London’s Craig Richards challenges undefeated Russian Dmitry Bivol for the WBA light heavyweight title in Manchester on Saturday night.
Incumbent champion since 2017, this fight represents the seventh defence from Bivol (17-0) and the first-time contesting world honours for Richards (16-1-1 (Continental, Interim and Silver titles are not recognised here, nor should they be)).
The size of Richards’ task should not be diminished. Ranked the number two light heavyweight in the world by Ring Magazine, Bivol comes into this contest on a run of five world level victories – against Sullivan Barrera (22-3), Isaac Chilemba (26-7-3), Jean Pascal (35-6-1), Joe Smith Jr (27-3), and Lenin Castillo (20-3-1) – and a professional seventeen-fight winning streak, which extends back to 2014.
Conversely, following a unanimous decision loss to Frank Buglioni in 2017, Craig Richards has competed mostly at British level, defeating Jake Ball (13-2) and Andre Sterling (11-3), drawing with Chad Sugden (11-2-1), and winning the British light heavyweight title against Shakan Pitters (14-1), in his last fight, as recently as December.
Admirably, Richards has the awareness and the wherewithal to realise that there is minimal pressure on him to succeed here, largely borne out of there being minimal expectation on him prevailing. A number of established bookmakers are pricing Richards at a 10/1 underdog – harshly, in my opinion – he should be longer than this; Bivol is around a 1/25 favourite.
Depending on your general disposition towards things like national pride, bulldog tattoos, God Save the Queen and Churchill’s notion of an ‘Island race’, you may be prepared to back the Brit. And there is no shame in this, as long as you do it with a sideways glance. On a scale of British delusion ranging from ‘Callum Smith is too big and too strong for Canelo Alvarez’ to ‘Steve Backley could win Olympic javelin gold’, a Richards’ victory lurches perilously close to the former, so bet cautiously. It’s not usually advised to entrust the security of your kidney, or any other organ in fact, to the eastern European experience, but if you wish to post such a stake here, you can be nearly certain that come Sunday morning it will still remain indwelling, where it should be, within your own body…
Lenin Castillo – WIN – UD (119-108, 119-108, 120-108)
Joe Smith Jr – WIN – UD (119-109, 119-109, 118-110)
Jean Pascal – WIN – UD (119-109, 119-109, 117-111)
Isaac Chilemba – WIN – UD (120-108, 120-108, 116-112)
Shakan Pitters – WIN – TKO Round 9
Chad Sugden – DRAW – PTS (77-77)
Andre Sterling – WIN – UD (117-111, 116-111, 115-112) Jake Ball – WIN – TKO Round 3
Date: Saturday May 1st 2021
Time: Ring walk approx. 22.30
Venue: Manchester Arena, England