By Keith Idec
Dmitry Bivol is much more familiar with Igor Mikhalkin than the vast majority of fans and reporters wondering why they should believe Mikhalkin has any shot whatsoever at upsetting Sergey Kovalev.
Based on what he has heard and read, Bivol is convinced people are underestimating Mikhalkin as his fight against Kovalev nears. Kovalev (31-2-1, 27 KOs), the WBO light heavyweight champion, is about a 20-1 favorite over Mikhalkin (21-1, 9 KOs), a fellow Russian who owns the IBO 175-pound championship, in their 12-round match March 3 in The Theater at Madison Square Garden.
Kyrgyzstan’s Bivol (12-0) will defend his WBA light heavyweight title against Cuba’s Sullivan Barrera (21-1, 14 KOs) in the opener of HBO’s “World Championship Boxing” doubleheader March 3.
“Obviously, Kovalev is the favorite in the fight,” Bivol said Wednesday during an open workout in Norwalk, California. “But I do think people are underestimating Mikhalkin. He’s not an easy fighter. He's not an easy opponent.”
The 32-year-old Mikhalkin has won 10 straight fights since he lost a 10-round unanimous decision to Poland’s Aleksy Kuziemski (23-5, 7 KOs) in May 2010. He’ll make the second defense of the IBO title he won by topping previously unbeaten South African Thomas Oosthuizen (27-1-2, 16 KOs) by unanimous decision May 19 in Hamburg, Germany.
As for his own bout, Bivol realizes Barrera is more accomplished than any of his first 12 professional opponents. He is still roughly a 5-1 favorite over the mandatory challenger for his WBA 175-pound title.
“I want to fight with the best guys,” Bivol said. “Barrera accepted our challenge. I’m glad he did.”
If the hard-hitting Bivol can beat Barrera, the emerging champion will pursue title unification fights against the Kovalev-Mikhalkin winner and another Russian knockout artist, IBF champ Artur Beterbiev (12-0, 12 KOs). Bivol will try to remain patient if those meaningful fights don’t materialize immediately.
“Any good fighter probably has difficulties with getting guys in the ring, fighting the right guys,” Bivol said. “But my job is to train and I believe, I really believe, that my team is going to be able to come together and make things happen. I know they can.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.