NEW YORK — Artur Beterbiev vs. Joe Smith Jr. was heralded as an action fight not to be missed, and the ESPN main event delivered as long as it lasted — even if it was never competitive.
Beterbiev scored three knockdowns from Smith en route to a second-round TKO to capture a third light heavyweight title at MSG before 4,537 at the Hulu Theater on Saturday.
Beterbiev, boxing’s only champion with a 100% KO record, knocked Smith down with a counter right hand in the closing seconds of the opening round.
The 175-pounders kept hitting in Round 2, and Beterbiev’s power and shot placement proved too strong. The 37-year-old dropped Smith with a left hook and moments later the Long Island, New York native was back on the canvas after a series of punches.
Smith, 32, never tried to come to his senses. Instead, he tried to wriggle his way out of trouble. Beterbiev (18-0, 18 KOs) made him pay with a left uppercut one last time, followed by a right uppercut when the referee stepped in before Smith could fall a fourth time. The time of the interruption was 2:19. Smith (28-4, 22 KOs) was taken to a local hospital for observation.
“Maybe one day I want to be a good boxer, so hopefully today was a little bit better than the past,” said Beterbiev, ESPN’s No. 1 light heavyweight. “Joe is a bit more open and easier for me to get him. Two fighters both got a good punch and both tried to get it [there] First. This time I’m lucky: I’m there first.”
Beterbiev beat him to the bat from the opening bell. There was no scouting period between the two dangerous punchers, and for just over five minutes the fight lived up to the hype.
Smith was the attacker and tried to pin Beterbiev in the corner but the Russian fighting out of Montreal was able to use Smith’s pressure against him. He often took a step back and fired a return shot that hit his target, but Smith would not be dissuaded.
After all, the Long Island, New York native has consistently beat the odds. There was his first-round KO of Andrzej Fonfara in 2016 that heralded his arrival, and his KO of Bernard Hopkins later that year that sent the legend through the ropes and into retirement.
The longtime construction worker kept improving. He struggled through a broken jaw in a loss to Sullivan Barrera and was able to unbalance Dmitry Bivol in a title fight loss. He then defeated Jesse Hart and, with a stoppage from former champion Eleider Alvarez in 2020, had a career-best win.
And in clinching his second crack at a title, Smith clinched a majority decision victory over Maxim Vlasov last April to clinch a light heavyweight title.
But Smith was no match against Beterbiev. In 18 fights, no one could match Beterbiev. Neither Marcus Browne, whom Olympian Beterbiev hammered into submission in December, nor Oleksandr Gvozdyk, whom Beterbiev stopped in his only other unification bout.
Now Beterbiev is ready for a fight with Anthony Yarde, the 30-year-old Englishman who would have come so close to Sergey Kovalev in a 2019 title fight. There is no deal but the plan is for Beterbiev to defend his three titles against Yarde in London, sources tell ESPN, with October 29 as the target date.
“He’s a beast,” Yarde (22-2, 21 KOs) told ESPN. “He hits very hard. I’m a beast too, so I think it’s such an exciting matchup.”
An undisputed light heavyweight title fight with Bivol that upset Canelo Alvarez in May will likely have to wait.