It was a fight too far for Canelo Alvarez on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
Alvarez has been the king of the ring for a long time, the number one boxing attraction and the wealthiest fighter on the planet, but on Saturday night he was given a boxing lesson over 12 rounds by Dmitri Bivol. The magic left the golden fists of Canelo.
Alvarez fought like a man without urgency or threat and Bivol, an unbeaten light heavyweight world champion simply stuck to the most basic of boxing skills. Bivol jabbed, moved, held, countered, refused to panic and then jabbed some more. It was a flawless display from the Kyrgyzstan-born Russian.
Bivol is the WBA world light heavyweight champion, he was unbeaten in 19 fights, a product of the ancient Soviet system and he simply refused to be shaken from his strategy; Bivol remained calm in every round as Canelo failed to change the fight or the pace. Canelo started to feel sorry for himself from about round seven and was breathing heavy from about round ten. Bivol was too big and smart and Canelo knew it.
Canelo came to the ring looking like a man with a burden on his shoulders and fought like a mystery man at times; the Mexican idol was uncertain, short with punches and then faded as the fight progressed.
Canelo has been behind in big fights before and done enough in the later rounds or found the punches to finish the fight. It is part of Canelo’s attraction to him, his ability to save fights and deliver the ending the fans adore. In Las Vegas, his fighting home, there was something missing from the very start. Bivol, by the way, did his best with the smartest of performances.
“I believed I could do it,” said Bivol. “I kept the dream. I had the plan.”
Canelo was marked, grazed and flat at the end. He looked resigned to the final result, long before the last bell and the scores were announced. Canelo tried to raise his hand, tried to look like the champion he has been.
The scores were all 115-113 in Bivol’s favour, which means he won seven of the 12 rounds.
“Do not excuse, I lost today and he won. That is boxing,” said Canelo at the end. He still sounded a bit breathless.
There will be a rematch, don’t worry.
“This doesn’t end like this,” warned Canelo.
Bivol just smiled: “Very much good,” he said.
The fight will be on and there will be a different Canelo, but there will also be a far more confident Bivol.
Bivol used his simple jab in every round; it created the space, kept the pace and just kept Canelo thinking. It was that easy at times. Sure, Canelo mixed his attacks, went for the arms, the chest, but Bivol never rushed his work. There was no panic in the Las Vegas ring, but there should have been from Canelo after about round six or seven. Canelo fought like a man who had been told to be patient and that victory would be his in the later rounds or courtesy of the judges. It has happened before, but not this time.
There were a lot of close rounds, rounds when Bivol’s jab could be ignored and the few body punches or wide hooks from Canelo, caught the eye of the three judges at ringside. That’s me being kind, by the way. However, beyond the tiny celebration that the right man did get the decision, there remains the fact that Bivol had not won the last round, he would have finished the fight with a draw – that would have been a heist. Sure, there was a bit of judging justice in Las Vegas late on Saturday night, but it was still too close for comfort. Bivol looked to have won eight of the twelve rounds and perhaps a couple more. Canelo knew it.
It is far from the end for Canelo, who is still only 31. It is only the second time in 61 fights that he has lost. His career began in the saw-dust pits of Mexican boxing when he was just a kid of fifteen; a kid fighting for pesos in 2005 and now he rules the business. The loss will not hurt his earning from him or his drawing power from him. He has been paid fortunes for his fights, run the sport and delivered for a long, long time. He has beaten four unbeaten champions in his last five fights. The facts and figures make him a living and breathing boxing legend. He has won world titles at four weights, regularly receives 35-million-dollars for fights, beaten the very best and on Saturday night he met a man who refused to be part of the Canelo story.
There was a pure boxing match in Las Vegas on Saturday night and the right man won; the loser is the story and the rematch is inevitable. What a sequence: Tyson Fury v Dillian Whyte, Katie Taylor v Amanda Serrano and now Canelo is toppled in Las Vegas by Bivol in a fight to restore faith in a city where men are too often broken in the boxing ring.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.