Monday, May 9, 2022

Was Bivol’s Victory Over Alvarez Truly An Upset?


It can at times be a cliché to say, but Boxing is truly one sport where the most sensible approach for any viewer is to expect the unexpected. After all, this observer has said all too often that “Anything can happen at any given time in the sport of Boxing and that is what makes it so great.” Despite this quote of mine, which is supported by a lifetime of watching and covering the sport where I have seen countless fights that were thought to go one way, do the exact opposite, some still do not approach the sport with such a mindset. Whether it be because of pure fandom or just lack of knowledge about the fighters, styles, and other aspects that are involved in a fight, there are times when what is thought to be an unexpected outcome is viewed as an upset.  


There are times however, when the term “Upset” does not necessarily fit. On May 7th, the Boxing world focused on the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, NV where current Undisputed Super-Middleweight world champion Saul “Canelo” Alvarez entered the ring to do battle with undefeated WBA World Light-Heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol, with Bivol’s world championship in the 175lb. Light-Heavyweight division on the line. By now, most fans of the sport whether they be an enthusiast, or a casual observer are likely familiar with the career of Saul Alvarez. A fighter that has won world championships from the 154lb. Jr. Middleweight division up to the 175lb. Light-Heavyweight division where he briefly held a portion of the World Light-Heavyweight championship. Alvarez’ status as one of Boxing’s biggest stars is well known and should not be a subject to debate. At a certain point in his career however, Alvarez began focusing more on what the most lucrative opportunities were available to him rather than focusing his attention strictly on one weight class. 


After successfully wining and fully unifying the Super-Middleweight world championship in the span of one year, Alvarez set his sights on a return to the 175lb. Light-Heavyweight division to challenge Dmitry Bivol for his WBA crown. Although there was little doubt as to who was the more known of the two fighters particularly amongst the casual Boxing fan, Alvarez’ choice to challenge Bivol should have been viewed from the moment that the fight was signed as a high risk/low reward scenario for him. While it was true that the bout with Bivol offered Alvarez the opportunity to become a two-time Light-Heavyweight world champion, outside of that he would be facing a fighter with a difficult Boxing style and one that he had not necessarily faced before in his career. 


Despite not being particularly well known to the casual fan, Dmitry Bivol has been a longtime champion in the Light-Heavyweight division having successfully defended his portion of the World Light-Heavyweight championship eight times prior to taking on Alvarez. While initially Bivol had developed a reputation for being able to score quick and often devastating knockouts, he had evolved significantly in recent years to a superb boxer and had gone on a stretch of several fights where he had not lost a round, let alone been in any significant danger of losing. Indeed, this should have been well-known to any knowledgeable observer of the sport, but because of Alvarez’ having a higher profile in terms of name recognition clout than Bivol, these elements did get overlooked by some. 


In previewing this bout, this observer stated it was the challenge for the champion to try and force the fight to be fought on his terms and not allow Alvarez to dictate the tempo of the combat as he had been able to do in recent fights that all came against fighters that were naturally bigger and theoretically stronger than him. Bivol took the initiative immediately by taking control of the center of the ring. This along with a constant jab and laterally turning Alvarez allowed the champion to dictate the fight. 


One aspect that Bivol used frequently throughout this fight that Sergey Locals was able to use with significant success when he fought Alvarez in the challenger’s lone previous bout in the Light-Heavyweight division was he kept a jab in his face for the majority of the time. While it is the most elementary of offensive weapons in a fighter’s arsenal, when used tactically and consistently, the jab can dominate and win fights. In this case, the jab for Dmitry Bivol accomplished two things. One it kept something in Alvarez face, which really prevented him from finding any sort of consistent rhythm and two, it served as a focal point that allowed Bivol to throw quick combinations. All of the above kept Alvarez on the defensive. 


As the fight progressed though Alvarez was able to get some punches in on the champion, you could see an increasing frustration building in the challenger. One reason for this can best be described as Bivol’s discipline. In regard to the element of defense Bivol always fought behind an extremely high defensive guard as well as a tall stance, which is often seen among many Eastern European fighters like himself. This resulted in the majority of Alvarez’ punches either being deflected off the champion's gloves or hitting him on the arms. 


Although Alvarez would occasionally break through and land some punches to Bivol's body, he simply could not turn the ebb and flow in his favor. A sign of the increasing frustration in Alvarez began to show itself in the middle rounds when he began periodically sitting against the ropes and inviting Bivol to unleash his offense. While this is a well-known veteran tactic, a testament to Bivol’s discipline is he did not get aggressive and simply stuck with what was a near perfect fight plan in my view. This resulted in Alvarez almost looking to land strictly power punches and with the frustration continuing, Alvarez ended up lifting Bivol off the canvas in the later rounds while in a clinch that resembled the start of a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) takedown or slam that reminded me briefly of longtime UFC Welterweight world champion Matt Hughes. The brief roughhousing did not result in a takedown, nor did it shift the momentum in Alvarez’ favor as Dmitry Bivol would continue to box his way to what became a twelve round unanimous decision victory to retain his world title. 


A slight contention for some emerged in the official scorecards as Bivol won the fight by a seven rounds to five margin or 115-113 in points on all three scorecards. From this observer’s perspective, I felt Bivol won ten of the twelve rounds as I ended up with a 118-110 scorecard in his favor. While the three official judges in this fight did emerge with the consensus winner, based on the action in this fight, I personally cannot see how Saul Alvarez was able to do enough to win five of the twelve rounds. Having said this, I have certainly covered the sport long enough to know that I have seen worse decisions rendered by worse margins where the judges have gone against what the consensus appeared to be as to who won a fight. The only thing that I can assume is that the three judges Dave Moretti, Steve Weisfeld, and Tim Cheatham gave Alvarez credit for a lot of punches that landed on the arms of Bivol as well as perhaps feeling that he was more aggressive. Although all three judges are very experienced on the world championship level of the sport, the challenge for three judges scoring a fight can be to distinguish between aggression and effective aggression. There are times where judges no matter their experience level appear to miss the difference between the two. In this instance, it should also not be overlooked that the sell out crowd at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas was heavily in favor of Alvarez and regardless of what a judge or athletic commission might claim, the element of crowd noise does play a role and there are times where that could be an influence. 


While the element of crowd noise is not supposed to play a role in the scoring of a fight and judges on all levels of the sport should be aware of that. Judges like the rest of us are human and it is understandable to a degree how a judge might be swayed by seeing a fighter landing what may appear to be a heavy punch that gets a significant reaction from the crowd in attendance. Even though in some cases such scenarios have led to controversy, it did not happen in this fight. 


For Saul Alvarez, the loss to Dmitry Bivol should not affect his standing as the current Undisputed Super-Middleweight world champion, but he will have a decision to make regarding whether he will go back down to the 168lb. Super Middleweight division or if he will exercise a rematch clause and seek a rematch with Dmitry Bivol. 


It is also important to factor in the potential of a third fight with longtime rival Gennady Golovkin that was on the table prior to Alvarez facing Bivol. From my perspective, I do not feel that a rematch against Bivol would be advisable based on what occurred in the ring when they fought. Although it is an accomplishment for fighters who are able to move up and down the weight scale as Alvarez has and win world championships along the way, there comes a point where a fighter will reach their ceiling as far as not only how high or low, they can go in terms of weight, but more specifically where they can be most effective as a fighter. While Saul Alvarez’ record as a Light-Heavyweight now stands at 1-1, he did have more difficulty in both of those fights as compared to against opponents at lighter weights and it is to be expected when a fighter is facing an opponent that is naturally bigger and stronger.  


Although Alvarez’ standing in the sport likely helped him obtain the rematch clause even though he was the challenger going into this fight, it is rare for a challenger to be given a rematch clause as opposed to the challenger. While this could also be looked at as a flaw in the sport in that, despite being a world champion, Dmitry Bivol was treated as though he were a challenger going into the bout including being introduced first, which is normally a challenger’s designation. Even though Alvarez does have a rematch clause, the better option both in terms of economically as well as possibly risk would be a third bout with Gennady Golovkin. With Alvarez expected to return to the ring in some form in September, it will sure be interesting to see who his potential opponent will be. Meanwhile, Dmitry Bivol’s star has clearly risen significantly off of his victory over Saul Alvarez. 


While some may view what happened in this fight as an upset, this observer does not feel that way. Despite Saul “Canelo” Alvarez’ higher profile, he was going up against a naturally bigger fighter who like him is close to his physical prime. This along with an evolved skillset and ability to stick to his fight plan gave Bivol an edge. Even the most accomplished fighters come up against opponents that can simply best them based on styles as well as tactics. Based on what we saw in this fight, I feel the likelihood of a similar bout being fought in a rematch is reasonably high. Whether Alvarez does indeed opt for a rematch remains to be seen, but after taking some time to digest things, his pride will not be a factor and he could perhaps view things more logically. Nevertheless, Alvarez’ willingness to continuously go against opposition that have physical advantages over him is admirable. 


“And That’s The Boxing Truth.” 


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