IT’S been a year when too many big fights have either been delayed, or simply not been made, much to the frustration of long-suffering boxing fans. Want to see Canelo Alvarez in action? The Mexican superstar’s next scheduled outing has been pushed back from September to November, with no definite opponent yet (or even a definite weight division in which he will box). Looking forward to the Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder rematch? You’ll have to wait until February 2020 – and even then it will happen only if they win their planned autumn fights first (Fury against Otto Wallin next month, Wilder against Luis Ortiz in November).
But finally there is some good news, because on October 18 Oleksandr Gvozdyk and Artur Beterbiev will meet at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia to unify two of the four major light-heavyweight belts.
Gvozdyk holds the WBC title and Beterbiev the IBF belt – and both men are terrific punchers. Ukraine’s Gvozdyk (nickname “The Nail”) has won all his 17 pro fights, with 14 inside the distance, while Russia’s Beterbiev also boasts 14 early victories – from as many pro bouts.
Together, that makes a total of 31 wins with all but three ending before the final bell. It could well be one of those blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fights; you definitely won’t want to turn up at the last minute, or dawdle at the bar during the undercard.
“This could very well be the fight of the year,” declared Bob Arum, chairman of Top Rank, who promote the fight in association with Russell Peltz.
“These are two evenly matched, undefeated light-heavyweight champions. There is nothing better in the sport of boxing.”
Adding spice to the occasion is that this punching pair’s homelands are neighbours and bitter rivals. The choice of Philadelphia as venue figures to favour Gvozdyk, because the City of Brotherly Love has a large Ukrainian community. They certainly turned out in numbers when Gvozdyk boxed there (at the 2300 Arena) in March, stopping Doudou Ngumbu in five rounds to retain his WBC belt.
“The fans asked for this fight and we will deliver,” said Gvozdyk. “This is going to be a spectacular fight, one the fans will enjoy.
“One thing I know is that I will be the unified champion. I have the best trainer, Teddy Atlas, in my corner. This is our third fight together and under his guidance I will continue to get better.
“My first goal was to win a light-heavyweight world title. Now, I want to unify the belts, and that mission starts with Artur Beterbiev.”
The Russian slugger, for his part, made equally confident noises. He said: “I wish to thank Top Rank and my opponent, Oleksandr Gvozdyk, for making this unification bout possible and giving the fans around the world what they want.
“This will be a great fight between the two champions who aspire to become the undisputed light-heavyweight world champion. I am looking forward to stepping into the ring on October 18.”
For some it would seem to go against professional boxing’s risk-averse grain to match two talents with fewer than 20 pro bouts to their names. But the boxers’ ages tell a truer story of their experience, with Gvozdyk 32 and Beterbiev even older at 34.
‘Now, I want to unify the belts, and that mission starts with Artur Beterbiev’Oleksandr Gvodzyk
Both entered the paid ranks only after enjoying long and distinguished amateur careers. Gvozdyk was part of the outstanding Ukrainian team at the 2012 London Olympics, although his bronze medal was somewhat overshadowed by the golds of compatriots Vasyl Lomachenko and Oleksandr Usyk.
Beterbiev struck gold at the 2009 World Amateur Championships, having already won silver at the same event two years earlier. After missing out on a medal the London Games, he turned pro in 2013, basing himself in Canada with promoter Yvon Michel. He kept winning, every time inside the limit, but litigation with Michel slowed his activity before in November 2017 he finally got his big chance against Enrico Koelling for the vacant IBF title.
He knocked out the German in the 12th and last round and has since retained against Britain’s Callum Johnson – getting off the deck to win in four rounds – and Radivoje Kalajdzic in five sessions. Beterbiev is now promoted by Top Rank.
Gvozdyk turned pro a year after Beterbviev, in 2014, and based himself in Oxnard, California. He won the interim WBC belt by outpointing France’s Mehdi Amar in March 2018 and the real thing by dethroning long-reigning champ Adonis Stevenson nine months later.
That 11th-round knockout win nearly ended in tragedy when Stevenson suffered a serious brain injury, although the Canadian has since made something of a recovery. The Ngumbu fight is Gvozdyk’s only bout since.
Furthermore, Philadelphia was the hometown of one of the most exciting light-heavyweights ever in WBC champion Matthew Saad Muhammad, who enjoyed a series of thrilling contests there in the late 1970s.