Since his ascension to the pro ranks after a superlative amateur career, in which he reportedly went 268-15, Dmitry Bivol (16-0, 11 KO) has had a slight “shit or get off the pot” aura surrounding him. Sublimely talented but perfectly content to underwhelm, watching Bivol fight is like watching the world’s greatest lumberjack ply his trade with a butter knife. The skill level is undeniable but just chop the fucking thing down already, you know?
On Saturday night at the Turning Stone Resort and Casino in Verona, New York on DAZN, Bivol once again attempted to justify his headlining status against Long Island native Joe Smith Jr. (24-3, 20 KO).
If you ever wanted to know what the result of gene splicing accident between a shot Mikkel Kessler and Turtle from Entourage would look like if you set it loose in a boxing ring against a reluctant Siberian killing machine with its bloodlust protocols disabled, this fight was a dream come true for you.
Besides being People’s Exhibit A in the case of why you should always remain on good terms with your tattoo artist and possessing the name most often given to cops by teenagers when they’re caught drinking underage, Joe Smith Jr. has managed to carve out a pretty decent career for himself, practically in spite of his talent and most certainly not because of it.
Though Bivol was the favorite in this fight, and rightfully so, Smith may actually have the more impressive resume. With stoppage wins over aging legend Bernard Hopkins and even more legendary (in Poland) Andrzzewjzijjzzwjz (sp?) Fonfara, you could make the case that the odds – as high 25-1 for Bivol in some betting houses – should’ve been much closer.
You’d be wrong. But you could make it. It’s a free country.
The opening round saw Dmitry Bivol come out as he so often does, cautious and hesitant behind his laser-guided jab. Smith came out as he often does as well, swinging wildly as if fending off a horde of fictional bees that only he can see. It was a style matchup we would see throughout the rest of the fight. Precise boxing vs. Imaginary bees. It’s a tale as old as time.
Through the early rounds and into the middle of the fight, Smith continued to swing wildly in an attempt to interrupt Bivol’s rhythm, which was becoming more varied and meticulous as the rounds wore on. As Bivol began mixing left hooks and uppercuts into his attack the disparity in talent became ever more apparent.
Countless fighters throughout history have nullified appreciable skill gaps with their power. As evidenced by the signature stoppage wins on his record, Smith has that kind of power. The kid can punch. In fact, everything he does inside a boxing ring that doesn’t involve punching is insignificant bordering on insane. I don’t want to dwell too much on the efficacy of a slow, six-foot tall light heavyweight attempting a shoulder roll defense, but let’s just say it worked out about as well as you’d think it would. But there’s always that right hand there to make up the difference.
Here’s the thing about punching power though: the punches actually have to fucking land for them to be effective. It’s the difference between dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and dropping it in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It makes a cool splash, but it actually decreases your chance of winning a war since, as we all know, that’s how Godzilla was created.
For all his formidable power, Smith managed to land just 39 of 395 punches thrown, or 9.8%. No, that’s not a typo and your monocle is working fine. Thirty-nine punches landed over twelve rounds might win you the Adrien Broner award in the field of Punch Output Excellence but it’s not going to do much to keep a world class fighter like Dmitry Bivol from punching the shit out of you back. Which he did. A lot.
For his part, Bivol landed 208 total punches out of 714 thrown for just a shade under a 30% clip. With over half of his landed punches coming as power shots (107 out of 203), Bivol looked to be cruising to one of his patented clear but underwhelming decision wins. And then the 10th round came.
As the bell rang to close the round, Smith landed a whopping right hand that had Bivol dazed and stumbling to his corner. Still on shaky legs as the championship rounds began, Bivol attempted to tie up and dampen the unfocused but aggressive attack of a desperate Joe Smith Jr. As he began to tire and the moment appeared to pass, Smith again caught Bivol with a left/right combo that stunned the Russian and had him asking his corner “What the hell happened?” in hilariously broken English between rounds.
It was a last gasp for the Long Island tough guy, however, as Bivol came out rested and sharp in the 12th and sought revenge on a gassed Joe Smith Jr. for the nervous moments he caused him in the previous 181 seconds. Instead of a do-or-die homerun swing from Smith, it was Bivol going for the knockout. It didn’t come because this is a Dmitry Bivol fight, but it was enough to erase any doubts and put the scares of the penultimate round in the rearview.
In the end, Bivol took home a unanimous decision (119-109, 118-110, and 119-109), and actually managed not to underwhelm. He didn’t necessarily overwhelm either, though. Let’s just say he perfectly whelmed and leave it at that.
Bivol appears to fight up or down to the level of his competition so it would stand to reason that fighting the top guys in and around his weight class will only help him. How he would do against the Kovalevs, Beterbievs, and Gvozdyks of the world remains to be seen, and with all the contractual red tape in this ridiculous sport, it might stay that way.
His talent is manifest. Let’s hope he gets a chance to show it against guys with a commensurate skill level.
Joe Smith Jr. is limited, but tough as hell and deserves credit for hanging in there with a fighter of Bivol’s class, just like Bivol deserves credit for exploiting those limitations.
But I think we all can agree that the most credit should go to me for showing the restraint in not titling this piece Bivol and Butthead.