Artur Beterbiev vs. Joe Smith Jr. set up light heavyweight for exciting fights and an undisputed champion

For all its shortcomings in recent years, the sport of boxing remains on the rise for the second straight calendar year, with much of that success fueled by the increase in undisputed title fights.

Of the eight male boxers to unify all four recognized world titles in a single division over the past two decades, six have performed since 2017, including four times alone in the past 13 months. On the women’s side, four of the five undisputed champions of the four-belt era have been crowned in the past three years.

Much of the talk around having a single champion reign over boxing’s top divisions has included the hope that welterweight and heavyweight, the sport’s two financial divisions, would quickly follow. Given the ongoing talk of a fall clash between Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford and rumors that Tyson Fury is looking for the winner of the scheduled rematch between Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua, it’s clear we’re getting closer. .

One of the sometimes overlooked splits that is closing in on its own undisputed peak weighs in at 175 pounds as unified WBC and IBF light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev (17-0, 17 KOs) takes on WBO champion Joe Smith Jr. (28 -3, 22 KOs) on Saturday at the Madison Square Garden Theater in New York City. The winner could be heading to a four-belt showdown against WBA champion Dmitry Bivol (20-0, 11 KOs), who recently upset pound-for-pound king Canelo Alvarez.

Alvarez’s inclusion in one-off light heavyweight bouts in recent years hasn’t been enough to garner the division’s attention and anticipation for a single big fight that former champions Sergey Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson were hoping for. 10 years ago circling each other in expectation of a four-belt clash that never materialized. The closest to that split was Kovalev headlining a pair of pay-per-view fights against Andre Ward for three world titles and the crown of best P4P in play.

Can’t get enough of boxing and MMA? Get the latest in combat sports from two of the best in the business. Subscribe to Morning Kombat with Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell for the best analysis and in-depth news.

If there’s one thing Bivol’s recent upset of Alvarez has done, it’s raised the stakes as to the magnitude of a potential undisputed fight. Not only does Alvarez remain determined to get a rematch with Bivol after his fall trilogy at super middleweight against Gennadiy Golovkin, Bivol did well to raise his profile and P4P rankings with the win.

If Bivol did end up fighting Beterbiev in a clash between undefeated champions who are both ranked among the best in the world, the idea of ​​Alvarez fighting the winner is the best form of escalation to money and exposure for any the world at the top of the division.

But a victory for Beterbiev on Saturday is far from guaranteed. Although Beterbiev was listed as a 7-1 betting favorite, the 37-year-old Russia native has only fought twice in three years and has looked just human enough lately despite his knockout streak to wonder if the competition has caught up with him. with him.

Smith, 32, has been his usual stable self since a 2019 decision loss to Bivol. The hard-hitting Long Islander has won four straight, including a 2021 majority decision over Maxim Vlasov to claim the vacant WBO title, and slowly added seasoning to his game after arriving on the scene as an overachieving puncher who once retired Hall of The famous Bernard Hopkins.

The only potential problem with making an undisputed winner’s fight against Beterbiev is whether the promoters and networks representing the two champions will be willing to work together in a way that Kovalev and Stevenson were not. Additionally, is the potential four-belt title fight in question commercially significant enough to make sense for two competing networks to put on a common PPV card?

In a perfect world, problems like these would never be a problem. Unfortunately, boxing doesn’t exist in this world, which is why Alvarez’s inclusion in the mix could end up being crucial. Although Alvarez currently works with DAZN and promoter Eddie Hearn, the same couple who support Bivol, the Mexican superstar has used his influence and star power to make his own decisions in recent years and bridge the political divide in the sport.

But before Bivol (or even Alvarez) can harbor any hopes of undisputed glory, there must first be a crowned winner between Smith and Beterbiev. And given the punching power of both and the opportunities at stake, we can expect another thrilling clash in a division that has managed to capture the attention of casual fans.

Comments are closed.