On the eve of Russia’s May 9 Victory Day—a holiday that commemorates the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in 1945—unbeaten Russian champion Dmitry Bivol outclassed undisputed super middleweight titleholder Saul Canelo Alvarez to earn a unanimous decision victory at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Although labeled an upset win, all three judges scored the fight 115-113 for Bivol, further emphasizing his dominance over the pound-for-pound boxing kingpin. However, his win has been co-opted by Russian officials looking to derive benefit from the fighter’s victory.
Tatyana Kiriyenko, secretary general of the Russian Boxing Federation called Bivol the “pride of Russian boxing,” adding that she is “overwhelmed with joy and pride.”
“My sincere congratulations to Dmitry Bivol and his team,” Kiriyenko said. “I just want to thank Dima for this fantastic performance and adhered to the plan with discipline…Our entire boxing community congratulates our award-winning athlete on this success.”
Kiriyenko went on to reveal that the “Russian Boxing Federation will definitely meet our champion upon arrival [in Russia] and separately celebrate Dmitry. Bivol confirmed to the whole world today strength of Russian boxing.”
The RBF’s response to Bivol’s victory emphasizes how an athlete’s success can be weaponized as state propaganda. This is especially true in the wake of Russia’s war in Ukraine, which transformed the country into a sports pariah. Russia’s national and club soccer teams have been banned from international competition, including the 2022 World Cup qualifiers. UEFA also canceled its $45 million a year sponsorship deal with Gazprom, and moved the Champions League Final, which was due to play in Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg, to Paris.
However, most Russian professional athletes have been allowed to compete in various sports without any national identifying markers. Bivol, for example, was banned from walking out with the Russian flag or playing his country’s national anthem. He was also announced as a fighter training out of California, rather than St. Petersburg or Kyrgyzstan, where he was born.
Despite the limitations placed on Russian athletes, Ukraine’s former world heavyweight and Olympic champion Wladimir Klitschko opposed the decision to allow Bivol to challenge Alvarez and called for Russian boxers to be banned from competing at all levels.