The World Light-Heavyweight championship unification bout between undefeated WBC/IBF world champion Artur Beterbiev and WBO world champion Joe Smith, which took place on June 18th at Madison Square Garden in New York City, NY was one that lacked the type of buzz normally afforded to such unification bouts. This could be because much of the attention in recent times has centered on undefeated WBA world champion Dmitry Bivol‘s recent dominant win in successfully retaining his title over Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in May. Although it is also a reflection of the politics that be in the sport that some high level fights receive more attention than others, the bout between Beterbiev and Smith was one that had action written all over it.
In previewing this fight in discussing the similarities between the two fighters in terms of style, this observer said perhaps too simply that this fight could come down to whoever was able to land the first significant punch. Despite both fighters displaying a healthy respect for each other, the question of who would take the initiative to force the fight between the two pressure fighters was answered almost immediately as Smith initiated the combat. While this seemed like an interesting approach, it proved not to be a tactical one as Beterbiev patiently waited for his opening and then connected with a counter right hand that seemed to land on Smith’s temple sending the WBO champion down for the first time in his career.
Smith was able to get up and survive the round, but it seemed as though whatever strategy he may have been trying to implement prior to the knockdown went out the window. It was in the second round where Beterbiev continued to find a home for his right hand and would ultimately score three more knockdowns of Smith before the fight was stopped. Beterbiev had made an emphatic statement in scoring a one-sided second round knockout over a normally durable Joe Smith to add the WBO Light-Heavyweight crown to his unified Light-Heavyweight world championship.
Sometimes there is simply not much one could say or analysis that one could offer beyond the simple description of a one-sided fight that ended in dominant fashion. Although this observer was not expecting the fight to end as quickly as it did, despite the styles of the two fighters and knowing that anything can happen when two fighters get into a ring to do battle, it was as convincing a performance by Artur Beterbiev as I have seen thus far in his career.
While in a perfect scenario, this would naturally lead to a bout with WBA champion Dmitry Bivol, it would appear that Beterbiev’s next bout as now the WBC/IBF/WBO world champion will come against former world title challenger and current WBO number one contender Anothony Yarde, which could take place in the fall. Despite Beterbiev’s next bout appearing to be set in stone per mandatory defense obligations, which usually follow a unification bout such as this, that has not stopped speculation of a potential undisputed world championship fight between Beterbiev and Bivol, to the point that when asked outright what he wanted to do after his knockout of Joe Smith, Beterbiev stated outright that he wants to be undisputed champion when asked by ESPN as to what he wanted to do next. This then promoted a discussion amongst ESPN’s broadcast team as to the need of their network and digital subscription-based sports streaming network DAZN, which has broadcast several of Bivol’s recent fights including the recent victory over Saul Alvarez, to find common ground to make the fight happen.
Although longtime readers know that I am a long and vocal critic of the idea of networks whether they be traditional television or streaming becoming the ultimate decider as to when and how fights take place, Beterbiev’s promoter Hall of Famer Bob Arum, said in a recent interview with Boxing news outlet Boxing Scene, that he wants to see Beterbiev continue to remain on ESPN, referring to DAZN as “Dead Zone” in citing what he believes as DAZN’s low viewership. It is important for me to state before I go any further that I have been a vocal supporter of both DAZN and ESPN as both have focused heavily in recent years on moving Boxing more towards a reasonably priced subscription-based streaming model as compared to pay-per-view. While both have dipped their toes into the pay-per-view model by force in recent times, it cannot be ignored the progress both networks have made.
Now that I have made my position clear, it is important to remember that both networks have exclusive deals with promoters with Arum having an exclusive deal with ESPN here in the United States to provide Boxing content to the network across both its traditional network and it’s streaming network ESPN+. While no one can take away from Arum’s accomplishments in the sport and while he is entitled to his point of view as we all are, perhaps he should be spending more time worrying about his own business as opposed to throwing shots at a network that he does not have an agreement with and one that has shown a willingness to work with ESPN in the past.
Even though Arum’s comments can be explained as a promoter doing what a promoter does, it is such rhetoric that serves more as a determent to the sport more than an asset and Arum and ESPN would be better served by looking to provide the best cards possible for their audience as well as trying as best as possible to avoid using the pay-per-view model, which has seen underwhelming returns whenever they have gone in that direction.
Whether or not Artur Beterbiev and Dmitry Bivol are officially on a collision course for the Undisputed Light-Heavyweight championship of the world remains to be seen. The 175lb. Light-Heavyweight division does however, have two unbeaten dominant world champions sitting atop the division and if that continues to be the case, interest in a fight between the two will grow organically and it will not matter much as to the various interests of promoters or networks. When interests in a fight builds naturally, the public will support it.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
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