Three of the four light heavyweight world championships will be unified this weekend, as WBC and WBC and IBF kingpin Artur Beterbiev faces off with WBO titleist Joe Smith Jr. The two elite 175-pounders bring plenty to the table, and Madison Square Garden will provide an appropriate backdrop for this high-quality collision.
To get you in the mood for this unification showdown, here’s a look at three of the best fights from each of Saturday’s combatants.
Joe Smith Jr KO1 Andrzej Fonfara
Smith Jr was a 20-1 underdog when he stepped into the ring with former world title challenger Fonfara. The Pole had taken WBC champion Adonis Stevenson the full twelve rounds two years before, and had beaten eye-catching names like Julio Cesar Chavez Jr and Nathan Cleverly since.
Fonfara was seen as a future world champion, and Smith Jr merely a stepping stone to help him reach that goal. One crunching right hand, delivered just over two-and-a-half minutes into the opening round, ended one man’s dream, and put another man on the path to fulfil his own. Fonfara would never wear world title gold, but ‘The Beast from the East’ would.
Joe Smith Jr KO8 Bernard Hopkins
Only one fighter can claim to have stopped the iconic Bernard Hopkins, and his name is Joe Smith Jr. Granted, ‘The Common Man’ knocked out ‘The Executioner’ in the latter’s final fight before retirement. But considering the fact Hopkins was a fighter to whom age was but a number, and who held world titles well into his late 40s, the victory is still worthy of merit. Smith Jr knocked Hopkins clean through the ropes in their 2016 clash, with the legend unable to beat the count. Not for the first time, Smith Jr entered a fight as a heavy underdog and won.
Joe Smith Jr MD12 Maxim Vlasov
After some big underdog victories, Smith Jr’s career hit a roadblock. Losses to Sullivan Barrera and WBA champion Dmitry Bivol put the ice on the previously red-hot New Yorker. But as he had done so many times before, Smith Jr battled back from adversity. Wins over Eleider Alvarez and Jesse Hart set up a shot at the vacant WBO championship against Maxim Vlasov.
Smith Jr rose to the occasion on a difficult night in Oklahoma, battling his way to a tight majority decision verdict over the Russian. After going into the lion’s den so many times, ‘The Common Man’ had finally reached the pinnacle of his sport.
Artur Beterbiev KO2 Tavoris Cloud
A lot of boxers use their sixth fight as a chance to step up their competition slightly. For most prospects it is their first fight against someone with a winning record, some supreme talents may even face a regional champion. Not many will face someone who reigned as world champion the previous year. Then again, there aren’t many fighters like Artur Beterbiev.
Having knocked out his first five opponents with ease, the Russian-Canadian needed a fight that would challenge him. It looked like he found one when he met Tavoris Cloud, who had lost his IBF title via decision the previous year, and had competed in another world title fight since. Despite his world class pedigree, he fared no better than Beterbiev’s previous victims. Cloud was blasted out in two brutal rounds.
Artur Beterbiev KO4 Callum Johnson
Beterbiev had claimed his first world title in his previous bout, stopping Enrico Kölling to lift the vacant IBF strap. Britain’s unbeaten puncher Callum Johnson looked like a sterner test on paper. Coming off a first-round knockout of Frank Buglioni, ‘The One’ looked capable of at least testing Beterbiev.
For a short while, he did just that. Johnson sensationally dropped the champion in round two but couldn’t capitalise. Let Beterbiev survive and he will thrive. The Russian came battling back to stop the plucky but overmatched Brit in the fourth round.
Artur Beterbiev KO9 Marcus Browne
Marcus Browne is arguably the best opponent the dominant champion has faced so far. The New Yorker had lost just once previously, to ex-champion Jean Pascal. He started this 2021 bout well, boxing smartly and asking Beterbiev questions he has rarely had to answer.
A clash of heads turned the tide. Beterbiev was severely cut, and at risk of the bout going to a technical decision he would likely lose. He put his foot down on the accelerator and pounded Browne into defeat in the ninth round.
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