Dmitry Bivol 15 (11 KOs)-0-0 defends his WBA Light-Heavyweight title this Saturday against hard hitting American Joe Smith Jnr 24 (20 KOs)-2 (1 KO)-0 at the Turning Stone Resort and Casino, Las Vegas on DAZN.
The 175-pound division has been on the come up for quite a while now, and with Adonis Stevenson tragically ending his career, the fight between Bivol and Smith Jnr is one of the first clashes between the new breed of light heavyweight, though to most people the fight is hardly a 50 50.
Dmitry Bivol is at an awkward point in his career, on the face of it there can be few better positions in boxing. 28 years old, undefeated, world champion, I don’t any fighters would be turning that down, but while Bivol has been getting the wins against fighters such as: Jean Pascal and Isaac Chilemba his performances have commanded respect rather than awe. Bivol will always be compared to his compatriot Sergey Kovalev, and in truth this isn’t really fair because while they have similarities their styles are not the same, the main difference being that Kovalev makes better use of single hard counter punches where Bivol prefers to punch in combinations. Both however, feel most at home at the long to mid- range where Bivol does show a very good awareness of distance, and can rattle off a one, two, left hook combination faster than any other 175 pounder at championship level, and this is where Bivol causes trouble for opponents.
If I were to pinpoint Bivol’s style, I’d say he’s a mixture of a Kovalev with a young George Groves, in the way he stalks his opponents with a wide stance and punches in bunches. In terms of flaws there isn’t too much to go on for opponents looking for flaws in past fights, because Bivol’s main flaw is that he hasn’t fought anyone at top level. He can also look that he fights within himself at times, but he gets the job done and 11 stoppages in 15 fights means that when he hurts his opponents he can turn up the heat, but the damage at top level seems to be more of an accumulation of punishment rather than outright thudding power, and for that at 175 pounds you need to look at no further than Joe Smith Jnr.
Joe Smith Jnr has had a bit of an unusual rise in the world scene, from stunning Andrzej Fonfara in the first round in 2016 to defeating an old but still capable Bernard Hopkins Smith was on the up, but it came crashing down to earth with a close but clear points decision loss to Sullivan Barrera in July of last year. Smith has been pigeonholed by many of the boxing public as a fighter who lacks skill as little more than a brawler, but in fact Smith reminds me of another fighter who had similar accusations but is in fact more nuanced than he appears, and that is Marcos Maidana.
Like Maidana, Smith is not at his best in the centre of the ring, he does his work with his opponent backing up to the ropes, but he does set this up. Smith uses small jabs to the body to unsettle his opponents and get them moving backwards with the fear of the body jab leading to a right head shot. When his opponents are up to the ropes, he likes to do work to the body, either with the right or the left hook with a left to the head after. One has to say however that he’s not exactly the cleanest and crispest fighter to watch. He does throw shots wide, which can be countered and that left hook to the body is wide open to Bivol’s counter left to the head which when pivoting off can keep Smith Jnr resetting, helping Bivol to maintain the range.
This fight is harder to predict than many of the boxing public would have you believe, instinctively I’d say that if Bivol boxes smart for the first few rounds and doesn’t get in silly exchanges he should have enough to earn a scrappy win down the stretch. However, with Smith finishing his fight against Barrera with a broken jaw, he’s hardly the quitting type and I wonder if that performance really did him justice.
This could be a fight that sneaks up on everyone with how good it is going to be, and I hope I’m right because as a boxing fan I’d love to see DAZN to succeed and that could happen if there are good entertaining fights on there. If I were pushed, I’d say Bivol gets a close but clear decision due to his faster feet and better sense of range, but I could equally see Smith getting a knockdown at some point and it becoming a very nice clash of styles, as Bivol could gas down the stretch.
Light Heavyweight is a great division, but with so many of the elite split around Showtime, DAZN and ESPN you do sometimes doubt whether the top fighters will end up getting in the ring with each other, but if not, and politics gets in the way of boxing again you hope that at the very least you’ll get some interesting matchups down the road, which I believe this will be come Saturday night.
On the undercard Maurice Hooker 25 (17 KOs)-0-3 defends his WBO Super-Lightweight title against Mikkel LesPierre 21 (10 KOs)-0-1 with Callum Johnson 17 (12 KOs)-1 (1 KO)-0 in his first fight back from the Bererbiev defeat against Sean Monaghan 29 (17 KOs)-2 (1 KO)-0.