IBF and WBC Artur Beterbiev light heavyweight champion is a destructive beast – been in the ring 17 times as a professional, scoring 17 knockouts. Beterbiev is a relentless force.
WBO titleholder Joe Smith Jr. is all hardscrabble – a fighter who’s worked his way up from nothing to light heavyweight honors. Smith is all about guts and determination.
Beterbiev and Smith meet this Saturday, June 18, at Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden. Check out the best bookmakers for betting on Boxing!
Russian-born Beterbiev, who lives and fights out of Canada, is a two-time Olympian. He dropped a competitive decision to super-talented and now heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk at the 2012 Olympics.
Beterbiev turned pro at 28, capturing the IBF light heavyweight belt in his 12th fight- and in his first defense, got off the deck to knockout Callum Johnson in 2018. Beterbiev had to rally to stop WBC titleholder Oleksandr Gvozdyk in a give and take donnybrook a year later.
The 37-year-old fought twice in 2021, dominating Adam Deines and ignoring a deep cut and his own blood to knock out Marcus Browne in round 10.
“I look forward to the challenge,” said Beterbiev a few weeks ago at a press conference. “Joe Smith Jr. is a worthy champion, but I am coming to Madison Square Garden to add another world title to my collection.”
Brought in as an opponent against contender Andrzej Fonfara in 2016, a Smith right hand ended the fight in a little over two minutes. Next up was Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins, who seemed to enjoy referring to big underdog Smith as “Common.” Smith served up his revenge explosively, knocking Hopkins out of the ring. A broken jaw derailed his effort against Sullivan Barrera eight months later.
Long Island-born Smith still received a shot against WBA champion Dmitry Bivol in 2019 but lost by wide decision.
Now what? Smith went back to his day job as a union laborer. Soon after, he started a company with his father.
Walking away from boxing was there if he wanted.
In 2020, Smith faced high-ranking contender Jesse Hart in a make-or-break match. Hart was heavily favored. Smith knocked Hart down – winning the fight by split decision. To receive another title shot, Smith would have to defeat former champion Eleider Alvarez – who considered his bout with Smith a mere tune-up.
Smith stopped Alvarez in round nine. His second title shot arrived last year. Smith and opponent Maxim Vlasov fought tooth and nail, with Smith winning a hotly contested decision.
“This is a huge opportunity,” Smith said. “Beterbiev is a huge name in boxing. He has two world titles, and I want those belts. I believe this fight is going to be great. You’ve got two big punchers.”
Beterbiev is a 12-1 favorite. He’s five years older than the 32-year-old Smith. Will it matter? Did Beterbiev show signs of aging in his last two fights. He didn’t look as sharp, even though he managed to win convincingly.
Smith will have to be at his best to defeat Beterbiev. His defense has improved over the years, but Beterbiev’s power can bludgeon an opponent.
Will Smith be able to take it when Beterbiev turns up the heat?
What will happen when Smith’s big right lands?
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