LAS VEGAS — It didn't matter that Dmitry Bivol entered Saturday night's title defense (Sunday, Manila time) with the WBA light heavyweight belt.
He walked to the ring first, amidst boos, and allowed challenger Saul "Canelo" Alvarez a grand entrance filled with a Mariachi band, fireworks, and boxing's pound-for-pound great on a raised platform.
Bivol just wanted to fight. And fight he did.
Using height and reach to his advantage, Bivol continually battered Alvarez throughout the fight to retain his title by unanimous decision at T-Mobile Arena on the Las Vegas Strip.
"Doesn't matter which one, first or second, doesn't matter to me — I just wanted this fight," Bivol said of the ring entrance. "Doesn't matter which sound he has, which sound I have, how he went in. ... And when he was going to the ting, and I heard the crowd, I really enjoyed how the crowd was yelling."
The unbeaten Bivol (20-0, 11 KOs), who has held a version of his belt since May 2016, handed Alvarez (57-2-2, 39 KOs) just the second defeat of his career. All three judges scored the bout 115-113 in Bivol's favor.
In dominating fashion, Bivol landed 36 percent of his power punches, per CompuBox, and outpunched Canelo, 152-84. Canelo's 84 landed punches were the fewest landed in a 12-round fight.
"I knew that he has hard punches and he will beat on my body or my arm," Bivol said. "I think from the (start) of the fight, I see him; I see what he wants to do."
After opening the fight with a trio of very close rounds, it was clear Bivol would be able to utilize his taller and longer advantages to pepper Alvarez and keep him off when charging with his power punches.
Bivol seemingly took control in the fifth round, when he got Alvarez on the ropes and landed several punches to his face. Alvarez brushed them off and waved him in for more, but Bivol backed off with poise and drew the action back to the center of the ring.
It was poise and control that allowed him to land straight shots through Canelo's arms and onto his face to close the fight and help him win seven of the final eight rounds on all three judges' scorecards.
Alvarez, who moved back up to the heaviest weight of his career to contend for the 175-pound title, disagreed with the judges and said he thought he lost four or five rounds at the most.
"I definitely didn't lose the fight," Alvarez said through a translator. "I think I got a little bit tired toward the final rounds, but I felt good."
Alvarez, who wore sunglasses to his post-fight press conference, but was clearly swollen around his eyes and forehead, fought at light heavyweight only one other time in his career, beating Sergey Kovalev in late 2019.
Alvarez's only other loss was to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2013.
With a rematch clause in the contract, Alvarez said during an interview in the ring after the fight he wanted a rematch with the Kyrgyzstan-born Russian champion.
Bivol responded: "No problem."
Both fighters, however, were non-committal in their press conferences, saying they would need to see what's next for both of them.
In the co-main event at 140 pounds, Montana Love (18-0-1, 10 KOs) beat Gabriel Valenzuela (25-3-1, 15 KOs) by unanimous decision with identical scores from all three judges (114-112). With the win, Love solidifies himself as a contender in the junior welterweight division.
Also from the main undercard, Shakhram Giyasov (13-0, 9 KOs) beat Christian Gomez (22-3-1, 20 KOs) by unanimous decision (98-89, 99-88, 99-88) in a 10-round welterweight bout.
Marc Castro (7-0, 5 KOs) won via unanimous decision (60-54) over Pedro Vicente (7-5-1, 2 KOs).
Zhilei Zhang (24-0-1, 19 KOs) knocked out Scott Alexander just 1:54 in the first round in a heavyweight clash. Alexander was a replacement after Filip Hrgovic was forced to withdraw from his scheduled bout against Zhang.
Earlier Saturday, Joselito Velazquez (15-0-1, 10 KOs) won with a 6th-round TKO over Jose Soto (15-2, 6 KOs).
Aaron Silva (10-0, 7 KOs) won via fourth-round TKO over Alexis Espino (9-1-1, 6 KOs).
Elnur Abduraimov (9-0, 8 KOs) won by way of second-round TKO over Manny Correa (11-1, 7 KOs).
Fernando Molina (8-0, 3 KOs) won a split decision over Ricardo Valdovinos (8-2, 5 KOs) with scores of 58-56, 57-56 for Molina and 57-56 for Valdavinos.
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