The Artur Beterbiev Horror Show, in theaters for a limited time


For a sport centered around rendering people insensate through sustained blunt-force trauma, the people who are good at that don’t always get the credit that they deserve.

There is, I think, a tendency to undervalue the skills of offensive specialists. I don’t mean aggressive boxer-punchers like Naoya Inoue or Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, but in-the-trenches beatdown artists whose talents lend themselves to eschewing the hit-and-don’t-get-hit paradigm in favor of maximum damage.

This has a few components, most notably a learned aversion to “baser” forms of fighting. In the same way that horror, comedy, and action are often regarded as lesser genres than drama or tragedy, slugging is perceived as cruder than textbook boxing even when there’s genuine depth to it. The more you refine your palate, the greater the instinct to separate yourself from the original appeal of the medium, whether that be enjoying antics on a big screen or hooting as two guys trade concussions until one of them stops getting up.

When we think of “correct” boxing, especially when comparing fighters for things like pound-for-pound lists, the natural instinct is to favor the technician regardless of whether the slugger is getting similar or better results. Success is all about maximizing your gifts, but if that gift is durability or raw power, it’s more easily dismissed than reach or reflexes.

To be fair, it can also be a lot trickier to pick out the nuances when two fighters are trading at point blank. It’s one thing to watch Floyd Mayweather catch a right hand on his shoulder and come back with a missile down the pipe, quite another to see Brian Castano or Subriel Matias eat two punches in the pocket and realize a lesser fighter would have eaten five. Like in all permutations of the Sweet Science, there are levels to beating the s**t out of people.

If your run-of-the-mill brawler can be likened to jump-scare-riddled schlock, then Artur Beterbiev is Aliens. The components are similar: offensive prioritization and looping blows on the literal side, inhuman monsters on the metaphorical side, and a preponderance of blood on both. The difference is in execution. Beterbiev cuts the ring like few others, and though his punches aren’t as aesthetically pleasing as Dmitry Bivol’s picture-perfect pistons, his placement and shot selection lets them land with alarming frequency.

He doesn’t leave the ring as handsome as he entered it like a more conservative fighter would, but if he’s beating people just as if not more decisively, can that really be called a worse way of doing it? Do rougher brushstrokes make lesser art?

We didn’t get to see nearly as much of the Artur Beterbiev Horror Show as we should have; one can only imagine the director’s cut, untouched by injury and promotional issues. Beyond the tension endemic to watching him wade into the fire time and again, there’s the growing fear that this will be the showing where the film finally falls apart. Regardless of how little time remains in its theatrical run, though, it deserves to be appreciated.

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