Dmitry Bivol follows up his unexpected, brilliant, win over Saul Alvarez in May by travelling to Dubai for a showdown against another high-profile Mexican, unbeaten Gilberto ‘Zurdo’ Ramirez. Ramirez hasn’t fought anyone in nearly this class before, but then, the same could be said of Bivol when he stepped up in May, so this looks to be an interesting test for both men.
The fight will air on DAZN in the US and Europe, with the card starting at 1.30 p.m.ET.
Bivol is, of course, on a high right now. He was champion already when he fought Canelo, but he went overnight from ‘beltholder’, proven but not proven so to speak, to the man in the division, the one with a target on his back. He also went from someone seen as solid-but-unspectacular to proving himself a masterful boxer, with a set of skills he’d mostly just been hiding till he needed it.
First to step up to the plate is Zurdo Ramirez, a 31-year-old Mexican who’s fun to watch and comes with an impressive looking 44-0 record but has been pretty much marking time waiting for the big fight for years. His resume’s not terrible, he’s fought some solid opponents and even when keeping busy rarely takes complete mismatches, which some of his contemporaries are guilty of. But there’s a decent argument to make that the last time he fought someone genuinely proven at world level without being well past his best was Arthur Abraham, six years ago and a division below. And even Abraham was 36 at the time. There’s definitely been a sense of keeping his powder dry and his 0 safe for the big cash-in. Canelo never materialized for him, but if he can beat Bivol he definitely strengthens both his case for getting that fight someday and his overall future paydays, so here we go.
Previous to the Canelo fight, Bivol had built a reputation as a tag-and-move fighter, winning fights by catching his opponent with jabs and short combinations before escaping to safety, without much engagement in close. His plan to beat Canelo was a lot more complicated, and did involve close-up work... but it did ultimately rest on the same basic principle, which is to not let an opponent settle into a position where they’re comfortable throwing. He did push and press Canelo, but he made sure to pick the right moment.
We won’t break that performance down in depth here, but a key thing to learn about Bivol’s game from it: typically, when analysts and pundits speak of ‘timing’ in boxing, what is usually being referred to is the split-second, knowing the exact moment to throw or move for the most effect with least danger. Bivol is good at that, which we knew already, but so is Canelo; what won the Russian that fight was knowing when to engage in a broader sense. He’d keep his opponent off-balance by pushing forward when Canelo was trying to disengage, pushing through and forcing him back. The moment Canelo did get his feet set correctly, Bivol would disengage and be gone, leading the chase. The Mexican great had made his career by making himself a fighter always in control of his own position, and Bivol just never let him have that. Essentially, his game rests on throwing only when his opponent doesn’t really want to, and making sure that that is as much of the fight as possible.
Zurdo, by contrast, isn’t seeking to dissuade his opponents from throwing at all. That isn’t to say he’s a pure slugger, content to win by attrition, but the situations he chases are ones in which his opponent will have every opportunity to throw back. Essentially, the difference between them is Bivol will try to stack exchanges in his favour before they start whereas Zurdo will just force any exchange that he can and aim to win it with his power and accuracy.
That’s probably a sensible thing for him to do, because the smoothness of his combination punching is, to date, by far the best part of his game. His footwork isn’t bad, but it’s pretty straight-lined which means his opponents have opportunities to slip out when defending, and don’t have to chase especially hard if they do manage to push him back. His jab is okay, it does what he wants it to do- keep opponents busy while he closes up - but it isn’t going to win any competitions. And defensively, he knows how to cover up when he really needs to, but mostly he relies on distance and balance, trying to lean back just enough in between his own punches that his opponents fall short - which he’s quite good at but doesn’t always work.
The shape of the fight, then, will come down to whether Bivol can either keep Zurdo off-balance consistently, or just keep him at arm’s reach if he can’t. From what we’ve seen so far, he definitely has the bigger overall bag of skills, but there is a key difference from that Canelo victory: Ramirez is notably bigger than he is, which will make managing that distance a whole different ball game, and also means the shoving matches Bivol was winning in that fight won’t be as easy here. If Zurdo can polish up his footwork to keep himself in mid-range for just long enough, he’s excellent at throwing combinations from there, and will give Bivol problems. You’d still have to favour the Russian. Partly because all that time spent not really testing himself might have hindered Zurdo’s own development, and partly because he just has a lot more routes to victory- including, though hopefully it won’t come to it, simply jabbing and moving his way to a decision- but he’s likely to be in for a tricky night.
What’s on the undercard?
Two fights of note here. Firstly, a women’s super-lightweight title fight as America’s Jessica McCaskill and Britain’s Chantelle Cameron seek to unify the division with four belts on the line (well, five if you count the IBO). Neither woman has quite the prestige of Katie Taylor or Claressa Shields, but McCaskill did give Taylor a good fight in their contest a few years ago, and Cameron will be hoping to launch herself into that kind of competition with a win here. It’s the sort of good solid world-level matchup women’s boxing urgently needs to see more of- and, of course, unifying a division is always fun0 and as both women are down for a scrap it should be entertaining.
The other major fight is a scrap for the vacant men’s IBF world superfeatherweight title, between Shavkatzdhon Rakhimov and Zelfa Barrett. Realistically Rakhimov should show a level above here, but Barrett is skilled and tough and won’t be there to lie down.
Past that, we see Olympic gold medalist Galal Yafai making the step to ten-rounders in his third pro fight, his brother Khalid returning after nearly three years out following a loss to the great Roman Gonzalez, and a number of prospects, including Campbell Hatton (son of Ricky), and several local UAE fighters in the showcase opportunity of their lives.
- Dmitry Bivol (174.7 lbs) vs. Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez (174.6 lbs)
- Chantelle Cameron (139.6) vs. Jessica McCaskill (139.4 lbs)
- Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov (130 lbs) vs. Zelfa Barrett (130 lbs)
- Galal Yafai (111.9 lbs) vs. Gohan Rodriguez Garcia (111 lbs)
- Khalid Yafai (120.7 lbs) vs. Jerald Paclar (117.6 lbs)
- Sultan Al Nuaimi (117.9 lbs) vs. Sohaib Haque (117.9 lbs)
- Aqib Fiaz (135.1 lbs) vs. Diego Valiterra (132.2 lbs)
- Campbell Hatton (139.4 lbs) vs. Denis Bartos (137.6 lbs)
- Fahad Al Bloushi (134 lbs) vs. Giorgi Gotchoshvili (134.6 lbs)
- Majid Al Naqbi (137.7 lbs) vs. John Lawrence Ordonio (138.9 lbs)