It’s a new “season” for us in our predictions, as 2024 has kicked off!
We’re getting it all rolling this week, with Artur Beterbiev (19-0, 19 KO) defending his WBC, IBF, and WBO light heavyweight titles against Callum Smith (29-1, 21 KO), Saturday night on ESPN and ESPN+.
Will Beterbiev stay unbeaten, or can Smith pull the upset?
Scott Christ (0-0)
I promised myself I’d take the 2024 “competition” seriously and not make so many picks I only kinda believe in; like, I believe in them, but I also know they would be sincere upsets, and most likely will not happen. And more often than not, those picks do not pay off. But I kind of want to do a “new year, same me” thing here.
The only problem is I think even a diminished Artur Beterbiev is a notably better fighter than Callum Smith — and the idea that Beterbiev is diminished is mere speculation, as it has been for several fights now, that he will Get Old sooner than later. Beterbiev’s a better boxer than Smith, who was dominated by Canelo Alvarez and should have lost to John Ryder. If those guys can get on Smith and punish him a bit, Beterbiev should be able to be Beterbiev again. If he’s lost 20 percent, he beats Smith. He’ll have to have lost 40 for Smith to reasonably have an even-money shot at beating him, and even then he might not.
Smith’s a good fighter. Beterbiev is something more than that. I will predict that the stoppage streak ends here. Beterbiev UD-12
Wil Esco (0-0)
It seems like the general consensus is that Artur Beterbiev is more or less on borrowed time before he gets old in the ring and it demonstrably shows. Obviously father time is undefeated, and Beterbiev won’t be able to keep this up forever, but the question is whether or not Callum Smith is the man to do it this weekend. I think not. Callum Smith is a pretty strong and sturdy fighter, but I don’t think he really has the dynamics to his game to pull off this win, and he’ll have to expose himself if he wants to get to Beterbiev before he gets to him.
I think Beterbiev, at least for this outing, won’t have such a significant drop off in form that he won’t be able to take care of business here. Smith has height and reach on his side, but I can’t help remember him also having those advantages over Canelo Alvarez despite being forced to shell up for most of that fight. Beterbiev catches Smith with the big shot and stops him late. Beterbiev TKO-10
John Hansen (0-0)
Callum Smith brings to mind a light heavyweight equivalent of Scott’s encapsulation of Jack Catterall: Consistent, not exceptional, but solid enough to beat anyone that has a bad night without being good enough to upset anyone great that’s actually on their game on fight night. If Beterbiev is compromised in any significant way by age, his litany of injuries, or the distracting judgmental glares of Eddie Hearn, Smith is steady and capable enough to capitalize.
I’m not too concerned that Beterbiev will stumble, though. I’m more worried about another injury happening during or after the fight, and killing any potential for a Bivol-Beterbiev matchup later in 2024. He’s already had injuries all up and down his body, from his infected mandible to his shoulder to his ribs… I just hope he doesn’t come out of this fight with trench foot or scrivener’s palsy or any other weirdo malady that keeps him out of action. Age will catch him eventually, as it does all exceptional athletes, and I only want to see him make the absolute most out of whatever time he has left at the top. Beterbiev KO-6
Patrick Stumberg (0-0)
We’ve been waiting for Artur Beterbiev’s wheels to fall off for years now, and while there was a bit of wobble against Anthony Yarde, he still managed to beat down a young, heavy-handed bruiser who was having the night of his life. Whether that means he still has the juice to beat Dmitry Bivol is another question entirely, but I’m confident he’s way too much for Smith.
To “Mundo’s” credit, he definitely looks revitalized at 175. He’s brought his power with him and may have even multiplied it. He can’t change what he fundamentally is, though, and that’s someone who meets opponents head-on instead of using his prodigious size to stay out of danger. He went from getting bullied by John Ryder to getting bullied by Canelo Alvarez despite a full year with which to address the weakness “The Gorilla” exposed.
He’s not elusive enough to stay out of Beterbiev’s firing line and nobody south of 200 can survive Beterbiev’s firing line. He may rattle Beterbiev once or twice, but once Beterbiev starts consistently forcing Smith to the ropes, it’s only a matter of time. Beterbiev TKO-10