Super middleweight undisputed champion Canelo Alvarez moves up in weight to challenge light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol for his WBA world title on Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas (DAZN PPV, 9 p.m. ET).
This will be Alvarez’s second fight at 175 pounds. In November 2019, Alvarez defeated Sergey Kovalev by 11th-round TKO to win the WBO belt. He later vacated that belt to continue his quest at 168-pounds.
Alvarez (57-1-2, 39 KOs) defeated Callum Smith, Billy Joe Saunders and Caleb Plant to unify all four major super middleweight titles, and hopes to do the same at light heavyweight.
Bivol (19-0, 11 KOs) won the WBA interim belt in 2016, but was elevated to “regular” champion in 2017 after Badou Jack vacated the title. In 2019 Bivol was elevated to “super” champion and has made three defenses of that belt.
“There’s a reason why Alvarez picked Bivol,” two-division champion and current ESPN boxing analyst Timothy Bradley Jr. said. “It is the challenge because Bivol is a more capable champion to upset Alvarez and Canelo just wants to face the best and be great. He believes he is great.”
Bradley breaks down the matchup and picks the winner.
This fight is going to have a lot of action based on the style of both men. You have a versatile aggressive counter puncher in Alvarez against a boxer puncher in Bivol.
Alvarez has the experience to understand how to deal with a counter puncher. Alvarez has fought a lot. He’s seen styles like Bivol’s with Gennadiy Golovkin, Sergey Kovalev, Erislandy Lara and even Daniel Jacobs — boxer-type punchers. So the know-how for Alvarez is there. He knows how to fight opponents like that.
Alvarez has all the tools. He’s stronger than ever. His concentration is rising inside the ring; his stamina is through the roof, and his focus and natural-tactical ability to combat Bivol is there. He understands what he has to do — keep Bivol against the ropes. He knows he has to punish him to the body. He knows he has to land his big shot over the top, because Bivol is taller. And he knows he has to take Bivol’s jab away.
There are various ways for Alvarez to take the jab away from him. He can use his legs at times — I’ve seen him do that against Golovkin, where Alvarez will use his legs and make GGG pick up his feet and move. He can also do it by knocking the jab down and counter it over or counter down to the body. That will force Bivol to keep his hands at home instead of being able to shoot his jab.
Bivol is an undersized light heavyweight. He’s 6-foot, and he’s used to fighting bigger guys. As a small guy, he understands the risk of fighting in the light heavyweight division, and he knows how dangerous that is. At the same time, he has above-average boxing skills and great footwork, which is one of his best qualities. Bivol also has an educated jab — and that is a powerful jab that can stop opponents on his tracks. He has quickness and athleticism, which helps him maneuver around bigger guys in the ring and has proven to be a clear advantage for him. But what happens when he faces a guy that’s undersized like he is, that’s just as athletic as he is, that’s also aggressive, that knows how to get inside and is strong enough to endure his punches and take it to him? That’s the question that I have about Bivol.
It’s almost like the advantage that he usually has at the light heavyweight division is a disadvantage for him for this fight. We will see if the reach advantage can serve him right during the fight. It’s only a two-inch reach advantage, not a huge difference, but the disparity is with his height. Alvarez has fought guys with bigger reach — he fought Callum Smith that has a 78-inch reach. Alvarez was able to take the jab away from Smith, so you’d think he can do the same thing against Bivol.
But one thing that Bivol has an advantage over Smith is his quick feet, and that could make things a little hard for Alvarez. Bivol has good footwork and in-and-out movements. He can change the distance immediately with his footwork. Bivol can jab and get out as Alvarez tries to counter. And he stays close enough so he can counter if Alvarez launches or makes a mistake or misses with a shot. And that’s the reason Bivol has a chance in this fight. Unlike most of the guys that fight Alvarez — Alvarez is always able to make ground on them and kind of push them back and bully them — Bivol has heavy hands. He’s also a great counter puncher. He doesn’t use a lot of the ring — he can stay in the center, make Alvarez miss and then make him pay.
No KOs, no problem
Bivol has no knockouts in his last six fights, but I think that lack of KOs would serve Bivol well in this fight. He’s used to fighting 12 rounds. He’s going to have to be conditioned enough to be able to deal with Alvarez putting pressure on him physically and mentally for all 36 minutes. So Bivol’s lack of KOs, or the fact that he’s gone 12 rounds a lot, is definitely a benefit for Bivol going into this fight. Alvarez is going to push him in areas where he’s weak, and the area that I believe Bivol is weak is inside the pocket. That’s where I see a lot of vulnerability for Bivol. He doesn’t like to be inside. If Alvarez is going to force him to fight inside the pocket, Bivol is going to have to be strong mentally to keep him outside for 12 rounds, and dominate from there instead of letting Alvarez get his way.
Bivol has to stay disciplined. That’s it. Bivol doesn’t have to go with the current. Bivol needs to be the current. He needs to dictate the tempo, not fight at the tempo Alvarez wants to fight and make Alvarez react to him instead of him reacting to what his opponent does.
Fighters get in there and react to Alvarez. Canelo plays that game of, ‘yeah, you can hit me, go ahead, hit me, hit me, wear yourself out’ and by the sixth, seventh round they’re gassed out because they put so much pressure on Alvarez, physically and mentally. If you come in there and you say ‘I’m gonna fight at my pace, I’m gonna dominate you with my business, I’m not gonna let you be comfortable’ and force Alvarez back, Alvarez will be forced to respect you. Bivol has the ability to do that. He’s the bigger man, he’s been in this weight class for some time, and he has punching power and great counter-punching ability. But he can’t let Alvarez just dictate and slow down the pace. That will ultimately result in Alvarez’s excessive pressure and punishing body shots.
Counter, feints, left hooks and footwork
You can’t run with Alvarez. You can’t let him gain ground like he likes to do. You can’t allow him to force you back. You need to take small steps — left and right and be set and ready to punch and be ready to counter. Or you need to lead and be ready to counter after. Because Alvarez is going to counter — that’s what he does. When you bring your jab back to your face is when Alvarez steps in. Then you have to adjust right away because either Alvarez will jab or feint and get you out of position, or he will come around with his powerful left hook. And that’s an automatic signature punch for Alvarez, left hook up or down.
Alvarez’s feints are so damn good — he’s so deceptive inside the ring. He gets his opponents out of position, makes them panic when he makes a certain move and gets them to react. And he will see that and say ‘I see how he reacted to that, I’ll set him up for the left hook next time’ or ‘let me jab him real quick and get him comfortable with these jabs and then I’m gonna feint him again and the hook is going to be right there for me.’
Alvarez is a smart chess player, but when he plays chess he plays fast. Alvarez is the only fighter I know that can find a target and his range without even using his jab. He’s able to locate his target just by positioning and foot placement. He knows where he places his foot, he understands his defense and how to use his high guard. He can land his left hook as a lead left hook, and that’s a dangerous punch to throw because you are exposed. But he can throw it and calculate the distance perfectly without even using his jab. He will lead with a left hook, not the jab! And hit the target.
An old-school tactic for Alvarez
If Bivol wants to win this fight he’s going to have to stay off the ropes because the minute he gets against the ropes, he’s going to be a punching bag. Alvarez uses an old-school tactic, one that was used by a lot of fighters back in the day, but one that sticks out to me is Rocky Marciano. Marciano was one of the hardest punchers in the heavyweight division. What he would do to break tight defenses was to hit you in the arms. Alvarez actually targets the bicep. He will target the shoulder, and try to create some kind of hematoma on that arm so it’s unusable. ‘Okay, you don’t want to let me hit you in the head? Okay, I’m gonna hit you right on the shoulder. I’m gonna aim for your bicep and I’m gonna create some kind of contusion so you don’t use that arm.’
Alvarez hits so hard that sometimes he hurts his opponents by hitting them there. I remember Marciano using that against Roland LaStarza in their rematch (1953). LaStarza was having his way, and then Marciano started pounding on LaStarza’s arms and eventually he had trouble just keeping his arms up. Marciano ended up catching him up and knocking him out.
Alvarez had said in interviews that he knows how to stop a jab, and this is one way. Don’t be surprised if you see Canelo aiming for Bivol’s left arm with his right hand, especially if he sees Bivol with the high guard.
What Bivol can do to beat Alvarez
The right hand — that’s his money shot — but also the jab. I know the jab is the key for him to win. Bivol threw more than 500 jabs against Joe Smith Jr. and landed over 100, and that’s exactly what he has to do against Alvarez. That’s how you beat an aggressive counter puncher. Counter punchers hate being stopped on their tracks by the jab — they hate it. Every time you get hit by the jab, you have to reset. So you can frustrate the s— out of Alvarez with that jab. But the difference between Alvarez and most guys is that the jab will stop him in his tracks, but won’t stop him from hitting you back with something. So, Bivol not only has to jab, but be ready for the counter. And when Bivol counters, he has to do it with his right hand. Straight right hands. That’s how Bivol is going to get his shots. Straight right hands down the pipe.
Like Alvarez, one thing Bivol does well — and will be beneficial in this fight — is feint. He’s going to have to incorporate some feints and move that high guard of Alvarez from position to create an opening for himself. He can do it with his lead hand. He doesn’t necessarily have to use his feet. He needs to get different looks with his lead hand, feinting, acting like he’s going to come in with the jab and get Alvarez to move and respect it. From there he can pop him with the jab from a different angle. Bivol has a vertical jab with the thumb up that he can use to split the guard of Canelo. That will help him in this fight. And also changing levels with the jab, go down to the body, and take advantage of Canelo’s high guard.
Alvarez is going to give him that, so hit him to the body. But it is mainly about controlling distance all night and countering Alvarez. Every time Alvarez steps in looking for a shot, Bivol needs to be ready to fire, and on to the next. Don’t sit there and look at your work. Nope, on to the next.
What Alvarez can do to beat Bivol
Overhand rights. That could be Bivol’s shortcoming. Alvarez will set up that punch with pressure. He can set it up using his jab and getting close, because Bivol’s inside game is not that great. His mid-range game is pretty good, his distance game is pretty good, but inside the pocket, tucked up, he’s not so great. Bivol will cover and try to escape, and when he tries to escape, he will make mistakes. He will jab from too close, and that overhand right of Alvarez is going to land.
Also look out for that left hook to the liver. That’s another kill shot for Alvarez. He can set it up with the jab — he can make that right hand of Bivol miss and come out from outside and hit him in the liver.
In terms of positioning, Alvarez has to be inside and pin Bivol against the ropes from the start. That’s where Alvarez is going to have most of his success — on the inside. It could take a little bit of time to get there, but if he can eliminate Bivol’s jab and get inside, he would be able to dominate.
Experience. That’s going to be a huge factor for this fight. And the experience favors Alvarez without a doubt. The fact that Alvarez has fought top competition after top competition and a lot of different styles, I think that’s going to help him in this fight. The chin also. I don’t know how Bivol responds to big shots. He got hit by Smith, who’s a big puncher, and he was able to survive and come back, but that’s it. Alvarez can punch, and his punch placement is ferocious. We also have seen Alvarez get hit by GGG and Alvarez took it well — GGG can punch! Can Bivol take a shot from Alvarez?
This fight will be relatively easy for Bivol initially, as he will get off to an early lead because of his activity. The fourth round will be a turning point as Alvarez will find a way past the jab of Bivol and begin to land hellacious counters to his body. This will be Alvarez’s second phase of his breakdown, as the first phase is his steady pressure and presence. Then it will boil down to strength, experience, endurance, will and courage. Bivol has a chance, but it will be his choice to dig deep. However, Alvarez has brute force and domination inside the ring. His ego is guarded with a shield of invincibility. Respect and adding to his legacy is what he is after, by any means necessary. Alvarez will be forced to go to greater heights, but he will take the win by stoppage. TKO victory for Alvarez in Round 10 or 11.
Ian Parker’s best bet
As talented and tough of a boxer as Bivol is, just like others before him, he will be outmatched and outboxed by Alvarez. In the earlier rounds I expect a competitive fight from Bivol as he will try to cut off the ring and force Alvarez to fight his type of fight. As the fight goes on, I expect Alvarez to pick up the pace and land combinations to the body that will cause Bivol to eventually tire out and succumb to a TKO. Alvarez will do what he can to show out and continue to prove why he is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
Prediction: Alvarez wins by TKO