California commission won't force Artur Beterbiev to shave his beard

Combat columnist
Yahoo Sports

A minor controversy erupted at Friday’s weigh-in in Stockton, California, for the IBF light heavyweight title fight between unbeaten champion Artur Beterbiev,  and challenge Radivoje “Hot Rod” Kalajdzic, which will be televised by ESPN Saturday.

Kalajdzic’s team complained about the length of Beterbiev’s beard, which extends about an inch or two below his chin. Beterbiev (13-0, 13 KOs) is Muslim and Ramadan begins on Sunday. Muslim men aren’t supposed to shave their beards during Ramadan.

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Andy Foster, the executive officer of the California State Athletic Commission, said referee Dan Stell didn’t have a problem with Beterbiev’s beard and ruled he could fight with it.

Foster referred to a commission rule which notes all fighters “shall be clean and present a tidy appearance. It shall be at the sole discretion of the commission or its representative to determine whether facial adornments (mustaches, goatees, excessive sideburns) and length of hair presents any potential hazard to the safety of the contestant or his or her opponent, or will interfere with the supervision or conduct of the contest.”

IBF light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev (L) poses with challenge Radivoje Kalajdzic. (Mikey Williams/Top Rank)
IBF light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev (L) poses with challenge Radivoje Kalajdzic. (Mikey Williams/Top Rank)

Kalajdzic promoter Lou DiBella said Kalajdzic (24-1, 17 KOs) would not file a protest. He said the team raised the issue for a number of reasons, including the fact it could obstruct whether a punch landed or just hit the beard hanging down the chest.

“It shouldn’t be long enough that you’re wondering whether a punch landed on the chin or grazed the chest,” DiBella said. “And instinctively, I think we should recognize that a prizefighter shouldn’t look like Santa Claus or ZZ Top.”

Foster said he respected Beterbiev’s right to have his beard for religious reasons, but a boxing license is a privileged one.

“There’s a fine line between having respect for religious liberties and the privilege to have a license in the state of California,” Foster said. “Dan Stell is the commission representative and he made his decision. He doesn’t believe it will impact the health and safety of the fighters and nor did he feel it provided any kind of a competitive advantage.”

Following discussion between the two camps, Beterbiev made a gentlemen’s agreement with Kalajdzic to trim his beard instead of shave it entirely.

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