Russian light heavyweight Dmitry Bivol won an interim world title in just his seventh fight but to him that belt is merely an afterthought.
He only has eyes for a full title and also believes that putting on a good show for the fans in order to help build his name in the United States is paramount.
Bivol will have that chance when he defends his interim 175-pound belt for the second time against Samuel Clarkson in the main event of a “ShoBox: The New Generation” tripleheader on Friday night (Showtime, 10 ET/PT) at the new MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, a Washington, D.C., suburb.
“To be honest, I don’t really ever think about the belt and the interim title,” Bivol said through a translator. “For me the main WBA belt is the most important one and I want to stay at the top of the rankings to get it.
“Sure everything is amped up a little bit more because [Friday’s fight is] on Showtime, but every time I step into the ring I want to put on a good show for the fans. This time, probably a little bit more so, but the most important thing is to get the win.”
The 26-year-old Bivol (9-0, 7 KOs) was a standout amateur in Russia, winning his country’s national amateur title and going 285-15, but rather than pursue a berth on the 2016 Olympic team, he elected to turn pro in 2014 with the goal of making a name for himself in the United States.
Seven of his bouts have been in Russia but the fight against Clarkson will be his third in the U.S. Two previous fights were on small untelevised cards in Southern California as his team continues to spend considerable money investing in his career. The fight Friday is a chance to finally be seen by the American public for the first time.
“Every time I step into the ring I want to put on a good show for the fans. This time, probably a little bit more so, but the most important thing is to get the win.”
“When the opportunity came to do the Clarkson fight on ‘ShoBox’ instead of waiting for the title opportunity against [regular titlist] Nathan Cleverly we went for it,” said manager Vadim Kornilov, who also guides the careers of former junior welterweight titlist Ruslan Provodnikov and cruiserweight titlist Denis Lebedev. “We’re putting Bivol at risk in this fight but the TV exposure here is no less important than the title. Dmitry is one of the top Russian fighters and we are hoping he can become somebody who has a fan base in the United States.
“It’s been tough to get opportunities here, which is why we had him fight on those two smaller cards in California. There was no TV and no money but we are trying to build him. The goal is to make a name here and keep fighting in the United States every time.”
Said Bivol: “The goal is to use this opportunity on Showtime to show my impressive style of fighting to the public and to make it an exciting fight. I want to show the people what they want to see and I hope they like it. That is very important to me.”
The Bivol-Clarkson winner is expected to be ordered to face Cleverly.
Bivol claimed the interim belt by one-sided unanimous decision against Felix Valera last May. After winning a nontitle bout in October, Bivol defended the interim title by fourth-round knockout against Robert Berridge in February.
Now comes a bit of a rise in competition level against Clarkson (19-3, 12 KOs), 26, of Cedar Hill, Texas, will be appearing on “ShoBox” for the third time in his biggest fight.
“I upped intensity 1,000 times for this camp… I’m ready for war. I’m not afraid of this guy. I’m ready to fight.”
“I upped intensity 1,000 times for this camp,” said Clarkson, who trained for the fight in Brooklyn, New York. “I had better sparring, did more miles running and way more rounds doing bag work. Everything I’ve done has been intense and we added a lot more into it.
“I’ve been working with guys like Sean Monaghan and Joe Smith Jr. I’ve had over 110 rounds of sparring since coming to Brooklyn. I wanted to push my sparring to the max. I’m not saying there isn’t competition in Dallas, but I wanted different looks and to be out of my comfort zone. I got what I was looking for here. I’m ready for war. I’m not afraid of this guy. I’m ready to fight.”
Clarkson has won nine fights in a row since dropping an eight-round decision to rising contender Jesse Hart in a 2014 super middleweight fight but Bivol is favored.
“This is boxing and I think there are a lot of fights that are 50-50. Anything can happen. You never know. Upsets can happen at any time,” said Bivol, who trained with Gennady Mashianov in Southern California to get ready for the fight. “For me this is step-up fight. Not only because of how good my opponent is, but also because of what it means to me. Winning this fight will open the door to many opportunities.
“I’m expecting for [Clarkson] to get in the ring and push himself and come forward. I know he’ll come out aggressive and try to put the pressure on me. We’ll see. … I’m here to show and prove that I can be the best in the world.”
In the co-feature, 21-year-old Baltimore welterweight prospect Malik Hawkins (10-0, 7 KOs), who was 98-2 as a standout amateur, will take on substitute opponent Carlos Soto (13-0-2, 7 KOs), 28, of Mexico, in a scheduled eight-round bout.
Hawkins was originally slated to face 2012 Ukrainian Olympian Taras Shelestyuk (15-0, 9 KOs), but an injury kept Shelestyuk from signing for the fight. Then Venezuela’s Juan Ruiz (18-0, 11 KOs) took the fight but he was forced to drop out because of a right hand injury last week.
In the opener of the tripleheader, 29-year-old Baltimore junior featherweight Glenn Dezurn (8-0, 6 KOs) will face Leroy Davila (5-0, 3 KOs), 28, of New Brunswick, New Jersey, in an eight-rounder.
The untelevised undercard includes Baltimore heavyweight Hasim Rahman Jr., the 25-year-old son of the former heavyweight world champion Hasim Rahman, who will face Lanham, Maryland’s Ralph Alexander in a four-rounder that marks the pro debut for both fighters.