hold my position steady and I can move forward and move along to the next level,” said Bivol.
Looking ahead to the second defence of his title Bivol described his fight against Chilemba as a “step in the right direction”.
“We definitely make a step up every time we fight. There’s no doubt about that because this is a new opponent. This is a new place, new city, new fans are going to find out about my style and myself, and Chilemba is a different fighter from Barrera. Different fighter, different step forward.”
The distraction of fighting is a welcome one for Bivol, removing himself from thinking about his family back in Russia. Modern day technology allows him to keep in touch with his loved ones, but he knows he is missing out on his children’s milestones as they grow up.
“I miss them so much. Every time I see them on Skype or Facetime I see how they’re changing and growing and learning new things. I miss not being a part of that sometimes because I understand how fast all of that is going by.”
One day he hopes to return to Russia to defend his world title. A marquee fight, perhaps. But he has a job to do first and foremost. And wherever it takes him he is willing to go, to perform and grow his reputation and increase his fanbase. That might include the U.K who he says has some of the most “excitable fans”.
“They root for good boxers no matter where they’re from,” he added.
November 28, 2014 saw the professional debut of Bivol in Russia against Jorge Rodriguez Olivera in a six-round contest. Three weeks earlier Sergey Kovalev was putting his WBO title up for grabs against modern day legend Bernard Hopkins in a three-belt cold war that ended with Russia bossing America.
Bivol and Kovalev could be just months away from facing one another should they leave Atlantic City as fit and healthy champions.
“I just want the best fights I can get,” said Bivol. “This is a type of fight that should attract a lot of attention and a lot of fans. I’m just hoping we can make it into that type of event where everybody is excited about it and everybody wants to see it. We know I’m the type of fighter that wants to fight anybody and I’ve proven that. Sergey is also that type of fighter. He’s the type of fighter that doesn’t take a step back. He wants to fight the best. We’re ready, but it’s all about our team making it the best event we can make.
“Back when I was an amateur I used to watch him fight and just like other amateurs we know that we can do similar things in the pros. He was one of the guys that went and shown what was possible in the pros. It’s not really about respecting him or not respecting him, it’s more about I know I can fight at that level and I know that everybody makes mistakes. As fighters we respect each other, I’m sure.”
A Bivol-Kovalev encounter would be high stakes for the elder of the two. A third professional defeat, depending on the manner of it, could force a man who looked invincible at one stage to walk away from the sport. Andre Ward chipped away at Kovalev and left his mark over two high-profile fights. Ward then chose to depart from boxing as champion and now – along with dropping hints that he might return to the ring – finds himself working as an analyst or as an interviewer on occasion, just like in March when he and Bivol shared a unique conversation for HBO which was titled ‘Chasing Greatness’.
“Some people say that he’s the one that could dominate the light heavyweight division now that I’m gone,” Ward narrated.
“It was a pleasure to spend the time with him. I have a lot of respect for him, he’s a great champion,” said Bivol.
“I want to talk about the elephant in the room. I read an article somewhere where somebody said you were the reason that I retired,” Ward asked Bivol during the final moments of their sit down.
Boxing Monthly reminded Bivol of those opinions that still exist. “It felt nice in a weird way that people were saying he left because of me,” he said.
“I don’t believe that it’s completely true because there’s a lot of great fighters in the division and a lot of big opponents for him in the division, but probably not something that would make him financially pleased in that sense. Overall, he’s a nice guy and it was good to spend time with him. We have our own story that we’re making now in the division between the rest of us.”
Should Bivol become undisputed or even unified champion at 175lbs then the Ward-Bivol story may just continue but this time they will do their talking in the ring.