Oscar De La Hoya believes Dmitry Bivol is part of a highly rarefied group of fighters.

The Golden Boy head couldn’t help but be impressed with Bivol after the Russian champion dominated his charge, Gilberto ‘Zurdo’ Ramirez, over 12 rounds to win a unanimous decision in their light heavyweight title bout in November in Abu Dhabi.

The win followed on the heels of Bivol’s banner victory over Canelo Alvarez in May. Bivol won that, too, via unanimous decision in a 175-pound title contest.

“He’s special, yeah, he’s special,” De La Hoya said of Bivol in a recent interview with FightHype.com.

De La Hoya thinks Ramirez “froze” in their fight, and that the pressure of the moment possibly made the former 168-pound titlist more timid than usual. Indeed, despite appearing to be the bigger fighter and having a reputation for breaking down his opponents, Ramirez often found himself on the back foot, with the quicker Bivol pressing the action.

“I think what happened was that Zurdo … I think it was a big moment, on the big stage, against a great fighter,” De La Hoya continued. “Possibly froze in the fight.

“But Bivol, hands down to him. He’s gotta be one of the best fighters out there, pound for pound.”

Bivol, who is promoted by World of Boxing and Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom, is expected to return to the ring in the spring but it is not clear who his opponent will be. Alvarez has insisted that he wants another crack at Bivol, but that match-up, if it gets made, likely will not take place until late 2023, as Alvarez recently underwent surgery on his left wrist. The Mexican superstar and undisputed 168-pound champion is expected to fight in a tune-up bout in the spring.

Bivol, on the other hand, has repeatedly made it clear that an Alvarez rematch is not high on his list of priorities. Bivol said he would much rather fight the winner of the WBO, WBC, and IBF 175-pound title bout between champion Artur Beterbiev and Anthony Yarde, which is slated for Jan. 28 in London.