By Jake Donovan
All within the last 24 hours, Dmitry Bivol’s debut on DAZN has landed a chief supporting bout and—most importantly—a home.
The unbeaten 28-year old from Russia will next defend his light heavyweight title versus Joe Smith Jr. in a March 9 bout that will mark his first on DAZN, with whom he signed an exclusive deal. The bout will take place at the Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, New York.
Eddie Hearn, the primary boxing content provider for DAZN, revealed the location during a press conference held Friday in New York City, where he is promoting a live card.
“It’s been a huge week for DAZN, of course with the big news break of Canelo Alvarez and Danny Jacobs on May 4 for all of their middleweight titles,” Hearn noted, clearly hyping up DAZN’s recent schedule additions. “Now we have more big news to share, which is why we are here today.”
Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing is now one of the many entities involved in the career of Bivol (15-0, 11KOs), who has quickly made a name for himself as among the best light heavyweights in the world.
His decision to sign with DAZN, however, left many boxing experts a bit stumped considering the wealth of divisional talent resides largely on ESPN and—via Premier Boxing Champions (PBC)—Showtime and Fox.
The driving force behind Bivol’s pro career helped clear the air.
“This is our first time working with DAZN, working together and beginning to build a relationship,” explained Vadim Kornilov, Bivol’s manager. “This first fight is a big step toward that.
“We were talking to all of the networks, but to be part of a team is very important. It started with World of Boxing (in Russia, then we came to work with Kathy Duva in the United States. Now it’s Matchroom (part of the team) who worked with Dmitry in Monaco.”
Kornilov teased that several of his other rising prospects—including highly touted heavyweight Sergey Kuzmin (14-0, 11KOs) could wind up on the undercard.
One fight that is in fact confirmed—in fact, first reported by BoxingScene.com on Thursday—is the show’s co-feature attraction. Unbeaten super lightweight titlist Maurice Hooker once again hits the road for a title defense, as the Dallas native heads to upstate New York to face undefeated Mikkle LesPellier (20-0-1, 9KOs).
Hooker will make the second defense of the title he won via 12-round decision over Terry Flanagan last June in his opponent’s native England. The big win was part of a breakout 2018 campaign which saw him close with an off-the-canvas 7th round knockout of Alex Saucedo, last November in his challenger’s Oklahoma City hometown.
“’Mighty Mo’ is responsible for one of the greatest moments of my boxing life,” Hearn explained of Hooker’s most recent win. “We drove up from Kansas (where Hearn was promoting a show on DAZN the following evening) to Oklahoma—and no disrespect to Alex Saucedo—but to kick Alex Saucedo’s bout.
“We lost the purse bid for that fight, we (at Matchroom) were gutted—but I was pleased for Maurice who made a fortune. He won two huge fights on the road and now fights in New York versus (LesPellier, from Brooklyn). He’s destined for a huge breakout run in 2019.”
All four fighters involved at the top of the bill will fight on DAZN for the first time. Hooker’s aforementioned win over Alex Saucedo aired live on ESPN, while LesPellier has yet to appear on any network or major streaming platform ahead of his first world title fight.
Bivol came to the sports streaming service upon HBO—his former network home—bowing out of the boxing business after a 45-year run. He appeared in the cable giant’s final World Championship Boxing telecast, outpointing Jean Pascal last November in Atlantic City.
Smith (24-2, 20KOs) makes his debut both on DAZN and on the title stage. The 29-year old from eastern Long Island, New York has seen his career stall after twice failing to get unbeaten light heavyweight titlist Artur Beterbiev in the ring.
The pair of stalled talks left the working class contender with just one round of work since a July ’17 loss to Sullivan Barrera. Smith knocked out Melvin Russell in one round last June following an 11-month break from the ring after suffering a broken jaw sustained in the aforementioned HBO-televised clash with Barrrera.
That bout came following a memorable 2016 ring campaign which saw Smith score knockout wins over then-Top 5 contender Andrzej Fonfara and future Hall of Fame legend Bernard Hopkins, who retired following his 8th round knockout loss in Dec. ’16.