It has been a busy year so far for the British boxing business, with confirmation that novice boxing king Francis Ngannou will fight Anthony Joshua in March making the news for all the right and some of the wrong reasons.
In Las Vegas last Saturday, Ohara Davies, from Hackney, was knocked out in the opening round of a world-title fight. Davies had talked a good fight, waited patiently for about a year, and then was caught cold and early. It happens.
It was not the ideal start to the year for British boxers and this Saturday, in Quebec City, Liverpool’s Callum Smith meets one of the world’s most fearsome punchers, Artur Beterbiev, for three versions of the light-heavyweight world title. Welcome to 2024.
Beterbiev won the first of his world titles in 2017, has made seven defences and so far, he has knocked out, dropped, hurt, bludgeoned, cut and ruined every single one of the 19 men he has met in the ring. It is not uncommon for a boxer, with the protection of matchmakers, to compile a record like that in easy fights on undercards, but it is uncommon for a man to keep knocking out opponents at the highest level. Beterbiev has good names on his record, make no mistake.
Smith has lost just once in 30 fights and that was on the road in Texas, over 12 rounds, to Saul “Canelo” Alvarez; Smith injured a bicep, Canelo controlled the fight. It was not a slugfest; it was not a beating. Smith left the discomfort of the super-middleweight division after that loss, giving up on his life-long battle with the scales, to join the light-heavyweight division. He has won two fights quickly since moving up in weight after the loss to Canelo in 2020.
Beterbiev is five years older at 38 and has not fought since last January, when he was in a brutal fight with Anthony Yarde at Wembley; it finished in the eighth, with Yarde beaten, but two of the three judges had Beterbiev in front by only one point. Smith, incidentally, has not fought since the summer of 2022; this fight was pushed back from last year. It has been a long, long road for Smith to get here. The inactivity could be a factor.
“He has lost rounds, he’s been hurt and dropped in fights; I know I can do that to him,” said Smith.
Beterbiev has looked beatable in previous fights, he has been caught and dropped, but he finds a way to win. He always finds a way to win. At 38 he is, naturally, heading towards the end of his career, but he has only had eight world-title fights in just over six years – he is looking after his health and his tank. He is a smart man on both sides of the ropes.
Beterbiev has a natural rival in Dmitry Bivol, the unbeaten WBA champion at light-heavyweight, and talk of their long overdue unification fight rumbles on. The pair won their titles in the same month, November, back in 2017; it is a disgrace that they have shared the titles and not met each other during such a long period of time. Bivol has managed 11 world-title fights in that time. Bivol and Beterbiev not fighting highlights the modern problems in the rich, rich world of boxing – how can two unbeaten champions fail to meet each other during a six-year shared reign? It is crazy.
Both Bivol and Beterbiev were in Saudi Arabia in October and the feeling was that a deal could be done by the Saudis to finally get the unification at light-heavyweight on; the deal is still on the table, still being considered. And now Smith can ruin all the plans and walk away with some of that bag of cash.
Smith can box, he can bang, and he has a great chin. Beterbiev will need Smith to get involved in the type of hard, hard fight he likes; Smith is not a fool, and this could end with a glorious British victory. It might not always be pretty, but it might just be smart.