Advertisement

Is aging light heavyweight champ Artur Beterbiev ripe for an upset?

It’s difficult to imagine Artur Beterbiev losing.

That’s the result of the 175-pound titleholder’s perfect resume: 19 fights, 19 knockouts. No fighter in the world has been more dominating than the imposing Canada-based Russian.

That being said, some wonder whether Beterbiev is ripe for a downfall. Consider:

  • He turns 39 on Jan. 21, an age when most fighters are in decline or well into their second careers.

  • He hasn’t been particularly active, with only two fights over the past two-plus years (knockouts of Joe Smith Jr. and Anthony Yarde).

  • His toughest tests could lie ahead. He faces former 168-pound champ Callum Smith on Saturday in Quebec City (ESPN, ESPN+) and appears to be on a collision course with fellow beltholder and principal threat Dmitry Bivol.

  • And he recently had surgery to treat an infection in his jaw bone, which contributed to his inactivity. He was originally set to face Smith this past August.

All that could mean that Beterbiev’s record and place among the best in the business is in jeopardy.

One knowledgeable insider believes Smith is going to deliver an upset even though the Englishman faltered badly the last time he stepped up in class, losing a one-sided decision to Canelo Alvarez in 2020.

“I’ve picked Smith to win,” the insider said, “but it’s a timing pick. Beterbiev is almost 40 years old. He’s always been hittable, and Yarde’s punches were backing him up. I also hear that jaw infection/injury was really bad.

“[But] if [Beterbiev is] in top form, Smith is in trouble.”

The oddsmakers evidently believe Beterbiev is fit. They made him a 4-1 favorite (average of multiple outlets).

However, he did look vulnerable against Yarde until a hard right hand led to another knockout in the eighth round. The challenger was leading on two of the three cards after seven.

The same can be said of his fight with capable Oleksandr Gvozdyk in 2019, when Beterbiev came from behind to score a 10th-round stoppage in arguably his toughest outing.

Smith (29-1, 21 KOs) fell flat against Alvarez but has looked formidable before and since. He has won his two fights following his setback, knockouts of second-tier opponents Lenin Castillo and Mathieu Bauderlique at 175 pounds.

And the Liverpudlian is recharged under new trainer Buddy McGirt. He obviously faces an uphill battle but he seems to be ready.

“He’s a very good fighter,” Smith said of his opponent. “He’s a three-belt champion. So his achievements speak for themselves. But I believe in myself. I always have.”

Beterbiev and his handlers also believe in him.

The fighter didn’t say much at a news conference Thursday but made it clear that he has put in the work required to succeed, saying, “I’m excited, just like I am for every fight. For this fight, we prepared like we usually do, which is at 100 percent.”

His head trainer, Marc Ramsay, respects Smith but he expects his protégé to remain unbeaten on Saturday night.

“He’s a good fighter,” Ramsay said of Smith. “He’s complete. He’s No. 1 for a reason. But at the end of the day, Artur has been boxing since he was 9. He’s seen everything.”

Story originally appeared on Boxing Junkie