An opportunity to fight for a major world title would seem to be too good a scenario for any legitimate contender to pass up. A title opportunity with a financial windfall “well above six figures,” as Matchroom USA matchmaker Eric Bottjer put it, would only sweeten the pot.
But if you ask WBA light heavyweight world titleholder Dmitry Bivol’s team, finding an opponent is not as easy as it looks.
While fellow light heavyweight belt-holders Oleksandr Gvozdyk and Artur Beterbiev are fighting in a major title unification bout in mid-October, Bivol has been relegated to facing Lenin Castillo at the Wintrust Arena in Chicago on Saturday.
“It was hard to find somebody credible,” admitted Bottjer. “Castillo was the best choice.”
Some will call the Castillo bout a “stay busy” fight, others will label it a “tune-up” bout. The reality is that this pairing is simply underwhelming.
“I just think because there’s four champions and there’s four sets of ratings that these [other] guys seem to have more choices — which, by math, they do,” said Bottjer.
Bivol almost feels like the odd man out despite having a world title.
“Yeah, everything is happening with the light heavyweight division. I feel a little bit outside,” said Bivol. “But I know why, Top Rank has three fighters [who are belt holders], they want to make one the champion. And I understand that Canelo wants a big fight, a big name like Sergey Kovalev [they will meet in November].
“I understand that. I just need patience and just fight to be prepared to develop my career,” he continued.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Castillo (20-2-1, 15 KOs) wasn’t even in the WBA’s top 15, meaning he wasn’t technically eligible to fight for this belt. But as you peruse the WBA rankings that were released on Sept. 30, Castillo was suddenly listed as the 15th-ranked contender.
So how did they get to this point?
“We went through numerous options, and many of them didn’t want to fight Dmitry, or had other reasons, or they were injured or something like that,” said Vadim Kornilov, who is part of the management team for Bivol. “So there was absolutely nobody available.”
Kornilov says that they went up and down the WBA rankings during the summer, trying to entice a contender to face Bivol. Some weren’t available, while others weren’t realistic options.
To dig deeper into how fights with the boxers in the WBA’s top 15 didn’t pan out, here’s how each boxer was (or was not) approached, step by step, straight from Bivol’s team, Matchroom’s promoter Eddie Hearn (and Bottjer) and, in some cases, from the promoters on the other side of the equation.
(Rankings are taken from early September)
WBA No. 1 contender: Jean Pascal (34-6-1, 20 KOs)
When it comes to top-rated Pascal, who earned this spot by upsetting Marcus Browne over the summer, Kornilov explained, “They have a mandatory rematch with Browne, first of all. Second of all, Dmitry has beaten Pascal in a very one-sided fight.”
Kornilov said that Pascal was not even considered for this date.
WBA No. 2: Felix Valera (18-3, 15 KOs)
Rated second in the WBA was Valera — another boxer Bivol took care of handily in his sevent