Beterbiev’s toughest test should be next: A fight with fellow champion Bivol

Boxing

QUEBEC CITY, Quebec — Now that Artur Beterbiev has maintained his pristine 100% KO ratio with another dominant victory, there’s little else to talk about.

It’s time for boxing to deliver one of the best possible matchups the sport can offer: A meeting between Beterbiev and Dmitry Bivol for the undisputed light heavyweight championship.

Beterbiev (20-0, 20 KOs), the WBC, IBF and WBo champion, left no doubt Saturday with a punishing seventh-round TKO victory over Callum Smith. Smith, a former super middleweight champion rated No. 3 by ESPN at light heavyweight, fought valiantly, but he was no match for Beterbiev.

Smith rose from two knockdowns before trainer Buddy McGirt wisely stopped the bout — he simply wasn’t on Beterbiev’s level. No one Beterbiev has shared the ring with has been able to compete with him, much less threaten to win. But Bivol, who owns the WBA belt, figures to be a big-time exception.

Bivol showcased his brilliance when he dominated Canelo Alvarez in 2022. The 33-year-old is ESPN’s No. 1 light heavyweight, one spot ahead of Beterbiev. And Bivol is No. 4 on ESPN’s pound-for-pound list, three places in front of his fellow Russian.

“Yes, of course [I want the Bivol fight],” Beterbiev said. “I need another belt. It would mean a lot to me.”

It’s a fascinating clash of styles: Bivol is a classical boxer while Beterbiev is a boxer-puncher. Bivol, 33, said his side of the deal is done for a meeting with Beterbiev in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Beterbiev, who turns 39 later this month, said at the post-fight news conference that he still must negotiate.

The fight is unlikely to happen until after Ramadan, which ends April 9. Beterbiev is a devout Muslim. But the fight must happen this year while it’s red hot, and during the post-fight news conference, Beterbiev expressed confidence it would materialize.

“It’s not done yet, but absolutely we want to do it,” said Beterbiev’s promoter, Top Rank chairman Bob Arum. “So, about three months after the end of Ramadan we’ll be ready to fight Dmitry Bivol, probably in Riyadh.”

Beterbiev, who is usually sarcastic in his comments, said Bivol is a good fighter but wasn’t prepared to call him great. He also said he wasn’t great and was lucky against Smith. None of that is true, of course.

There have been few fights over the past 15 years that can match up to the sheer boxing skill and accomplishment that would be featured in Beterbiev-Bivol. Beterbiev has shown vulnerability in the past — he’s been dropped several times in his career. But he’s always found a way.

Against Bivol, a masterful boxer, Beterbiev will need to find another level. And if Beterbiev’s remarks following Saturday’s bout are any indication, there appears to be animosity between the pair.

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