Bivol kept using his left hand anyway, spearing Álvarez with jabs to the body and head. Finishing five-punch combinations by throwing left hooks also had an effect the statistics could not measure. When Bivol would throw a punch, Álvarez would lean back, and Bivol’s fist would whistle past his chin. The punches did not always land, but they put Álvarez out of counterpunching position, and allowed Bivol to re-establish his preferred range.
“I was the counterpuncher today,” Bivol said.
Late in the bout, when previous Álvarez opponents had faded, Bivol kept punching. In Round 11, he landed a jab, then a right hand that sent sweat flying from Álvarez’s head. In Round 12, another stiff jab forced Álvarez to retreat and regroup. He was breathing heavily by then, drained after investing his energy in power punches that had not stunned Bivol.
“He threw only hard punches,” Bivol said in English. “After hard punches, he a little bit tired. Tired, tired.”
The loss was Álvarez’s first since September 2013, when Floyd Mayweather Jr. beat him by decision, but it does not necessarily diminish him. Before the fight, Álvarez acknowledged Bivol would be much tougher than previous opponents, and afterward he said gaining weight to fight as a light heavyweight might have slowed him.
“I feel proud. I got out of my comfort zone,” Álvarez said. “I don’t feel ashamed because I look for challenges that other people don’t because they’re scared to lose.”
From here, Álvarez could invoke the rematch clause in his contract with Bivol or defend his titles at 168 pounds.
And two big obstacles stand between Bivol and fights for the undisputed light-heavyweight title.
First, Artur Beterbiev who holds the World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation titles, and Joe Smith Jr., the World Boxing Organization champion, are signed to Top Rank. A deal with either of them requires cooperation between promoters that happens only sparingly in this sport. Álvarez, in contrast, has one more bout on his short-term contract with DAZN and Matchroom.
Second, an Álvarez rematch will pay him better, especially now that Bivol has the one credential he did not have heading into Saturday’s bout: a win over the biggest name in boxing.