LAS VEGAS — Despite his fame, accolades and intent to reign supreme for years to come, Canelo Alvarez on Saturday night ran headlong into the firm reality that weight classes must be adhered to.
How he handles that will be a tricky dilemma given all we know about the confidence, ego and pride that inevitably resides in the sport’s elite champions.
Russia’s Dmitry Bivol, producing a scintillating performance in which he displayed superior activity, strength and skill, upset Mexico’s Alvarez by unanimous decision at T-Mobile Arena.
Judges Tim Cheatham, Dave Moretti and Steve Weisfeld all scored the fight 115-113 for Bivol, who successfully defended his World Boxing Association lightweight title for the eighth time and improved to 20-0.
“I proved myself today. I’m the best,” Bivol said in the ring.
As he embarks on the sober account of his loss, Alvarez will review how Bivol beat him through 12 rounds.
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ROUND BY ROUND:Dmitry Bivol upsets Canelo Alvarez by unanimous decision
Some observers at ringside thought the scoreline could have been wider given how frustrated and tired the four-division champion and the highest-paid fighter in the world was.
Bivol beat Alvarez, 152-84, in total strokes, 46-10, in jabs and 106-74 in power shots, often rocking Alvarez’s head back and forcing him to retire for respites by the ropes due to the punishment.
Undisputed world super middleweight champion, Alvarez explained the admirable reasons why he initially sought the fight.
“I look for challenges that take me out of my comfort zone,” Alvarez said. “Tonight I was looking for greatness. I gave my best.”
The inventory started immediately. In his post-fight press conference, Alvarez toned down his statement in the ring that he would definitely exercise the rematch clause to fight Bivol again.
“We’ll see what’s next, talk about it and let you know,” Alvarez said. “We will have to wait and see what happens.”
A potential obstacle to a Bivol rematch is already brewing.
Bivol and his manager, Vadim Kornilov, said after the fight that they would not accept the same concessions they made this time around.
This not only includes who is brought into the ring last. It will also require reconsidering who gets paid what, Kornilov said.
When asked if he would agree to this renegotiation in the event of a loss, Alvarez replied, “We’ll see.”
Whether or not he cites the difficulty of getting along with Bivol, rejecting the rematch is the wisest step forward, even if fight promoter Eddie Hearn retains his post-fight opinion that Bivol-Alvarez II is the biggest battle to fight.
Bivol said he wasn’t bothered by Alvarez’s power punches, which is saying a lot considering Alvarez’s destruction at 168 while effectively smashing the super middleweight champion’s face Billy Joe Saunders a year ago this weekend, then building on it to stop another champion, Caleb Plant, in November.
Alvarez credited Bivol with being “very difficult to hit around the head”.
“I enjoyed that fight,” Bivol said. “When he hit me, it gave me more energy. I expected him to hit me hard. I was ready for that.”
Even Hearn had to admit, “Maybe that was a bridge too far.”
If he chooses to return to 168, significant challenges remain.
Alvarez could keep an already negotiated trilogy fight against bitter rival Gennadiy Golovkin in September. If he wants to test his height limits again, he could do so against towering, undefeated super middleweight David Benavidez.
And Bivol could go on to meet the winner of next month’s three-belt light-heavyweight unification between Russian Artur Beterbiev and New Yorker Joe Smith Jr.
As for all about Alvarez trying to become the undisputed light heavyweight champion, fighting a 200lb heavyweight champion in December and chasing heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk in a 201lb fight the next year ?
Let it go – at least for next year.
Of course, doing this is much easier said than done.
Alvarez maintained the proud mindset that could bring him back to Bivol as he told reporters he didn’t believe he had lost more than five rounds, although he conceded, “maybe the weight was a slight issue that didn’t let me feel 100% during the fight…I felt a bit tired heading into the final rounds.”
Bivol was more blunt, pointing to Alvarez’s insistence on loading up on big shots as his biggest failure on Saturday – because he was giving away too many shots waiting for the opener, and even when his best shots landed, Bivol seemed unwavering.
“He kept punching me in the arms and I kept punching him in the face,” Bivol said.
Facing a -600 favorite on hostile ground as a Cinco de Mayo Las Vegas crowd roared for boxing’s biggest star, Bivol relied on his natural strengths to hand Alvarez his first loss since his excusable setback against Floyd Mayweather Jr. 16 fights ago, when he was 23.
“When I saw him walk to the ring and heard the crowd, I liked hearing that,” Bivol said. “Of course all (the) people are on his side. No problem for me.”
Bivol had to put aside more than the crowd. Many, including former Ukrainian heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, have argued that Bivol didn’t deserve to be in the high-profile fight in the first place given Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Russian athletes have been kept out of the World Cup and other major global sporting events as a symbol of global protest.
“I felt like everything was against me today,” Bivol said after learning that all three judges surprisingly rewarded Alvarez in the first four rounds.
At 175 pounds, Alvarez found he was no longer dealing with a 36-year-old coming out of a tough fight, like light-heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev was when Alvarez knocked him out in the 11th. round in 2019.
This time, against a 31-year-old fellow whose top-heavyweight fitness shone instead of bogged down, Alvarez was repeatedly beaten to the fist by a distinguished former amateur who showed up in the ring with more 15 pounds heavier than Alvarez thanks to post-weigh-in rehydration.
“I went up and fought at 175 – out of my comfort zone, at a weight that’s not mine,” Alvarez said. “There’s no shame in that. I look at the challenges that other people would be afraid to take on because they might lose.
“That’s what I’m here for. That’s what I want to do. It’s about taking these fights 50/50. That’s what people want to see.”
Reviewing his upset loss, Alvarez said his reactions will be guided by the fact that he is so competitive and by the belief: “I have many years ahead of me.
“I will come back stronger.”
The best way to do this is to come back lighter.