Bivol willing to go down in weight to find title fights

Light heavyweight world titleholder Dmitry Bivol, left, is willing to go down in weight to find bigger and better opportunities. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol, who faces Joe Smith Jr. on Saturday at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York, is part of a talented quartet of belt-holders in the 175-pound weight class.

Alongside Bivol are Oleksandr Gvozdyk (16-0, 13 KOs), the WBC belt-holder; WBO titlist Sergey Kovalev (33-3-1, 28 KOs); and Artur Beterbiev (13-0, 13 KOs). Mix and match any of these four and you're bound to have some compelling fights.

Unfortunately for Bivol (15-0, 11 KOs) -- who is ranked third in the division by ESPN -- given that the above mentioned trio is aligned with Top Rank and ESPN, and he has an association with DAZN, it may not be in the cards for him to mix it up anytime soon with those three in unification bouts.

That's the reality of the current boxing marketplace: It's not so much about who you should fight, but who you can, nowadays. If a particular fighter isn't aligned with a certain promotional entity or network, he could find himself on the outside looking in when it comes to significant matchups.

That dilemma is one reason Bivol has openly stated his willingness to move down to super middleweight and tangle with the likes of Callum Smith, who is also aligned with DAZN as he is promoted by Matchroom Sports.

"I can do it, yes," Bivol said at the Churchill Boxing Club in Santa Monica, California. "I said it, and I can make 168. If one of the champions wants to fight with me, I'm ready."

His manager, Vadim Kornilov, admitted to ESPN.com that it won't be easy to make a unification fight at light heavyweight.

"I can do it, yes. I said it, and I can make 168, if one of the champions wants to fight with me, I'm ready." Dmitry Bivol

"It might be tougher (to make the unification bouts), but at the same time there's other opportunities that can open up at 168 that might be even more lucrative than the 175 opportunities," Kornilov said.

"The 175-pound division, right now, is mostly Soviet fighters and it's kind of hard to market those unifications," added Kornilov, who is of Russian descent himself and has been influential in bringing over boxers from that region, most notably former junior welterweight world titlist Ruslan Provodnikov.

Kornilov has a point. Because all four light heavyweight champions are from that part of the world but fighting out of North America, promoting those fights into big box-office events in the States would be difficult. But a fight against Callum Smith in the UK would be a major event.

Moving down to super middleweight in his next fight, however, isn't necessarily a guarantee.

"It's part of the plan to do that in the next year, I don't know if it will be after this," Kornilov stated. "But to be honest with you, there's not a specifically written plan for the next fight, yet. Soon as this fight is over, we'll go over certain options and see what can happen -- but we can do 168 right away if something comes up."

Most boxers usually go up in weight as they get older. Bivol, 28, is seemingly bent on doing the opposite. Kornilov explained that his client "likes the idea because he wants to become a champion in two weight classes."

Bivol is not considered a big light heavyweight and his frame suggests that he can make 168 pounds relatively easy. With the cruiserweight limit being set at 200 pounds, it might be easier for Bivol to compete at a weight class that is seven pounds lighter than his current class -- rather than at one that is much heavier, with boxers who will one day grow into heavyweights.

But the task at hand is Smith (24-2, 20), the heavy-handed union worker from Long Island, who was the Cinderella story of 2016 after stopping Andrzej Fonfara in one round and then sending Bernard Hopkins into retirement by knocking him out of the ring in the eighth round of their contest. It rang midnight on him as Sullivan Barrera broke Smith's jaw in his next fight, in the summer of 2017.

Since that bout, he has fought just once, stopping journeyman Melvin Russell in one round in June.

Though Smith might have the proverbial puncher's chance, this looks like a prime opportunity for Bivol to score a stoppage after being taken the distance by grizzled veterans Isaac Chilemba and Jean Pascal in his last two bouts. While he gained valuable experience in those 24 rounds, it showed that the talented Bivol is still evolving as a professional prizefighter.

Soon, he might be a super middleweight, but for the time being, his focus is on Smith.

"He's tough, he's strong, he moves forward, he's young like me," Bivol said of his upcoming foe. "I think that's the good thing about him."