IT wasn’t too long ago that the light-heavyweight from Russia receiving all of the attention, adulation and praise was Artur Beterbiev. Yet now, of course, this has all changed. Now, following his breakout win against Saúl ‘Canelo’ Álvarez in May, the focus appears to have shifted from Beterbiev to his countryman Dmitry Bivol, someone whose career had until this year been comparatively lowkey, quiet, and easy to ignore.
In fact, it was in beating Álvarez that Bivol transitioned from dark horse to overnight sensation. His performance that night, one very few predicted, saw him defeat a superstar many considered the premier pound-for-pound fighter in the sport. It also brought new eyes and respect to Bivol and positioned him nicely for future paydays against either Álvarez (again) or someone else.
As for Beterbiev, the Russian with whom Bivol has for so long been linked, he was left wondering what might have been. He was, as far as we know, never actually offered a fight against Álvarez at light-heavyweight, but that’s not to say he didn’t dream of the fight one day happening or hope that, after Bivol, he would be next.
Either way, Álvarez saw greater opportunity in Bivol and Beterbiev has to now continue as before: or, in other words, settle for defending a couple of belts (WBC and IBF) and maintaining his 100 per cent knockout ratio.
So far, so good, his reign has lasted almost as long as Bivol’s (who won his WBA belt a week before Beterbiev won his IBF), though has been markedly different in every possible sense. For instance, whereas Bivol appears quite content to outbox opponents behind his jab and more often than not go the distance, Beterbiev, 17-0 (17), has successfully captured the imagination of fans by going after challengers and typically leaving them stricken on the canvas.
Indeed, it is this ruthless streak that had many believing Beterbiev was the Russian to beat at light-heavyweight. Unlike Bivol, he possessed – and still does – a desire to wreck every opponent he faced and, furthermore, boasted the kind of power that made the prospect of hearing scorecards at the end of a fight as unlikely as hearing angels start to sing.
Of course, just because Bivol beat Álvarez in May does not make these claims any less true, but that result will have certainly added a jolt of urgency to the 37-year-old Beterbiev, not to mention created a need to make up ground on his rival. He will attempt to do just that on Saturday (June 18) against Joe Smith Jnr, an American who also has a connection to Bivol, having boxed him back in 2019.
That night, Smith came up short, losing a unanimous decision in New York, and will naturally hope to fare better against Beterbiev this weekend. He has, since that loss to Bivol, won four fights in a row, including wins against Eleider Álvarez, whom Smith stopped in nine rounds, and another Russian, Maxim Vlasov, which landed him a WBO belt.
Still best remembered for ending the career of Bernard Hopkins in 2016, Smith, today, finds himself on a decent run of form and will presumably enter this fight with Beterbiev better equipped than when he fought Bivol, which arrived just two fights after Smith, 28-3 (22), had lost against Sullivan Barrera. He has some momentum, he is coming off a couple of solid wins, and, at 32, knows he is in his athletic prime. He is, in other words, as ready as he’ll ever be, as good as he is going to get, and will, backed by this knowledge, attack the threat of Beterbiev head-on, believing that, as has happened in the past, his own aggression and punch power will shock his next opponent.
If it doesn’t, and there’s every possibility it won’t, it could be a long – or short, depending on how you look at it – night for Smith. In the event of that, he will have to move more than he would like, perhaps at time for survival, and he will have to nullify Beterbiev’s attacks before plotting his own. It could, to put it mildly, become a hard, punishing grind, and during this grind it is conceivable he will learn what every Artur Beterbiev opponent in the end learns: that his power tastes different than the power of others.
In fact, Beterbiev, all thick wrists and thick neck, has an ability to generate power from even the most seemingly innocuous swings and is not satisfied unless his opponent is left horizontal at the fight’s conclusion. He will also be hungrier than ever given what Dmitry Bivol achieved back in May. Now, not only is Beterbiev on a mission to stay undefeated and retain titles, his usual goal, but he is back to having to prove himself as the best light-heavyweight in both the world and his own country. That is one challenge he never saw coming – at least until he settled the argument with Bivol in the ring – and poor Joe Smith could be the one to pay for Bivol’s impertinence, with a Beterbiev stoppage between rounds eight and 10 the fallout.
Taking place on the Madison Square Garden (Theatre) undercard is an intriguing featherweight fight between Cuban amateur star Robeisy Ramírez, 9-1 (5), and the unbeaten Abraham Nova, 21-0 (15).
Ramírez was last seen stopping Ireland’s Eric Donovan in Glasgow in February and, since losing his pro debut, seems to have found his feet as a professional following a decorated amateur career which delivered not one but two Olympic titles. Nova, on the other hand, turned pro in 2016 and competed all around the world until recently settling in America, where in January he stopped William Encarnacion inside eight rounds. A Puerto Rican now based in the US, he should, at 5’9, tower over the 5’5 Ramírez, though will be able to do little about the gulf in experience between the two, despite boasting over 170 amateur bouts of his own.