It sounds like a regular line, almost a throwaway, but it’s not.

When light-heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol says, “Boxing is not only about hitting, it’s about defence, too,” he means it, and our conversation takes an immediate turn.

Instead of discussing the merits of his next challenger, Gilberto ‘Zurdo’ Ramirez, we talk of the dangers of Bivol’s profession. Bivol segues comfortably and openly into these choppy territories because it’s a side of the sport he won’t deny. More to the point, the dangers of boxing and the damage it entails is something he often thinks about.

“Yes, of course,” Bivol admits. “I know you can get damage. I had a couple of friends… one was an amateur boxer, a national amateur, who died from boxing and I had a friend, Maxim Dadashev… I knew him since I was a kid. He’s dead from fighting, because he got a lot of damage.”

Popular Russian super-lightweight Dadashev passed away from his injuries after the first loss of his pro career, to Subriel Matias, in 2019.

But it wasn’t just through loss that Bivol was aware of the dangers, it was from his start in the sport.

“When my father brought be to the boxing gym, every time I sparred against someone or I was in a competition he told me, ‘If you take too many punches, I will throw in the towel. Even if you’re winning the fight,’” Bivol adds. “I don’t need my son to take a lot of punches. It’s not healthy.” 

By now, Bivol had started talking about his wife and two boys. He’s thought about his children boxing, and considered whether he wants them to or not. Rather than ruling it out, he pauses and says: “To be honest, if they fight like [Floyd] Mayweather, I will be glad. If they fight like Arturo Gatti, please no. I respect Arturo Gatti, he’s a legend, but not many people can fight like him and be healthy.”

Bivol goes out of his way to pay homage to Gatti. He’s not trying to detract from what Gatti did or who he was as a fighter, but he’s aware of the threat of damage – both long and short term.

That plays a part in how he fights and the type of boxer he has become. Bivol is 20-0 (11) and coming off the the win of his career, over Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez. He’s 31 and one of the hottest properties in boxing, but rather than talking about fame, glory or even the Canelo fight, we talk about boxing’s risks a little more, which brings us to the fans’ love of a war.

“You can make a good fight and not get punches on your head, too,” Bivol reasoned. “You can. Maybe it’s harder than [to] forget about everything, and listening to your emotions and just fighting, but thinking about defence, thinking about how not to get hit and land your punches is hard work.” 

Ultimately, Bivol’s hard work to this point will count for little if he comes unstuck against former super-middleweight champion Ramirez. Bivol said he’s feeling great, that he’s looking forward to the challenge and that he’s happy to be fighting in Abu Dhabi on November 5.

Asked how life has changed since he won boxing’s lottery against Canelo, the understated and modest Bivol replies, “It changed a little bit. I got this fight and it’s a good deal, and a lot of people recognise me on the street. I’ve not changed. People change, how they treat me.”

It’s not fame Bivol wants, though, it’s respect for how he goes about his business in the ring that he craves. 

“Of course, I like it that people recognise me not just as a person from somewhere, they recognise me as a good boxer,” he explains. “I want to get the respect. I don’t just want to be famous. I want to do my job and for people to respect me for that. That makes me happy.”

And they do. Bivol’s victory over Canelo was so commanding there was little interest in a rematch. Instead, fight fans dreamed of Bivol being matched with another top light-heavyweight in Artur Beterbiev,

“This is a fight that makes me excited,” Bivol confesses. “This is a fight for belts and that’s what I want. It’s nothing against Beterbiev [personally], it’s not about only him, it’s for his belts. I have a goal to be undisputed champion and I still have this goal. I know him personally. When I was an amateur boxer in the national team, we were on the same side but he was there earlier than me. We were there together a couple of years and then he left. We are not friends; we just know each other.”

And Bivol said they shared a ring, but it was merely moving around with one another; not something you could refer to as sparring.

“We were together in the ring but I can’t say it was sparring because we were in different weight classes; he was cruiserweight, I was middleweight,” Bivol recalled. “Maybe three or two times we trained together but it wasn’t [full] sparring.”

But first things first and 44-0 Ramirez is determined to jump to the head of the 175lbs queue with a victory over Bivol. The WBA champion is typically respectful of the Mexican southpaw champion.

“He’s a good fighter because he has 44 victories in 44 fights, he has good body punches, he makes the weight well, he’s confident,” Bivol said. “I think, first of all, it will be a great fight because we both want to win. We both don’t know what losing is, and when people are well matched it’s an amazing fight. I wanted to fight him maybe three or four years ago and I said to my team, ‘Let’s make this fight.’ First of all, he was a champion at super-middleweight… I wanted to fight against another champion, then he has zero losses, it’s a good challenge for me.”

The good news for Bivol fans is he doesn’t feel as though he’s scratched the surface of what he can achieve. The bad news for Ramirez is Bivol wants to go far beyond victory over him next week.

“What do I want to achieve?” Bivol asked rhetorically. “First of all, I want to realise my potential and the potential inside of me. I feel there is still more to be realised. Second, of course, I want more belts. I want to make history and I want to be remembered in boxing as a good boxer, as a smart boxer and I want to introduce as many people as I can to boxing, because sometimes people see fights and they want to do the same thing. They want to take their kids to the gyms and do the same things.” 

Which not only brings us back to the bigger picture, to damage and everything else we have discussed, but to his motivation. Because before he is a champion, a fighter and an opponent, he is a father first, and that is the job he treasures most.

“I have a family, I have a wife, two kids, two boys, and of course my work, my training and my boxing helps my family, too,” Bivol concluded. “I earn money. I can spend it on my family. I can spend it on education for my kids and for the future for my family. My boxing helps me to show my kids how to achieve something.”

And that means he sees it as a risk worth taking.