Boxing is back with a bang this weekend as Russian knockout artist Arthur Beterbiev (19-0 19KO) welcomes Liverpool’s Callum Smith to Canada with three of the four major light heavyweight titles on the line.
Beterbiev is considered one of the biggest punchers in the sport but this is a genuine test against Smith who has looked a force since moving up to light-heavyweight.
The 19-0 (19KO) record highlights the unique power of Artur Beterbiev but he is much more than just a puncher. Before turning professional, he was a well-schooled amateur and he relies heavily on those fundamentals to put himself in position to win fights. On tape, he looks like just a puncher but if you ask any of his opponents, they all pay respect to his subtle boxing ability.
At 38, Beterbiev is approaching the back end of his career but his recent performances have all been impressive. Last year, he travelled to the UK and stopped highly touted Anthony Yarde inside eight rounds. In that fight, the Russian overcame some dark moments when he was caught clean by Yarde but he found a way to win, as he has always done in his professional career.
That ability to find a way is what will worry Team Smith the most. Throughout his career, Beterbiev has found himself in bad situations, including being dropped and hurt, but he has always regrouped and found a way to win. Very few fighters have that sort of mental fortitude and although Smith has fought world class opponents, he won’t have dealt with someone as mentally tough as Beterbiev.
However, it’s not all positive for the champion. By the time the opening bell goes this weekend, he will have been out of the ring for twelve months and in that time, he has dealt with an horrific jaw infection that will surely have left some lasting damage. Inactivity is never good, especially at the elite level and when you add in such a serious injury you can understand why some people are picking Callum Smith for the upset.
Smith, 33, is the youngest of four brothers all of whom have won titles as professional boxers but even by their own admission, Callum is the most talented. Starting out as a super middleweight, he quickly rose through the ranks and he knocked out George Groves in 2018 to claim the WBA super-middleweight title.
Smith ultimately lost the strap to Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez in 2020 and although he was comprehensively beaten on that night, his 6ft 4in frame had outgrown the 168lb division and it was clear to see. That is not to suggest Smith would have beaten Canelo at a different weight but he has looked a completely different animal since jumping to 175lb in 2021.
At his new weight, the likeable Liverpudlian has registered two wins and two highlight reel knockout finishes. Neither Gilbert Castillo nor Mathieu Bauderlique had been finished before but they could only last a combined six rounds with a reinvigorated Callum Smith.
Heading into this fight with Beterbiev, Smith is facing one of the biggest punchers in the sport but he is no slouch himself. He has 21 stoppages in 29 wins and his last two victories especially where one punch knockouts. The former super middleweight champion may be a newcomer to the 175lb division but there is no doubting he is one of the biggest punchers in the weight class.
For both men, this is the biggest test of their careers and with a huge unification clash with Dmitry Bivol on the horizon, the stakes couldn’t be higher. The fight being in Canada does give home advantage to Beterbiev who is based in the country but that won’t faze Smith who is used to being the away fighter and won his super middleweight title on away soil.
Beterbiev is the favourite (2/9) but Smith is a very live underdog. Unfortunately for him, his performance against Canelo is a black mark and it seems people are expecting him to freeze on the big stage again. However, if you judge his whole career, you can understand his performance that night and he deserves respect based on his first two fights up at light heavyweight.
This is a highly technical matchup but it’s the power of both men that will ultimately steal the headlines and as the younger, fresher boxer Callum Smith can spring a big upset and become the first man to beat Artur Beterbiev.
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BACK Callum Smith to win by KO/TKO 1pt at 7/1 (⭐
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PROFIT/LOSS (JAN 2024): PROFT -13.49 points