Dmitry Bivol made a successful seventh defense of his WBA light-heavyweight title but did nothing to greatly boost his reputation as he was taken the distance by Craig Richards in Manchester.
The Russian claimed a unanimous decision and two of the judges scores were probably generous to the Londoner, but this was risk-free stuff from Bivol, who had gone the full 12 rounds in his previous four defenses.
Bivol was giving height to Richards, but was content to back himself to outjab the Londoner, while staying behind a high guard. The off-shoot of this was that, having built a big early lead, by not going through the gears, Richards was encouraged to stand and trade with Bivol and he finished well.
The Polish judge, Grzegorz Molenda, had it wide to Bivol – 118-110 - while Steve Gray and Yury Koptsev, of Russia, had it close – 115-114 and 115-113 respectively. Richards looked disappointed at the decision, but Bivol was a worthy winner.
“The fight was really tough for me because he was a smart boxer,” Bivol said. “But after 1½ years rest, I think it was OK, a normal performance for me.”
Bivol was just content to use his jab in the first two rounds. In the third round, Richards got through with a right hook, which spurred Bivol into action, as he opened up on Richards in the corner, although Richards defended well.
For the fourth and fifth rounds, Bivol was happy just to stick behind the jab and try to break Richards down. Another right got through by Richards in the fifth as he tried to put some pressure on the champion and in the sixth, he got through with two decent rights and managed to subdue the champion.
There was some more ambition from Bivol in the seventh, as he began to put his punches together, catching Richards clean with two one-twos and then went through the gears in the eighth, using the right more and driving Richards backwards, while taking the majority Richards’s shots on his guard.
Richards did better in the ninth, as he managed to get Bivol to trade and got through to the body and in the tenth, he landed his best punch to date, an overhand right to force Bivol to go on the defensive. He had another good round in the eleventh and the final round was close too, as Richards went for broke and Bivol countered well.
Afterwards, Bivol expressed an interest in fighting fellow Russian Artur Beterbiev, the WBC and IBF champion, and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. “It doesn’t matter who comes first, I am open to everyone,” he said.
The referee was Howard Foster.