Famous Russian boxer, former world boxing champion in first heavyweight Denis Lebedev gave an interview to Sport, in which he discussed the two most high-profile fights of 2024, spoke about Fedor Emelianenko’s desire to test himself in boxing and the doping scandal of figure skater Kamila Valieva, and also answered the question whether Russian athletes should go to the Olympics under a neutral flag.
“I’ll give a slight preference to Bivol”— The fight between Dmitry Bivol and Artur Beterbiev has been officially announced. Soon Russia will have a new absolute world champion.
— This is the main fight in domestic boxing. Before this, the only absolute world champion in Russian history was Konstantin Borisovich Tszyu – the emergence of a second champion will be a big event, no matter how you look at it.
The confrontation will be ambiguous. I said it before and I’ll repeat it now: it’s a pity that the Russians will find out among themselves (who is the strongest in the world). But it’s every boxer’s dream to unify all the belts. And this will be our absolute champion, from Russia.
— The fight is being presented as a clash of two styles: Bivol’s technique against the knockout power of Beterbiev.
– This is true. Every blow from Beterbiev, every accurate hit takes away the desire to continue the fight – believe me, this is so. Even Beterbiev’s front jab, which is usually used to score points, is very “spiky.” We saw this in the fight with Alexander Gvozdyk, at that time a promising prospect. And Beterbiev destroyed him.
What Bivol can counter: good legs, sense of distance. I wonder who will stick to his tactics in the fight… I think whoever adapts to his opponent first will win. I myself have always preferred to work defensively and I know what constant pressure is. You need cool nerves and a clear focus from start to finish. If Bivol copes, he will prevail. But if Beterbiev starts hitting, it will become difficult to keep the pressure.
Bivol has some good fights behind him, in the meeting with (Mexican Saul) Alvarez he showed that he knows how to counteract the pressure. So Bivol will have a slight advantage.
— Age is also on his side: Dmitry is six years younger than Arthur. Is this a serious factor?
– I won’t say that this is a big difference. Arthur did not receive much damage; it cannot be said that he was “full.” An attacking boxer, of course, but he didn’t miss, like Ruslan Provodnikov, who is constantly moving forward.
Beterbiev is ready. He is, if not quite “peak,” then close to it. There is every chance to win, I am not lying at all: both the right and left hands are equally dangerous. Plus Bivol has some problems, because he sometimes misses a straight line through his hand, which Beterbiev just hits.
“Fury is always a mystery”— Another fight is causing much more resonance in the world for the title of absolute champion, Ukrainian Alexander Usik will share the ring with Briton Tyson Fury.
—I was surprised when (British Anthony) Joshua fought the fight with Usyk in a technical manner. A striking example of how to fight Alexander was shown by Dereck Chisora. Usik had a slight advantage over the Briton. Just a small one. We can say that Usyk does not like outright fighting, he is a supporter of the classics. Moving on the feet, jab, methodical body-head work. How Usik will work—the picture is approximately clear.
But Fury, his form is always a mystery. He needs to force a fight, he knows how to do it. (Uses) prohibited techniques that some judges either deliberately do not notice or allow – remember the controversial blow to the elastic of Usik’s underpants (in a fight with Daniel Dubois). If the blow is not obvious to the groin, the referees allow you to continue. In the fight between Sergey Kovalev and Andre Ward, the Russian was counted as a knockdown, but Usik had a higher blow, but it was counted as “below the belt.” Everything will depend on the referee's position towards one of the boxers. After all, sometimes even tickets fly away thanks to the one who will judge: one says “stop” every hit, and the other allows you to box. The boxer is staggering, walking around the ring like a drunk – it doesn’t matter, there is no “stop” command until the third point of the ring touches.
— In August there was a lot of controversy around that blow by Dubois. What is your opinion on the scandalous episode?
— My opinion (in this matter) means nothing, I do not have a judge’s category. Let me just repeat: this is always at the discretion of the referee.
In my fight with Roy Jones Jr., Steve Smoger was the referee – then there was a controversial episode whether or not to beat Roy in a knockdown. And Konstantin Borisovich Tszyu then clearly said that there are three commands: “boxing”, “stop” and “break”. Not a single command was spoken – I did not break the rules, the victory was awarded to me according to the rules. Personal qualities are another matter… But there was boxing agony. I may not have thrown that blow now, but that evening I acted on my instincts.
— The Usyk-Fury fight is already being called “cursed” due to constant breakdowns and postponements. Many are afraid that the fight will not take place at all.
I have a lot of other things to do, I don’t follow the fights so closely today. This fight is very interesting to me, but whether it will happen or not, by and large, I don’t care.
— What kind of fight can you say about then that you were really looking forward to it?
— Bivol vs. Alvarez (in May 2022).
“The desire to box is far away”— About your career. Four years have passed since the last fight – do you miss the ring, training, the excitement in anticipation of the fight?
– Good question. For the first time during this time, at the All-Russian Boxing Forum in Serpukhov, I sat as a spectator in the front row. And it was so comfortable that I was not in the ring… I understood: the desire to box was far away.
“Fedor and Tyson have nothing to catch”— MMA legend Fedor Emelianenko wants to try himself in boxing – the topic has been resonating for six months now. Alexander Povetkin advised the Last Emperor to abandon these plans…
— Considering that Fedor has more skills in mixed martial arts, I agree with every word of Alexander Povetkin. Boxing is not a little different, it's completely different. Let's remember Fedor's fights: his right hand hangs below his chin – boxers don't allow themselves to do that. And those who allow it are only the experienced ones: let us return to the same Jones, who feels everything perfectly.
Fedor, unfortunately, missed several fights on the chin, where his hand was hanging. If there is a fight according to the rules of boxing… Everyone understands, literally everyone: Fedor and Mike Tyson have nothing to catch.
“Neutral status is not humiliation, but a formality”— I can’t help but ask about the main news of recent days : figure skater Kamila Valieva, disqualification for four years, depriving our team of gold at the Olympic Games in Beijing.
— I fully support the statement of (Russian Presidential Press Secretary) Dmitry Peskov: the situation is unprecedented, sports and politics have been mixed. I am glad that our government is not revising either the prize money or the results of those Games – for us they remain the same. Everything else is up to God’s judgment, the Lord is the judge of everyone!
— There are only a few months until the next Olympics in Paris. What is your attitude to the conditions that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) imposes on domestic athletes? For example, if some athletes go to France, then only under a neutral status, which is often called humiliation.
— I don’t think (that this is humiliating). Even so, the world understands that these are athletes of a great power, Russia. And neutral status is just a formality. More and more athletes from many countries are saying: this is unfair and wrong, the Olympics will be incomplete without Russians. Therefore, my opinion is this: what does not kill us makes us stronger. Even in a neutral status, if we go, we will be even stronger. And we are ready for all prohibited techniques from the IOC.