By Keith Idec
Dmitry Bivol was pleasantly surprised when he learned Sullivan Barrera chose to fight him March 3 in New York.
Bivol believed Barrera would instead opt to challenge WBO light heavyweight champ Sergey Kovalev in the main event that night. Facing the better-known Kovalev would’ve earned Barrera more money, as well as the title shot the Cuban contender will get against Bivol (12-0, 10 KOs), the WBA champion.
“From the beginning, I thought that Barrera would choose Kovalev for the fight,” Bivol told BoxingScene.com. “But I hoped at the end he would choose me. He chose me and I’m glad that happened.”
Barrera (21-1, 14 KOs) and his handlers informed his promoter, Kathy Duva, he wanted to box Bivol because he is confident he can win, which would make a title unification fight against Kovalev worth more money.
“I think he thought that I’m easier for him, maybe, than Sergey Kovalev,” Bivol said. “It may be that. I think he made a mistake.”
The heavy-handed Bivol, 27, is a rising star in the light heavyweight division, but the Kyrgyzstan native hasn’t fought an opponent as good or tested as Barrera since he turned pro three years ago.
Barrera’s lone loss came against retired former champion Andre Ward (32-0, 16 KOs). Within the past year, Barrera has beaten light heavyweight contenders Joe Smith Jr. (23-2, 19 KOs) and Vyacheslav Shabranskyy (19-2, 16 KOs), and former WBA interim champion Felix Valera (15-2, 13 KOs).
“He is no doubt the best fighter I’ve fought,” Bivol said. “I’ll get more credit for beating Barrera. More fans will think that I can be the best in the light heavyweight division.”
HBO will televise Bivol-Barrera as the opener of a “World Championship Boxing” doubleheader from The Theater at Madison Square Garden. In the main event March 3, Kovalev (31-2-1, 27 KOs) will square off against onetime Russian amateur teammate Igor Mikhalkin (21-1, 9 KOs), a southpaw who owns the IBO 175-pound championship.
Bivol hopes to fight Kovalev later this year, yet realizes he’ll encounter a formidable obstacle in Barrera.
“He’s from Cuba,” Bivol said. “Guys from Cuba are very technical guys. He’s strong, he’s tall, he has good experience and he’s very technical. Overall, I think he is a good fighter. I think that maybe he doesn’t have much speed, but he replaces it with power. He has a strong punch.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.