Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez vs Dmitry Bivol: Can Russians Fight?

Dmitry Bivol
Bivol is undefeated in 19 professional fights and has held the WBA light heavyweight title since 2017

“This kid has the opportunity of a lifetime, he’s going to take advantage of it for himself, regardless of whether there’s a problem going on in his country.”

Those are the words of Joel Diaz, the coach of Russian Dmitry Bivol, who will defend his WBA light heavyweight title against Mexican star Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez on May 7 in Las Vegas.

Some 6,000 miles east of Las Vegas, Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko and brother Wladimir continue to defend the Ukrainian capital from the military invasion of their country.

The Klitschkos, former heavyweight champions, sent a warning to world sport in March: ban all Russian athletes from competition.

“Every Russian representative in this case needs to be sanctioned, because that way we show Russia that the world is against this senseless war,” Wladimir told BBC Radio 5 Live.

Wladimir, who reigned as champion for nearly a decade, then singled out the WBA showdown between the undefeated Bivol and Mexican Alvarez for criticism.

He said: “It is important that this boxer [Bivol] is banned from fighting in the United States, just as all Russian athletes are being banned from international competitions”.

Boxing’s world governing bodies – WBC, WBO and IBF – responded to Russia’s war in a joint declaration that pledged to block “championship fights involving boxers from Russia and Belarus”. Belarus is a close ally of Russia.

The fourth governing body, the WBA, which will earn a substantial fee for authorizing Bivol’s defense of his light heavyweight title, has not hit a similar penalty.

The WBA instead released a nine-point “in search of peace” plan that ultimately gives Bivol his lucrative payday but does not allow him to use Russian flags, the Russian national anthem, or demonstrate. in favor of the war.

But is the WBA correct in allowing its champion, who called for peace between Russia and Ukraine, to defend his title?

Bivol’s North American coach Diaz sympathizes with the Klitschko brothers’ position but says his world champion pupil deserves his chance to make history.

“I understand that they [Ukraine] are going through some very difficult times and I don’t blame them for saying that [Russian athletes should be banned]. As a human being, I understand families who suffer, there are many problems in Ukraine.

“Bivol has nothing to do with politics, he has nothing to do with his country having a problem with another country, he’s just doing what he’s been doing all his life – getting ready to fight, being ready to perform. .biggest opportunity of your life.

“The only thing I can say is that it’s not the athletes’ fault. They’re just working to feed their families. Boxers train for boxing. That’s what they do. I just don’t see that athletes should be blamed for that. politicians. Involving sport with politics is a problem.”

“He’s just focusing on his sport, his family, his job”

Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez
The Mexican Alvarez is a four-time world champion and one of the biggest attractions in the sport

Sport and politics, however, converged long ago.

Throughout history, sport has transcended the winning and losing of trophies, medals and belts, sometimes becoming a force rather than political points and protests.

In the 1930s, the Nazi party declared the victory of German heavyweight Max Schmelling over American Joe Louis as evidence of white supremacy – Louis, incidentally, took one round to crush Schmeling, as well as this particular line of Nazi propaganda, in rematch two years later.

In 1968, American medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos, with raised fists, helped spread the message of black equality and civil rights during the Olympics in Mexico.

In 2016, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, kneeling in protest against racist violence, created a global symbol for anti-racism – an example of the power sport has to bring people together.

So if champion Bivol – who was born in Kyrgyzstan but holds a Russian passport – causes a seismic shock and stuns undisputed super middleweight world champion Alvarez, will it be a symbolic victory for Russia and its invading forces?

Diaz says the contest result won’t have a broader meaning.

“At the end of the day, if he wins and beats Canelo, that victory will be for him, his team and his family,” he continued.

“With him winning and beating Canelo, is he supporting his country? I don’t know. I can only say that this is the biggest fight of his life. He has the opportunity to make history by beating the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world now.

“Obviously you represent your country every time you fight. But if Bivol is aware of what’s going on and he agrees with the situation Russia has, and he’s supporting that, then obviously he’s doing it wrong. Just focusing on his sport, your family, your job.

“He spent money at the camp, with the best sparring partners that cost $500 a day. They invest a lot of money in training, rent, food, vitamins – there’s a lot of money already invested for someone to just say that Russian athletes should be banned.

“If he missed the opportunity [against Alvarez]Of course, economically, he would miss the opportunity to bring home a good payday. It affects him, it affects his family. Who knows, because there is a problem in his country, he won’t have the opportunity again. Canelo can say, you know what, I don’t want to fight him anymore.

“It’s a double-edged sword with everything I say. People can take it badly because they’re from there. [Ukraine]. But there are other people who will say Coach Diaz is right.”

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