If he needs to, Artur Beterbiev can get to the center of the ring, plant his feet and play a very successful game of Rock'em Sock'em Robots. He is one of the hardest punchers in the sport and one of the best in recent decades.
That, though, isn’t what makes Beterbiev great. Rather, it’s being able to throw the type of combination he did in the second round Saturday at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden against Joe Smith Jr. that shows his greatness.
Beterbiev had Smith badly hurt and on the verge of going out. Most fighters in that situation would just get in front of a wounded opponent and open up, looking for the kill shot that would end the fight.
But after referee Harvey Dock allowed Smith to continue after the fight’s third knockdown, Beterbiev calmly walked to Smith. He threw a left uppercut, a right uppercut and a right cross.
Their impact on Smith was obvious. He staggered backward toward the ropes as if he had a 0.25 blood alcohol content and was hoping to make his way home after a big night on the town.
Dock pushed Beterbiev away and waved off the fight, giving Beterbiev Smith’s WBO light heavyweight title to go along with the IBF and WBC belts he already owned.
It was the best that Beterbiev’s looked since he first unified the light heavyweight belts in 2019 when he took the WBC belt from a very talented Oleksandr Gvozdyk. Beterbiev knew the unbeaten Gvozdyk would be a challenge to him and he performed accordingly.
He fought Adam Deines and Marcus Browne after Gvozdyk and wasn’t quite as impressive. But with so much riding on the fight Saturday with Smith, it was, once again, a different Beterbiev who entered the ring. Smith entered as one of boxing’s most unlikely world champions, a guy who had essentially no amateur career and didn’t have the pedigree of the overwhelming majority of boxers who win titles.
But Smith was tough and determined, could take a punch and most of all, could give one.
Beterbiev was tough and determined, too, and he can take a punch as well as anyone in the business. Of course, he can dish them out. But Beterbiev has light feet for such a big puncher, good boxing instincts, a great combination of shots and a highly under-appreciated defense.
He’s been trained superbly in the pros by Marc Ramsay, but this is one of those gifted fighters you don’t see all that often.
He moves his head, he parries punches, he creates angles and when he sees an opening, he rarely misses the target.
He’s another of the many superb complete boxers actively working in a suddenly rejuvenated sport. There was a time not so long ago that the problems plaguing boxing weren’t just on the business side, but in the ring, as well.
The fighters are more than doing their share now, thank you very much.
Beterbiev, who represented Russia in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, is among them. A massive fight awaits him against Dmitry Bivol, who conquered Canelo Alvarez last month in a heavily hyped fight.
Bivol holds the WBA light heavyweight title, the only one that Beterbiev doesn’t own. There is a limit business-wise on how big the fight would be, because two Russians who speak limited English aren’t going to be in huge demand in today’s political climate.
But they’re far and away the best light heavyweights in the world, with no one reasonably close. Yet, it looks like Beterbiev may be forced into a mandatory with Anthony Yarde, the WBO’s No. 1 contender.
That’s a who-cares fight if there ever was one. Beterbiev is light years better than Yarde, and there’s little at stake in the bout. But it’s the easier fight to make because of the promotional situation. Beterbiev is with Top Rank and Bivol is with Matchroom Sport. Yarde is with Frank Warren, who works closely with Top Rank.
Matchroom has a number of light heavyweights, such as Joshua Buatsi, it can pit with Bivol.
And so we’re likely to get Beterbiev-Yarde and Bivol-Buatsi. But that’s the kind of matchmaking that got boxing into trouble in the first place, uninteresting interim fights to get to the bout the people want to see.
Beterbiev-Bivol is the fight to make and one that will captivate the hardcore fans who support the fight so well. It’s the class puncher versus boxer match that has been a staple of the sport for so long.
Beterbiev, of course, is more than just a puncher, as Smith would no doubt attest.
He’s 37 now, though, and not going to be around forever. Why waste whatever’s left of his prime by putting him in fights that aren’t going to compel him to be at his best?
Make him a fight that he thinks he could lose and you’ll see a spectacular performance.
Beterbiev is the real deal in every way, in and out of the ring. He deserves to be treated like it by giving him the greatest challenge he has to his reign as the world’s best light heavyweight.