Last year's surprising retirement announcement by three-belt champion Andre Ward has resulted in a shakeup in the light heavyweight division. While Adonis Stevenson remains the WBC title holder, the vacancies created by Ward have now been filled: Sergey Kovalev, who Ward defeated twice, is the WBO titleist thanks to his two-round destruction of Vyacheslav Shabranskyy while Artur Beterbiev, the other half of the Beterbiev-Kovalev hate-fest, is the IBF belt-holder. But it is WBA titlist Dmitry Bivol who may end up being the best of the bunch, and that opinion gained credibility thanks to his one-punch, one-round knockout of Australian Trent Broadhurst in Monaco last November.
That said, observers should find out much more about Bivol's true ability when he faces Sullivan Barrera, who has bounced back nicely since his own defeat to Ward in March 2016. He has won four straight against Shabranskyy (KO 7), Paul Parker (KO 5), Joe Smith Jr. (W 10) and Felix Valera (W 10), though he suffered first-round knockdowns against Smith and Valera. Will his tendency to be involved in messy, foul-filled fights ruin Bivol's timing or will Bivol prove against Barrera that his time has come?
Bivol's Bash Boulevard
Through 12 pro fights, Bivol has been utterly dominant. In seven CompuBox-tracked fights he has thrown more (59.6 per round vs. 48.9), landed more (18.3 vs. 5.3 overall, 7.3 vs. 1.5 jabs and 11 vs. 3.8 power) and connected far more accurately in all phases (31%-11% overall, 22%-6% jabs, 41%-15% power). Better yet for Bivol, this level of command has continued as he raised his level of competition. In his last four fights, he faced foes with a combined record of 97-11-1, which represents a .890 winning percentage, but in those bouts his numerical gaps are still large (17.6 total connects per round vs. 5.0, 5.5 landed jabs per round vs. 1.7 and 12.1 power connects per round vs. 3.3 as well as accuracy gulfs of 31%-17% overall, 19%-12% jabs and 45%-21% power).
In those fights he produced balanced offense (29.2 jabs per round, 26.9 power attempts per round) and dynamic bursts of power as he scored knockouts in all four bouts, three of which occurred in round four while the other, his most recent bout against Broadhurst, went one round. In that fight Bivol defended his newly-bestowed WBA title by scoring two knockdowns, the last of which was a counter right to the jaw that left the Aussie unconscious. For the record, Bivol led 12-3 overall, 6-1 jabs and 6-2 power as well as 34%-9% overall, 27%-4% jabs and 46%-22% power. The first round went the entire three minutes, so it's noteworthy to mention Bivol and Broadhurst each threw 35 punches.
As previously mentioned, Barrera has revived his career by winning four straight since the loss to Ward, and, like Bivol, he has dominated statistically. He attempted nearly nine more punches per round (54.4 vs. 45.7), jabbed far better (5.4 connects per round to 2.5), doubled his foes' power connects per round (13.7 vs. 6.8) and connected at a higher rate in all phases (35%-20% overall, 24%-12% jabs, 43%-27% power).
In his most recent fight against Felix Valera (a common opponent with Bivol), the numbers were far closer as Barrera led 144-119 overall, 25-24 jabs and 119-95 power as well as 25.9%-25.4% overall and 38%-30% power (Valera led 16%-10% in jab accuracy). Conversely, Bivol won a convincing decision over Valera in May 2016 as he scored two official knockdowns in rounds six (a slip) and eight (a legitimate knockdown) and successfully dealt with Valera's spoiling tactics. Bivol led 134-73 overall, 53-13 jabs and 81-60 power as well as 23%-14% overall, 19%-8% jabs and 27%-17% power.
Spectacular numbers? No. But he fought well enough to win 119-107 on two scorecards and 116-111 on the third.
Inside The Numbers
Bivol is not just a banger, as he landed 5.5 jabs per round and 45% of his power punches in his last four fights. Like Kovalev, his offense is his defense, as overmatched opponents landed just five punches per round and just 3.3 power shots per round. Barrera (last five fights) has faced the better opposition and opponents landed 30.6% of their power shots.
Barrera is the best opponent Bivol has faced as a pro, especially since he shares a deep amateur pedigree and has shown resiliency. Bivol, however, is more than eight years younger and has demonstrated enough one-punch power to floor just about anyone, especially a 36-year-old who has suffered first-round knockdowns in his last two bouts. But while Joe Smith Jr. and Valera failed to finish the job, Bivol will, probably in the middle to later stages.