The Weekender

Artur Beterbiev (left) eyes Joe Smith Jr.
Photo courtesy: Mikey Williams/Top Rank via Getty Images

Fight of the weekend is the big light-heavyweight (12st 7lb, 175lbs) unification contest between Russia’s Artur Beterbiev and American Joe Smith Jr at Madison Square Garden, New York.

The contest will be held in the smaller Hulu Theatre of the ‘big house’, but that doesn’t detract from the quality of this match up.

Beterbiev (17-0, 17 KO’s), brings in a formidable record which has seen him win the WBC and IBF titles in an almost imperious rise to the higher eschelons of the division. He is a methodical, break you down fighter, with devastating finishing power in either hand. However, with a lengthy and elite amateur career and, at 37, time is running out for him to cash in on his undoubted quality and a potential ‘superfight’ with undefeated fellow Russian Dmitry Bivol, the current WBA champion.

Bivol’s standout victory against Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez earlier this year has set him atop of the division in most fans and observers eyes, and all of a sudden Beterbiev is now playing catch-up. The imposing Beterbiev was considered the best of the bunch until Bivol’s shock victory.

A fight between the two Russian’s is much anticipated to finally establish the divisional king, and potentially one of the best match ups in boxing. But, first Beterbiev must come through Smith.

Smith Jr (28-3, 22 KO’s), holds the WBO title and impressive victories against hall-of-famer Bernard Hopkins, and contenders Eleider Alvarez and Maxim Vlasov, the latter against whom he won the belt.

At age 32, Smith’s been in big fights on big cards and this is his real opportunity to shake up the division and pave his own way to Bivol. Going by the nickname of ‘The Common Man’, which he inherited from a pre-fight slur by Bernard Hopkins, the affable American is the epitome of a blue collar fighter; from a working class community with a passionate local fanbase. This will be a local fight for him coming from Long Island, New York.

Smith’s style is one of immense bravery with a strong work ethic, backed by good skills. He’s so far got the maximum out of his strengths and will not be found wanting when the fight gets in the trenches. His record, heart and credible skills are to be respected.

Beterbiev, a family man, originally from Chechnya, is the one with elite pedigree having won amateur world titles and fought in Olympic Games. So far, he’s taken on and broken down all challengers and is nicknamed ‘The Beast’ due to his ruthlessness and imposing demeanour. He does though have a tendency to start slowly and has suffered from cuts in recent fights, but always found a way to win. His 100% knockout record is the finest in the sport.

It’s quite possible that a major upset could happen if Beterbiev is looking too far ahead and his miles on the clock all of a sudden start to show. However, there’s no evidence of this yet and it’s difficult to see anything beyond a victory for the Montreal-based Russian.

We expect a win for Beterbiev by stoppage in an attritional fight by the eleventh round. Then it’s onto Bivol and that contest for all the baubles.

The fight and card is promoted by Top Rank and will be shown on Sky Sports in the UK (2am Sunday) and in the US on ESPN.

It will also feature Olympic champion Robeisy Ramirez against Abraham Nova at featherweight .

Enjoy your fight weekend.

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