The hardest hitting champion in world boxing takes on a blue-collar American success story this weekend when boxing once again delivers a showdown you cannot afford to miss, writes Nick Peet.
Top dog status in the light-heavyweight division will be on the line when power-punch-perfect Artur Beterbiev collides with Joe Smith Jr at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Following Dmitry Bivol’s derailing performance against P4P star Canelo Alvarez in May, all eyes turn to Saturday night’s victor and an opportunity to crown one undisputed champion at 175lb before the year is out. Beterbiev, 37, boasts the most frightening record in world boxing: 17 fights, 17 knockouts.
The Montreal-based Russian is a former amateur world champion and two-time Olympian. A recognised world champion since 2017, he’s the current #1 light-heavyweight on the planet and criminally underrated on boxing’s pound-for-pound lists.
Self-motivated to the point of obsession, Beterbiev is a notorious grafter away from the bright lights and the reason why Canelo’s first – albeit failed – push for light-heavyweight riches was against ‘the other guy’.
— b0xingfan (@b0xingfan) June 13, 2022
A tough, rugged freight train of brawn and potency, Beterbiev takes criticism due to the fact he’s hittable. But whilst foes may connect on him two or three times, when he lands once they usually stay hit.
Combined, of the six world title fights he’s completed to date, his opponents records have totaled 124 wins against just four defeats. And not one of those challengers had ever been stopped before – or since!
Smith Jr, 32, has already suffered a career knockout defeat. But that loss, in just his seventh pro fight, is a million miles away from the champion he is today.
The Long Island native built up an impressive, but largely unseen, 22-1 record before he was handed a shot at Hall of Fame greatness in 2016. Bernard Hopkins hand-picked Smith Jr and paid the price, getting punched out of the ring and into retirement in eight rounds.
That night changed the trajectory of Smith’s career. But he was rushed into a title eliminator against Sullivan Barrera and suffered a broken jaw and a points defeat. Almost two years later, Bivol then outboxed him at world level too.
But Smith was far from done. The proud blue-collar former construction worker simply got back to work, overcame that career adversity and eventually won his world title.
Joe Smith Jr. found the grit to pull out his first championship win 😤 pic.twitter.com/YPWa3ciWr3
— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) June 14, 2022
After outpointing Maxim Vlasov last year, he successfully defended against Steve Geffrard in January with a career-best performance – a ninth round stoppage.
But Smith Jr will need to find another gear if he is to outwork, outbox or outpunch Beterbiev. He insists he’s planning on fighting fire with fire when the ring clears at MSG. I don’t know whether that’s incredibly brave or incredibly foolish.
If it’s the truth, then this fight doesn’t go past six rounds. In fact, even if Smith is playing mind games and his gameplan is to box, it’s still never going the distance.
Beterbiev is a monster. A predator. And predators need to feed. Smith has the stones to ensure it’s entertaining and may even pick up a couple of rounds. But once Artur starts landing clean Smith’s ambition will become his downfall.