'Day of Reckoning': Bivol returns to the ring but Beterbiev is the fight fans want to see

WBA light heavyweight champion lit up Abu Dhabi in a one-sided title fight in November 2022. He takes on IBO belt-holder Lyndon Arthur in Saudi Arabia on December 23

Dmitry Bivol punches Gilberto Ramirez during their WBA super world light heavyweight title in Abu Dhabi in November 2022. The Russian returns to the ring in Riyadh on December 23, 2023 to face Britain's Lyndon Arthur. Getty
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It was one of the most one-sided title fights in recent memory.

When Dmitry Bivol and Gilberto Ramirez touched down in Abu Dhabi ahead of their light-heavyweight title fight in November 2022, they did so with unblemished pro records.

Bivol, the WBA (Super) champion boasted a perfect 20-0 record and was coming off a landmark win in which he completely outclassed a Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez generally regarded as one of the best boxers of all time, albeit one biting off more than he could chew by stepping up so many weight classes.

Ramirez had fought more than twice as many times as Bivol, with an enviable 44 victories in as many bouts. A classy practitioner and former world super middleweight champion, the Mexican was aiming to disrupt the light heavyweight ranks dominated by Bivol and his fellow Russian Artur Beterbiev.

While the now customary barbs common before a title fight were traded by both boxers pre-fight, it was for the most part respectful. When the first bell sounded and the action got under way at Etihad Arena, Ramirez's words would have stung Bivol more than his actions as the Russian put on another masterclass.

For 12 rounds Bivol went through his full repertoire of skills: slick combinations, feints and dips, breaking the will of his opponent. It was complete ring control for the full 36 minutes and brought to mind Joe Calzaghe's total domination of Jeff Lacy in their super middleweight title fight in 2006.

The bout marked the first high-profile title fight on these shores with the promise of more to come. And while the UAE is ready and willing to host its next championship fight, the boxing world turns its focus to neighbouring Saudi Arabia this week.

Billed as the “Day of Reckoning”, Bivol returns to the ring for the first time since schooling Ramirez 13 months ago on the undercard of Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder's co-main events.

The 32-year-old defends his WBA strap for the fifth time since being elevated to “Super” status in October 2019 (Bivol also defended the regular WBA belt five times) against Lyndon Arthur.

Ranked eighth by the WBA, Arthur has won 23 of his 24 pro bouts and will put his IBO title on the line. And while a record of 16 wins by knockout suggests Bivol should have a healthy respect for his opponent, few observers believe the Briton will pull off an upset against a boxer with legitimate claims as one of the best pound-for-pound punchers around.

“I have just recently come back from a great event in Saudi Arabia and now I will have the opportunity to fight there,” Bivol said, referring to his attendance at October's clash between Tyson Fury and Francis Ngannou in Riyadh. “I am excited and looking forward to fighting Lyndon, his record and his belt are a motivation for me.”

With the greatest respect to Arthur, boxing fans know the one true test for Bivol lies in the shape of Beterbiev. The 38-year-old, who fights out of Canada, has packed much into an unbeaten 19-fight career that only saw him turn pro in 2013. He won his first world title in 2017 and has since added the IBF and WBC belts to sit alongside his WBO light heavyweight title.

Beterbiev faces a mandatory title defence of his WBC strap against Callum Smith on January 13 and it will require that organisation playing ball with the WBA and the various promoters to set up a unification bout against Bivol.

They say you should never mix sport and politics, but it is an unavoidable traffic jam in navigating boxing's myriad alphabet organisations.

But that's not to say it's an obstacle that can't be overcome. Money talks and in boxing it positively screams.

Saudi Arabia has shown a determination to rival boxing's traditional heartlands of New York and Las Vegas in hosting major title fights and would no doubt be in the bidding to host a Beterbiev-Bivol winner-takes-all showdown in the light heavyweight division.

Updated: December 18, 2023, 12:48 PM