If necessary, Artur Beterbiev can get to the center of the ring, put his feet up and play a very successful game of Rock’em Sock’em Robots. He’s one of the hardest punchers in the sport and one of the best in decades.
But that’s not what makes Beterbiev great. Rather, it’s the kind of combination he made against Joe Smith Jr. in Saturday’s second round at the Hulu Theater in Madison Square Garden that shows his greatness.
Beterbiev had badly injured Smith and was about to go out. Most fighters in this situation would simply stand in front of a wounded opponent and open up to search for the killer shot that would end the fight.
But after referee Harvey Dock allowed Smith to continue after the fight’s third knockdown, Beterbiev calmly walked over to Smith. He threw a left uppercut, a right uppercut, and a right cross.
Her effect on Smith was obvious. He staggered backwards toward the ropes as if he had a blood alcohol level of 0.25, hoping to get home after a night of drinking on the town.
Dock pushed Beterbiev away and waved off the fight, giving Beterbiev Smith the WBO light heavyweight title along with the IBF and WBC belts he already owned.
It was the best Beterbiev 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 undefeated Gvozdyk would be a challenge for him and he played accordingly.
He fought Adam Deins and Marcus Browne after Gvozdyk and wasn’t quite as impressive. But with so much riding on Saturday with Smith, it was once again a different Beterbiev who entered the ring. Smith emerged as one of boxing’s most unlikely world champions, a guy who essentially had no amateur career and didn’t have the pedigree of the overwhelming majority of boxers who win titles.
But Smith was tough and determined, able to take a punch and, most importantly, give one.
Beterbiev was also tough and determined, and he can take a hit like anyone in the business. Of course he can hand them out. But Beterbiev has light feet for such a big puncher, good boxing instincts, a great combination of punches and a grossly underrated defense.
He was coached brilliantly in the pros by Marc Ramsay, but this is one of those gifted fighters that you don’t see too often.
He moves his head, he parries shots, he creates angles and when he sees a gap he rarely misses the target.
He is one of the many great, complete boxers actively working in a suddenly rejuvenated sport. Not so long ago, the problems of boxing were not only on the business side, but also in the ring.
The fighters are now doing more than their share, thank you very much.
Among them is Beterbiev, who represented Russia at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. A massive fight awaits him against Dmitry Bivol, who defeated Canelo Alvarez in a heavily hyped match last month.
Bivol holds the WBA light heavyweight title, the only one Beterbiev does not own. There are business limits to how big the fight would be because two Russians with limited English speaking will not be in high demand in today’s political climate.
But they are by far the best light heavyweights in the world that no one comes close to matching. However, it looks like Beterbiev could be forced into a competitive match with WBO No. 1 contender Anthony Yarde.
This is a who cares fight if there ever was one. Beterbiev is light-years better than Yarde and the stakes in the fight are low. But it’s easier fight because of publicity situation. Beterbiev is on Top Rank and Bivol is on Matchroom Sport. Yarde is with Frank Warren, who works closely with Top Rank.
Matchroom has a bunch of light heavyweights, like Joshua Buatsi, it can pit with Bivol.
And so we probably get Beterbiev-Yarde and Bivol-Buatsi. But this is the kind of matchmaking that got boxing into trouble in the first place, uninteresting in between fights to get to the fight people want to see.
Beterbiev-Bivol is the fight to fight and one that will captivate the hardcore fans who support the fight so well. It’s the puncher-versus-boxer class match that has been a staple of the sport for so long.
Beterbiev is more than just a puncher, of course, as Smith would no doubt attest.
He’s 37 now and won’t be around forever. Why waste what’s left of his best time by engaging him in fights that won’t force him to do his best?
Give him a fight 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 that way by giving him the greatest challenge he has to his reign as the world’s top light heavyweight.