What to watch for when Artur Beterbiev faces Joe Smith Jr. to unify three world light heavyweight titles


When Joe Smith Jr. narrowly defeated Maxim Vlasov in April 2021 to win the WBO gentle heavyweight title, a unification bout with WBC and IBF titleholder Artur Beterbiev immediately turned a can’t-miss matchup.

Two of the most important punchers in boxing will meet on Saturday at New York’s Hulu Theater at Madison Sq. Backyard (10 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN+ with prelims on ESPN+ at 6:30 p.m. ET) in what shapes up as an explosive motion battle for so long as it lasts. Beterbiev, boxing’s solely champion with a 100% KO share, is an 8-1 favourite, in keeping with Caesars Sportsbook, and with good cause.

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Saturday, June 18, 6:30 p.m. ET on ESPN+: Artur Beterbiev vs. Joe Smith Jr. undrecard

Saturday, June 18, 10 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN+: Artur Beterbiev vs. Joe Smith Jr., 12 rounds, for Beterbiev’s WBC and IBF gentle heavyweight titles and Smith’s WBO gentle heavyweight title

Beterbiev (17-0, 17 KOs), of Russia, is constantly on the cusp of the pound-for-pound record — if not within the prime 10. He’s a exact puncher who is aware of simply the place and when to position his pictures, and has the engine to hold that energy into the later rounds.

By no means was that extra on show than in opposition to Oleksandr Gvozdyk in October 2019, a title unification Beterbiev gained by way of Tenth-round TKO after he floored his foe 3 times.

However Beterbiev is 37 and confirmed vulnerability when he was knocked down by Callum Johnson in a 2018 battle. And he is been inactive, competing solely twice since he defeated Gvozdyk. And through that point, Smith (28-3, 22 KOs) has proven huge enchancment.

Listed here are three issues to observe for in Saturday’s battle for 3 175-pound titles:

Winner in prime place to face Dmitry Bivol or Canelo Alvarez

The Artur Beterbiev-Joe Smith Jr. winner may face fellow champion Dmitry Bivol to unify all 4 main gentle heavyweight belts. Mikey Williams/High Rank Inc by way of Getty Photos

Whoever emerges along with his hand raised Saturday shall be only one title wanting changing into the undisputed gentle heavyweight champion of the world. The opposite belt, in fact, is owned by Bivol, who upset boxing’s prime star, Alvarez, in Might.

Bivol-Alvarez wasn’t all that shut, regardless of the scorecards, and Alvarez properly determined to battle Gennadiy Golovkin on Sept. 17 as a substitute of a rematch with Bivol.

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It would not be a shock if Alvarez pursued a second battle with Bivol subsequent yr. If he does, a bout matching the winner vs. Beterbiev (assuming he beats Smith) instantly turns into one of many largest fights in boxing.

Even when Alvarez does not return to 175 kilos, a battle between Bivol and Beterbiev is a mouth-watering matchup that includes two of the best boxers on the earth.

Bivol’s supervisor, Vadim Kornilov, mentioned in Might {that a} battle between Bivol and Beterbiev was being mentioned earlier than he landed the Alvarez matchup. There isn’t any cause it could not be revisited.

Each Beterbiev and Bivol, of Kyrgyzstan, mesh effectively style-wise, too. Bivol likes to field from the skin and use his masterful jab, however he confirmed in opposition to Alvarez that he can string punches collectively, too. Beterbiev prefers to use stress in a seek-and-destroy model that’s way more crowd-pleasing. And he, too, owns a superb jab.

Bivol already defeated Smith in 2019, and the battle wasn’t all that aggressive. Smith buckled Bivol on the finish of Spherical 10 however was in any other case dominated over 12 rounds.

Smith’s improved jab and large proper hand

Joe Smith Jr., proper, has improved his assault, particularly his energy in the fitting hand. Mikey Williams/High Rank Inc by way of Getty Photos

If the 32-year-old from Lengthy Island, New York, has any prayer in opposition to Beterbiev, his success will doubtless hinge on the one-two punch.

Smith is undoubtedly heavy-handed, and he is been organising that huge proper hand much better not too long ago with a much-improved jab.

Smith’s most-notable victory stays his KO of Bernard Hopkins that despatched the then-51-year-old by way of the ropes and into retirement. However because the loss to Bivol, Smith opened extra eyes with maybe his greatest win, a ninth-round TKO of former champion Eleider Alvarez.

And in that battle, Smith was far lighter on his toes, electing to field and use his jab moderately than brawl as he had earlier in his profession.

He additionally floored Jesse Hart in a choice victory in 2020.

Smith was knocked out in a six-round battle in 2010, however has proven a gentle chin in opposition to world-class opposition. He’ll want it in opposition to Beterbiev.

Beterbiev’s energy and stress

Beterbiev stands atop the sunshine heavyweight division — and has for years — for a lot of causes. However none are better than his mixture of energy and pressure-fighting all tied along with a exact jab and underrated ring smarts.

The Montreal-based boxer is extremely robust within the clinch, and when he begins rolling downhill, he is powerful to fend off. Beterbiev bloodied and pounded Marcus Browne into submission in December.

Beterbiev is all the time capable of finding the mark and does not waste power within the ring. As soon as he finds the vary along with his exact jab and begins to chop off the ring, he appears almost not possible to take care of.

The one actual query mark is Beterbiev’s chin. Johnson, a hard-punching fringe contender, dropped him once they met, however Beterbiev rallied for the KO win. Smith is undoubtedly a tougher puncher — and higher boxer — than Johnson. And Smith additionally has the scale and energy to take care of Beterbiev on the within.

It is uncertain Smith can outbox Beterbiev over 12 rounds, however he’ll have an opportunity to land his fight-altering proper hand. After all, he’ll need to get previous Beterbiev’s jab, energy and stress first, a difficult puzzle nobody has come near fixing.

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