The 175lb (12st, 7lb) light-heavyweight division is back in fashion !
Just like the late 1970’s/early 1980’s the division is now arguably the hottest in boxing. In the ‘80’s we had the quartet of Matt Franklin, Dwight Braxton, Marvin Johnson and topped by the eventual coronated king Michael Spinks.
This was a period when conversion to the Muslim faith by elite boxers was commonplace. Franklin would become Matthew Saad Muhammad, Braxton become Dwight Muhammad Qawi, and the quartet were joined by Eddie Gregory who became Eddie Mustapha Muhammad. The world title holders of the day were joined by a plethora of contenders who rivaled any division in boxing. These included Alvaro ‘Yaqui’ Lopez, James Scott and future cruiserweight champion Carlos DeLeon amongst others.
The era was complicated by the splintering of world titles by different sanctioning organisations which has continued to this day. This combined though, brought great rivalries and great fights. It was commonplace at the time for them to top The Ring magazine’s Fight of the Year.
In Britain, the division was led and represented by Liverpool’s classy John Conteh, who had won his WBC world title in 1974 beating Jorge Ahumada at Wembley, London. He was eventually succeeded by Matthew Saad Muhammad in 1979 over two high profile fights on the world stage.
Now, the renaissance of the division is represented by 2022’s The Ring Fighter of the Year Dmitry Bivol and three-belt world title holder Artur Beterbiev. Both fighters are Russian, sensitive in the current world political climate, but more importantly in a boxing sense are undefeated, and looking almost invincible. Bivol (21-0, 11 KO’s) and Beterbiev (18-0, 18 KO’s) are regularly registering standout victories, Bivol defeating Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez last year and recently top contender Gilberto Ramirez (44-1, 30 KO’s). Beterbiev also has over 300 amateur fights to his name being an elite performer and Olympian. In his last outing in July 2022 he beat tough American, Joe Smith Jr. to gain his WBO world title to add to his WBC and IBF belts. This Saturday (28th January) Beterbiev faces London, England’s Anthony Yarde (23-2, 22 KO’s) at Wembley Arena in a mouthwatering match-up. It will be the big punching Yarde’s second attempt at a world title losing to Russian Sergey Kovalev in WBO title challenge in August 2019.
Whilst the world is waiting for the all-Russian showdown between Bivol and Beterbiev, two former elite amateurs who dominate the division and both also in the top ten of The Ring’s ‘pound for pounders’, in the UK the competition is fierce.
Joining Yarde are current British champion Dan Azeez , former super-middleweight world title holder Callum Smith, recent world challenger Craig Richards, former British champion Lyndon Arthur and hot prospect 2016 Olympic bronze medallist Joshua Buatsi. These could all fight and arguably beat each other on any given night but someone will ultimately rise from the pack. The competition makes for popular and lucrative domestic fights down the line.
For now, Saturday’s fight co-promoted by Queensberry and Top Rank will make the picture clearer on a world level and pave the way for further British challenge to world honours. The contest is a genuine ‘pick ‘ems’ with the seven years younger Yarde (31) possessing the same concussive power that Beterbiev (38) has shown to be 100% successful in the professional ranks so far. The whole event is a must see with it being televised in the UK on BT Sport and ESPN+ in the USA.
Final weights and fight prediction to follow in tomorrow’s Friday Faceup.