Dmitry Bivol fights Lyndon Arthur, with an eye on Artur Beterbiev

Boxing

Dmitry Bivol insists he is just as motivated for Saturday’s title fight against Lyndon Arthur as he was before his previous two bouts — brilliant wins over Canelo Alvarez and Gilberto Ramirez.

Bivol (21-0, 11 KOs), ESPN’s No. 1 light heavyweight and No. 5 pound-for-pound fighter, defends his WBA title for the 11th time against Arthur as part of the marathon card at the Kingdom Arena in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (11 a.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV)

Arthur (23-1, 16 KOs), 32, from Manchester, will be in his first world title opportunity and has only lost once. That said, he does not bring the same threat level as Alvarez, the reigning undisputed super middleweight champion, and Ramirez, a former super middleweight world champion. Bivol beat Canelo and Ramirez by unanimous decisions in May and December 2022, respectively.

However, Bivol is not taking Arthur for granted, and says he is still laser focused so as not to disrupt his progression toward a clash with rival Russian Artur Beterbiev (19-0, 19 KOs), who holds the WBC, IBF and WBO belts. Beterbiev defends his titles against Callum Smith in Canada on Jan. 13.

“I saw Arthur’s fights versus Anthony Yarde and saw his last fight versus [Braian] Suarez,” Bivol told ESPN. “I could tell he uses his jab and tries to counterpunch with his right hand. Counterpunchers are dangerous because you don’t see the punches, so I have to be very careful against him. I need to be focused all fight, and treat him seriously.

“I think that when we signed the contract to fight Arthur, Saudi Arabia said it wanted to see my future fight with Beterbiev there. I believe it can happen. I have to win this fight to keep moving forward to my goal of becoming undisputed world champion.”

Bivol is a clean, classic boxer who dismantles and outmaneuvers opponents with his jab, while Beterbiev relies on his power to take out every professional opponent he has met. Bivol vs. Beterbiev to decide a light heavyweight undisputed champion is one of the best fights to be made in boxing today, and Bivol believes it is achievable for 2024.

After a breakout 2022, Bivol will be boxing for the first time this year on Saturday. His ring absence has been due to scheduling and recovering from hand surgery.

“We were discussing my fight in January in the U.S., but we didn’t find the right opponent and then I needed surgery on an old injury to my right hand. But then the chance to fight in Saudi came up,” Bivol told ESPN.

The Dec. 23 show was quickly finalized last month, so much so that Bivol wasn’t able to train in California, as he typically would.

“I was training in Kyrgyzstan before I knew I was going to be fighting in Saudi in December,” Bivol told ESPN. “The fight got made at short notice and I didn’t have enough time to go to the U.S. to train before the fight, get over the jet lag, and then fly back this way to Saudi.

“I’ve been training in the city and sometimes at the weekend I went to the mountains for the clean air. Most of the time I train in Kyrgyzstan, I spent most of the last year there.”

Temperatures in Bishkek were minus 20 degree Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit) earlier this month, very different to what Bivol is experiencing in the Saudi desert this week after a 6½ hour flight from Kyrgyzstan. Bivol moved to St. Petersburg, Russia, from Kyrgyzstan at age 11 and his family still lives in the Russian city. Bivol returns home often, especially when he is not training.

It has been a quiet year for Bivol, disappointing considering the impact he made in 2022, but Saturday is an opportunity to gain some attention ahead of potentially facing Beterbiev in the second half of next year.

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