In today’s era of world title proliferation in the sport of boxing, a championship belt is whatever you make of it. In the case of IBF featherweight champion Billy Dib, he’s making the most of it.
The 26-year-old Australian has been a titleholder for less than four months, having picked up the vacant strap with a unanimous decision over Jorge Lacierva in July, yet the Sydney native has already seen a major improvement in his public image. At home, at least.
Last month Dib was honored by the Parliament of New South Wales in Australia for his achievement, and he now counts some of Australia’s top sports stars, such as National Rugby League all star halfback Jamie Soward, among his friends. His charitable use of time in support of a young man gravely ill with bone cancer has made him a people’s champion of sorts in the Land Down Under.
“It is an amazing feeling to be getting all this attention,” said Dib, THE RING’s No. 10-rated featherweight. “It makes me proud to know I have made my father, family and community proud.
“Life is pretty much still the same. Although the responsibilities have skyrocketed, I feel that I have to lead by example for the youth. I’m just glad to know I have inspired so many to never give up on their dreams.”
Dib’s first title defense, this Saturday, Nov. 19, against undefeated Alberto Servidei at the Homebush Sports Centre in Sydney, isn’t quite the acid test that observers abroad are looking for to validate him as a top threat, but it provides Dib an opportunity to bolster his celebrity status domestically.
The bout will be televised by the cable network Foxtel in Australia, with a start time of 8 p.m. local time. It will be Dib’s return to domestic TV after what he describes as “politics” kept his title-winning effort off-screen.
Servidei, an Italian veteran who is ten years older than Dib, has a record of 31-0-2 (7 KO), but at least on paper seems more like Gianluca Branco than Nino Benvenuti. Though ranked No. 8 by the IBF, you’d be hard-pressed to have ever heard of any of Servidei’s recent opponents in a career built exclusively at home.
On tape, Servidei paints the picture of a tricky southpaw with solid defensive skills and footwork. Servidei probably doesn’t have enough to beat Dib, but he is competent enough to make it difficult.
Australia has been a consistent producer of world-class boxers over the last 20 years, some of whom dominated the sport during their time. Fighters such as Jeff Fenech and Kostya Tszyu were dominant champions who are now rightfully enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Dib speaks of wanting to be held in their light, to unify titles Tszyu as did, to conquer multiple divisions like Fenech. His dream matchup — a showdown with undefeated, long-reigning WBA titlist and THE RING’s No. 2-rated featherweight Chris John — would be “the biggest fight in the southern hemisphere,” he says.
“Winning the championship has helped a little bit but I still feel I’m yet to prove anything,” said Dib. “Winning a title is a great achievement but defending it and being recognized as a great champion is the biggest goal. I have dreams of unifying the featherweight division, moving up in weights and one day being recognized as a champion who gave the sport all I could.”
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to GMA News and the Filipino Reporter newspaper in New York City. He is also a member of The Ring ratings panel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.