The Last Round: Beterbiev moves on while Smith picks up the pieces

 | January 15 | 

3 mins read

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Callum Smith came up short in his unified light heavyweight title challenge against Artur Beterbiev. The Russian-Canadian extended his perfect knockout record to 20 stoppages in 20 fights, ending Smith’s night in the seventh round.

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Your writer argued that Smith’s own power could trouble a champion who had been hurt by Anthony Yarde in his last bout, and knocked down by Callum Johnson in the past. But Beterbiev walked through the Liverpudlian’s shots with little fuss in order to plant his own concussive blows. It was a lesson in levels for the challenger, who looked well below Beterbiev in almost every department.

Smith isn’t a bad fighter by any stretch. In fact, the former WBA and The Ring super middleweight champion is a very good one. But it is becoming increasingly clear with each passing fight that Beterbiev could be one of the all-time greats. With his world title reign entering its seventh year, the only barrier to the 38-year-old’s continued dominance is his age. While recent fights with Yarde and Marcus Browne seemed to indicate that steadily-increasing number might be getting to Beterbiev, his fresh and vital display against Smith showed there’s life in the old dog yet.

They say your power is the last thing to go in boxing. Even Mike Tyson managed to knock out Clifford Etienne in 49 seconds a year after his world class career had been brutally ended by Lennox Lewis. For a fighter like Beterbiev, who never had much speed to begin with, losing a step of quickness arguably won’t matter. As long as the champion can give and take punches he has a chance against any light heavyweight on the planet. Given his power, he’s arguably a favourite to beat any of them.

Dmitry Bivol looks like a natural fit for his next outing. The WBA light heavyweight champion, a fight between Beterbiev and his fellow Russian would unify the undisputed title at the weight. It would also bring together a pair of unbeaten fighters in a mouthwatering clash of styles. Beterbiev is the classic, dyed-in-the-wool power puncher. Bivol is a mesmerising technical stylist who confounds opponents in lieu of concussing them. The fight is arguably the best that can be made in 2024.

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If Beterbiev’s next move looks clear, Smith is traversing muddier waters. For the second time, he has stepped into the ring with one of the pound-for-pound best. This weekend, as in 2020 with Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, he has come up massively short. Smith is clearly a top fighter, but there is presently a chasm between him and the true elite.

So where does he go from here? The four light heavyweight title belts are on lock, held by the man who has just beaten him and a man who probably would too. Smith is a former super middleweight and could feasibly drop back down, but the undisputed title at 168lb is in Alvarez’s possession. Cruiserweight is too much of a leap realistically. So where next for ‘Mundo’?

A return to domestic fights might be seen as a step back considering his world title ambitions, but there are attractive all-British fights available. A bout with Yarde would be extremely exciting considering each man’s crowd-pleasing styles. Similarly, Callum would provide an excellent incentive for the winner of Joshua Buatsi and Dan Azeez’s upcoming clash. Zach Parker is another world-ranked British boxer who would sell tickets opposite Smith. All of these fights would be high-profile and would keep Smith in the world-ranked mix. 

The nature of world class boxing was ever thus. One man from Saturday’s fight moves on to untold riches in another massive fight. The defeated party meanwhile embarks on a period of rebuilding. But after sharing seven rounds of brutal action this weekend, both men will likely fascinate us again in 2024.

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