Matchup: Dmitry Bivol vs Umar Salamov
The 30-year-old Bivol (18-0, 11 KO) has held a version of the WBA light heavyweight title since he beat Felix Valera in 2016, first the interim, then the “world,” but for once the WBA “world” was actually the top belt for most of his reign; Andre Ward had been the prior “super world” titlist for the WBA, and he didn’t fight again after his 2017 rematch win over Sergey Kovalev.
Bivol finally got bumped to “super world” status prior to his defense earlier this year against Craig Richards, a fight that two judges scored close and a third didn’t, which wasn’t really competitive but was a decent showing for Richards, much more than most expected from him. In reality, Bivol thought he had opened a big enough lead — and in my view, he had — that he could cruise down the stretch, which he did. He nicked it in the end. For what it’s worth, I had Bivol winning the first eight rounds of that fight and Richards the final four, because Bivol just didn’t do all that much, and Richards kept working hard to win the fight.
Bivol blamed rust, which is fair enough after a long layoff. He should be back to his normal sharp self if that was the case, which is good news for him but could lousy news for 27-year-old challenger Salamov — though that doesn’t mean Salamov should be completely disregarded here.
Salamov (26-1, 19 KO) is coming off of his own iffy performance, a split decision win over Sergei Ekimov in April, following his own long layoff. He’d managed to get into mandatory challenger position with the WBO, but has wound up doing this instead after an October date with Joe Smith Jr fell through.
Salamov isn’t a bad fighter, and at his best could be dangerous if Bivol gets lazy or complacent. But that’s not really Bivol’s M.O., either; at worst, he gets so comfortable in fights that he turns in performances that feel ordinary on the whole, and he doesn’t press for stoppages or highlight reel material. Once upon a time, HBO seemed to think they had a 175 lb Gennadiy Golovkin rising on their network. That has not turned out to be the case, but Bivol is still a very good boxer-puncher and a tough out for anyone.
Salamov, more likely than not, is going to have to do major damage and likely force a stoppage to win here. The odds are heavily against him out-boxing Bivol, and he hasn’t always shown the best defense, which could make him a sitting duck for Bivol’s consistency and accuracy.
This isn’t a one-fight show, as there are a couple of notable names in action otherwise.
At 154 lbs, Magomed Kurbanov (22-0, 13 KO) will put his undefeated record on the line against Patrick Teixeira (31-2, 22 KO), a former titleholder who usually makes for some good action. Kurbanov is coming off of a highly disputed win — in my view, a genuine robbery — over Liam Smith in May, and will look to do something a bit more convincing here. Teixeira lost the WBO belt (he’d won the interim title in 2019 and been bumped up when Jaime Munguia moved to middleweight) to Brian Castano in February, a clear decision where he was out of his depth against a better fighter, simple and plain. On paper, this looks a much more winnable matchup for the Brazilian, but he’ll still be a clear underdog, especially on the road.
130 lb contender Shavkat Rakhimov (15-0-1, 12 KO) will return against Rilwan Oladosu (16-0, 8 KO), an unbeaten but also pretty untested Nigerian who will look to announce his arrival on the world scene. Rakhimov last fought in February, going to a draw with Joseph Diaz Jr in an IBF title fight. Rakhimov was injured and couldn’t make a vacant title bout with Azinga Fuzile, which Kenichi Ogawa stepped in and won. If Rakhimov wins here, Ogawa-Rakhimov could get ordered for 2022.
DraftKings Sportsbook have Bivol at a heavy -1600, with Salamov at +850. Given boxing’s recent run of big upsets and fights that have come a lot closer to being one than anybody expected, those odds might be a little bit tempting if you think Salamov has a better shot than that.
On the undercard, Magomed Kurbanov is at -310 against Patrick Teixeira (+240).
How to watch Bivol vs Salamov
DAZN have officially picked up the broadcast, and the show will start at 11:40 am ET on Saturday, December 11. Bad Left Hook will have live coverage.