BN: How do you reflect on the fight?
Everyone gave me no chance; it was good for me to draw energy from that. Being the underdog can spur you on, but it can deflate you, so I’m happy that I went out there and gave everything instead of being overly cautious or being overly reckless. We had a good fight.
If I knew I was up on the cards then I would have probably danced a bit more towards the later rounds – kept my distance a bit more instead of trying to knock him out. That’s the only thing I’d change.
It’s experience. I had 12 amateur fights; a very short professional boxing career in having a lot of knockouts on my record. I didn’t get the decision in the first fight against Lyndon Arthur, even though at the time I thought I was comfortably ahead. When I watched it back, I was, ‘That’s not how I felt in there’. From that fight I got my old mentality back. ‘I’m not going the distance with nobody – the fight’s finishing in the ring’. When I fought Dec Spelman, [afterwards] I’m listening to the commentary, I’m looking at some of the commentator’s scorecards, and it seems like everything’s against me. I’d rather give it all in the ring and have an outcome where we know exactly who won.
At the time I thought it was very close. When I was in there I wasn’t over-contemplating the rounds – I got cut for the first time. I just knew it was a close fight – we was trading.
BN: Why, after the early rounds, did you start increasingly planting your feet?
If I didn’t do that when I did, he would have worked something out and he might have landed a big shot earlier. My tactics were working, up until [when] the fight finished. When I did start changing it up, that’s when I started landing more punches to keep him off for a bit longer; to gain more of his respect. If we’d got to rounds nine and 10 I might have started moving again, just to cement it, but it finished when it did.
BN: What makes him so good?
The difference between us is experience. That was his eighth world title fight; that was my second. When we were both a bit tired – trading – maybe he’s got the edge in knowing what to do. When he was hit with a big shot he was circling the ring. He’s definitely on the pound-for-pound list. He’s got a phenomenal jab, and he’s got a sustained pressure – he’s very calculated. That’s the two best things about him. He cuts off the ring well; he hits hard. I hit him with a lead right hand, I came in to try and corner him by the ropes, and people think he just turned me, but he actually hit me with a right hand, and that’s what caused me to go into that corner. He’s hit me and then spun round – he got out of the corner ‘cause he landed a good shot.
When we was both getting our stitches done he came over to me and was just saying to keep going and that I’d given him his toughest fight – that he’d had so many world title fights, etcetera. He kept pointing at his eye, saying, ‘Look – no one’s ever landed that much on me – you hit hard’. [My cut] looks like five stitches.
BN: How do you reflect on the stoppage from your trainer Tunde Ajayi?
The fighter and coach are always going to have their different views on things like that. I’m in there, and I’m so ambitious I’m always going to see the possibilities if the fight don’t get stopped. There’s so many moments in boxing where it’s, ‘Wow – who saw that coming?’, and Beterbiev’s the type of fighter who can be hit. We was trading – I rocked him before. There’s two sides – [Ajayi] did an excellent job because Beterbiev’s a concussive puncher. He had me hurt – that could have been the time he starts seriously unloading. The other side is he could have came in reckless and I could have landed a shot. But I’d rather the outcome as it is, than getting hurt in there.
BN: Who’s better – the Sergey Kovalev of 2019, or Beterbiev in 2023?
If Kovalev was in England, and the circumstances were different, I would have won that fight. In both of them fights, I didn’t feel outclassed. [Against Beterbiev] we was in there trading so we both felt the power of each other. The majority of the shots Kovalev hit me with were jabs. It wasn’t really right hands or uppercuts – that fight ended by stoppage because of fatigue. This fight ended by stoppage because of a good punch. They punch equally as hard, but Beterbiev’s more consistent with his pressure.
The Kovalev fight was more to do with rehydration – being inexperienced. I couldn’t get sealed drinking water for over two hours after the weigh-in – that in itself is clinical. [The Beterbiev fight] was a way higher pace.
BN: What about you, from then to now?
I’ve improved. With experience you’re more relaxed in certain situations. In this fight I showed more of what I’ve got; in the Kovalev fight I didn’t change my style much, apart from when I hurt him. I’m getting better as a fighter; learning the rounds; I know to switch it up earlier, rather than wait too long. I’m growing, due to experience.
BN: Do you think your performance proved you’re Britain’s best light heavyweight?
One hundred percent. Based on performances, there’s nobody in Britain doing what I’m doing. I’ve got the biggest name in my weight division, in British boxing, and [am] having the most dangerous fights. I’m having bigger fights – I could go easier routes. You haven’t seen them take risks the way I have. I’ll come back a complete fighter. Every time I have a fight I get better.
BN: Who wins, if and when Beterbiev fights Dmitry Bivol?
Fundamentally, Bivol’s been great. Beterbiev’s been like a steam train – he’s knocked out everyone he’s fought. I’m going to go with the guy I’ve shared a ring with.