Longtime readers of this observer’s work and particularly those who have followed The Boxing Truth® are likely familiar with a column that I have penned over the last several years that typically serves as a beginning of the schedule at the beginning of the year. “A Boxing Wishlist.” While as time has gone on there are more than one item that unfortunately remains on the list year after year, one of the more consistent items is my wish to see all world championships unified to determine one undisputed world champion per division amongst the sport’s seventeen weight classes.
As I have pointed out frequently whenever the subject of a unification bout arises, my wish may seem overly optimistic and impossible for a variety of reasons including, but not limited to the various sanctioning organizations, with their own mandates, the slew of interim/regular championship designations throughout the sport, rival promoters that tend to shy away from working together even though it would benefit the fighters that they represent, and finally rival networks that have their own agendas, which unfortunately more often than not contradicts with what is good for the sport of Boxing and more specifically the public/consumer’s desire to see world champions face each other to determine who is the top fighter in a given weight class.
Although all of the above should be viewed as negative and among many reasons why Boxing continues to be prevented from reaching it’s true potential, recent times have seen progress in unification bouts taking place on a somewhat regular basis and one thing that I personally feel encouraged by, an undisputed champion defending his title against a mandatory challenger who held interim championship status in an organization, who’s world championship the champion held, and did so in a reasonable timeframe. While the decision of former Undisputed Lightweight world champion George Kambosos to defend his title against a deserving WBC number one contender in Devin Haney proved to be a costly one as Haney scored a dominant twelve round unanimous decision to win the championship, one cannot argue that Kambosos’ decision to fight the top contender that was available not only showed a true fighter’s mentality, but more specifically benefited the sport in showing that an undisputed champion was willing to take on arguably the most dangerous opponent possible for his first title defense.
Now a few weeks removed from that fight, which took place in Melbourne, Australia, the Boxing world now prepares to focus on another division that is taking another step toward full unification. This time, the 175lb. Light-Heavyweight division as undefeated WBC/IBF world champion Artur Beterbiev will face WBO world champion Joe Smith on Saturday, June 18th at Madison Square Garden in New York City, NY. The fight, which can be seen here in the United States on digital subscription sports streaming network ESPN+ refocuses the spotlight on the division that is still buzzing over undefeated WBA world champion Dmitry Bivol’s dominant victory over Undisputed Super-Middleweight world champion Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in May. While Bivol’s victory threw a monkey wrench into Alvarez’ plans to attempt to fully unify a second weight class, there was little doubt as to who won that fight though not many among the casual fan who knew of Dmitry Bivol prior to that fight and thus were not familiar with his Boxing style and skillset that bewildered Alvarez over the course of twelve rounds.
An argument that could be made that is a flaw to a degree is that when a fighter that enjoys the star level that Alvarez does enters into a division to seek more acclaim, it does take away from those fighters who might hold world titles in the division that are not fortunate to be involved in a fight with Alvarez. Though the flaw in choosing an opponent that was not stylistically favorable was exposed by Bivol defeating Alvarez in convincing fashion, the two other world champions in the division Beterbiev and Smith were unfortunately pushed to the background.
If there is a silver lining, it could be that by facing each other it could make the winner’s chances of meeting Bivol down the line for what would be the undisputed championship higher now that Bivol took care of his business against Alvarez and barring a potential rematch between them down the line, it would theoretically leave Bivol free to meet the winner of this fight. While that is a subject to discuss more extensively at a later time, it does underscore the high stakes that are involved here in this fight beyond three versions of the World Light-Heavyweight championship being on the line.
As for the fight itself, this will be an encounter between two fighters that like to come forward. Both Beterbiev and Smith are aggressive fighters that have shown a willingness to get in and mix it up with their opponents. Although each man has also shown the ability to box and earn decision victories, given the styles of both fighters, it would not shock me if this fight were to come down to who is able to land their power punches first as both have also shown the ability to score quick and sudden knockouts. When it comes to fights like this that feature fighters with similar styles going against each other, it always interest me to see who will take the initiative from the outset.
With two fighters that like to come forward and apply pressure on their opponents, something as simple on the surface as who initiates the combat can actually prove to be crucial. This is because of the similarities between the two fighters in that the fighter that fails to initiate things and more specifically attempt to control the tempo of the combat, will be forced into a position they might not be comfortable with in being on the receiving end of a pressure attack and it might be how that fighter adjusts that will ultimately determine how this fight will be fought and could even determine the outcome.
Both fighters have shown the aforementioned attributes as well as an ability to adapt when hurt, so this has the potential to be an all-action fight for however long it lasts. Now with the spotlight firmly focused on them, with both world champions not pushed to the background by the circumstances and politics that be in the sport, it is simply a question of who will be able to seize the opportunity.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth. “
Beterbiev vs. Smith takes place on Saturday, June 18th at Madison Square Garden in New York City, NY. The fight as well as its full undercard can be seen in the United States on digital subscription sports streaming network ESPN+ beginning at 6:25PM ET/3:25PM PT. For more information about ESPN+ including schedules, list of compatible streaming devices/platforms/Smart TVs, instructions on how to access ESPN+ through the ESPN app, and to subscribe please visit: www.ESPNPlus.com.
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