By Keith Idec
Dmitry Bivol initially considered Sullivan Barrera’s choice between opponents as a slight against him.
When the unbeaten WBA light heavyweight champion first learned Barrera opted to fight him instead of Sergey Kovalev on March 3, Bivol believed Barrera determined he would be easier to beat than Kovalev. Now that Kyrgyzstan’s Bivol has heard Barrera’s explanation from the challenger himself, the defending champion has a better understanding of Barrera’s decision.
Barrera (21-1, 14 KOs), the mandatory challenger for Bivol’s title, reiterated during a recent conference call that he wasn’t satisfied with the purse promoter Main Events offered him to challenge Kovalev. The Cuban contender claims it was less than what he was offered to fight Russia’s Kovalev on November 25.
Barrera turned down that first offer because at the time it was presented, a light heavyweight title wouldn’t have been at stake in that bout. The WBO later sanctioned Kovalev’s eventual second-round stoppage of Ukraine’s Vyacheslav Shabranskyy as a fight for its 175-pound championship, a crown Andre Ward gave up when he retired in September.
Regardless, Barrera will make less money for boxing Bivol (12-0, 10 KOs) in the opener of HBO’s doubleheader from The Theater at Madison Square Garden than he would’ve earned for facing Kovalev in the main event March 3.
“At first, those were the thoughts that I might have had, that maybe [Barrera thought] I was a weaker opponent,” Bivol said through a translator. “But now that Sullivan has stated that it's because of the money, I understand that maybe Sullivan is correct, he just did it because of the money. So he might think that I’m weaker, but I don't necessarily have a reason to not believe Sullivan.”
Kovalev (31-2-1, 27 KOs) will face fellow Russian Igor Mikhalkin (21-1, 9 KOs), the IBO champion, in the main event a week from Saturday night.
The battle-tested Barrera figures to be the toughest opponent of Bivol’s brief but successful pro career.
Ward (32-0, 16 KOs) is the only opponent to beat Barrera. Since Ward out-pointed him in their March 2016 title bout, Barrera has defeated light heavyweight contenders Joe Smith Jr. (23-2, 19 KOs) and Shabranskyy (19-2, 16 KOs), as well as former WBA interim champion Felix Valera (15-2, 13 KOs).
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.