Beterbiev v Smith Jr. – Five things we learned:
- The Russian is the complete package – We knew going into Saturday’s contest that Artur Beterbiev was an elite fighter with frightening knockout power and a mystic demeanour that caused his competitors to seek alternative routes to titles. Even the former #1 pound-for-pound king Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez chose to fight what he considered the lesser 175lb champion in Dmitry Bivol. This may not be the case, but a sign of the intimidation Beterbiev (18-0, 18 KO’s) exudes. The way he took the first few minutes to cautiously see what Smith Jr. had to offer, and having done that, just before the bell unleashed a devastating right high on the American’s head to drop him for the first time was scintillating. His follow up in the next round to systematically take apart Smith Jr. with two quick knockdowns, including a big right uppercut to end the fight on 2:22 was spectacular. This was all from a suggested slow starter. We’ve seen Beterbiev struggle early in fights, seen him dropped by fringe contenders, seen him with horrific cuts, but we’ve seen him knock out everyone who’s has been in a professional ring with him. The Russian showed on Saturday that he’s a force to be reckoned with and it will take an excellent fighter to beat him.
- Smith Jr. chose the wrong game plan – ‘The Common Man’ was just too brave and confident for his own good. The decision to meet Beterbiev head on from the opening bell proved to be a suicidal one. Why would you do that ? Confidence, arrogance or maybe sheer nerves. Beterbiev seemed to have intimated Smith to such a degree that he lost all sense of a strategy that allowed him to work his way into the fight – almost a kill or be killed. True, it allowed Smith to navigate nearly three minutes of the contest but this tactic was doomed to failure. The Russian’s punches from very early in the contest seem to shake Smith to his boots, as soon as the first big one detonated the strategy should have changed.
- The 175lb division is hot – Six weeks ago we saw Dimtry Bivol put in a career best performance in beating Canelo. Although we knew how good Beterbiev was, the Bivol win somehow placed doubts on the former’s credibilility as the light-heavyweight heir to the throne. What Saturday confirmed is that this is one hell of a weight division. All of sudden there is not just a fight for undisputed status, but a potential ‘superfight’. This is backed up by a list of excellent contenders – Yarde, Callum Smith, Buatsi, Gilberto Ramirez to name a few. We could be seeing a return to the historical battles of the 1980’s featuring Spinks, Saad Muhammad and Braxton/Qawi. That would be mouthwatering.
- Beterbiev v Bivol is a fight for Russian supremacy and a pick ’ems – A combined record of 38-0 (29 KO’s), Bivol at age 31 and Beterbiev at 37, both elite amateurs, both coming off the back of their best ever victories and both looking indestructable. What more could you want ? Given what’s happening on the world political scene at the moment it is questionable whether a professional prizefight between two Russian’s should be taking place at all, but it is an intriguing matchup. This is going to a massive one to call if it’s up next. Do you go for Beterbiev’s, what looks on record to be superior power, or do you go for Bivol’s destructive jab and sublime boxing skills. Plus the fact that Bivol is coming off the back of a stand out win against a future hall of famer. This could be one for the ages which will certainly determine Russian fistic supremacy.
- Mandatory obligations continue to suck – No soon had Beterbiev gathered the WBO strap that there was talk of fulfilling his mandatory obligation to meet Anthony Yarde. As worthy as the Brit’s challenge is, having just come up short against Sergey Kovalev in an earlier WBO challenge, the fight we now all want to see is against Bivol. In victory Beterbiev summed it up in his post fight interview “Unification fights is more intensity, is more motivation. I prefer unification”. We don’t want unification, per se, as that legitimizes the sanctioning straps. We want to see the best fight the best, and, as early as possible in their prime. The path is set for Beterbiev-Bivol to fulfil this, and Yarde should take the winner further down the line.
Also on the Top Rank card there was also an excellent win for double Olympic champion Robeisy Ramirez (10-1, 6 KO’s) in knocking out previously undefeated Abraham Nova (21-1, 15 KO’s) in the fifth at featherweight. The left hook that settled the contest was spectacularly delivered out of Ramirez’ southpaw stance and after an earlier career setback the Cuban is back on track for world honours.
In the UK, there were good victories for heavyweight Nathan Gorman (19-1, 13 KO’s) and welterweight Josh Kelly (11-1, 7 KO’s) on the Wasserman Promotions card in Liverpool. Both look to move onto title contention. Gorman’s only loss is to fellow Brit Daniel Dubois who gained a WBA title in the USA last weekend and a rematch there may be in his future.
The weekend also confirmed the rematch date for Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua set for Jeddah, Saudi Arabia as 20 August. This will be for the Ukrainian Usyk’s world heavyweight titles. Tyson Fury remains The Ring magazine champion.