Dmitry Bivol says he is treating this weekend’s world title bout against Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez as the most difficult test of his career, as he attempts to hold onto his WBA light-heavyweight belt in Abu Dhabi.
The unbeaten Russian, 20-0 as a professional, takes on the similarly undefeated Ramirez, 44-0, at the top of the bill at Etihad Arena on Saturday night, when the capital stages the inaugural “Champion Series” event.
Bivol, 31, comes into the contest off the back of victory against superstar Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in May, when he won by unanimous decision to inflict only the Mexican’s second defeat in 62 pro bouts.
For many, the win lifted Bivol into the top 10 pound-for-pound men's rankings in the sport. Meanwhile, this weekend represents the champion's 10th defence of the WBA crown – a belt that has been in his possession for five full years.
Speaking at a press conference in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, Bivol said: “I really have a big journey to get this belt and I don’t want to leave it. I will fight for this and I want to keep it - and I want it more.
"I feel I have something inside of me which I need to realise, to be happy until the end of my career.”
Bivol, who has been based in Abu Dhabi for the past five weeks, thanked the emirate for its hospitality and training facilities. He said he hopes the launch of the “Champions Series” – the Department of Culture and Tourism announced a multi-year partnership with renowned promotion Matchroom Boxing in August – can help make boxing the lead sport in the emirate.
Asked if his motivation still burns as bright following the marquee success against Alvarez, Bivol said: “Of course, when people say to me, ‘Oh you achieve everything’, it’s like they put water on my fire.
“But I try to think about only my dream, to realise my whole potential. I try to be hungry and angry every time and be focused on training, on my opponents.
“I try to think this Saturday night will be the hardest fight in my career. It makes me more focused on the fight.”
Ramirez, also 31, represents the WBA’s No 1 mandatory challenger following five wins from five bouts - all by knockout - since moving up to light-heavyweight.
The Mexican, a former WBO super-middleweight champion, has called out Bivol for some time, and said this weekend provides the perfect opportunity to realise a dream of his own.
“I really believe that I can become two-time world champion this Saturday,” Ramirez said. “It’s exciting for me, to come from Mazatlan, Mexico, and be here in Abu Dhabi. Same weather; I feel like home.
“I’ve been training hard for this fight, and I will take the belt this Saturday, that’s for sure. Forty-four have tried, 44 have failed. I’m excited. I hope people enjoy the fight because this is the type of fight that the fans have to see for boxing.”
On whether victory against Bivol will elevate him to a pound-for-pound star, Ramirez said: “Right now, I just see it like become two-time world champion. I don’t see becoming a star. My goal is become two-time world champion, eventually to continue my legacy, and be a legend - that’s my only goal.
“That’s what I want to give to all the people, all the fans. And all the kids too: to believe in themselves. Anything you want to do you can do.”
Bivol-Ramirez is one of three championship bouts on Saturday night, with Jessica McCaskill and Chantelle Cameron competing for the women's undisputed super-lightweight crown, and Shavkat Rakhimov and Zelfa Barrett facing off for the IBF super-featherweight title.