It’s anyone’s guess what exactly Yvon Michel and Al Haymon have in mind for Artur Beterbiev but boxing fans have every reason to be excited whatever the master plan may be. Last night saw the heavy-handed Russian native in action for the second time in only nine weeks and he appeared no less formidable in a seven round stoppage of Alexander Johnson than he had in his blowouts of Tavoris Cloud and Gabriel Campillo. With his career now firmly in the hands of Haymon, the former amateur superstar appears on track for a showdown with lineal light heavyweight king Adonis “Superman” Stevenson. And with both Beterbiev and Stevenson based in Montreal, that match has the potential to be a huge event for “The Fight City.”
On paper, Alexander Johnson may not have appeared to be Beterbiev’s most formidable opponent to date, but there’s little doubt he put up the best fight yet against the Russian destroyer on the undercard of Erislandy Lara vs Delvin Rodriguez (one of the more pointless of PBC main events thus far). No, Johnson did not win any of the six completed rounds, but he was competitive in most of them, using timely clinching, a sharp jab and a good right hand to the body to keep Beterbiev honest. He also showed his toughness, absorbing numerous heavy shots from his undefeated opponent and not buckling under the pressure prior to round four.
In the second and third rounds Johnson landed flush left hands on Beterbiev’s chin, showing both that the former world amateur champion can be nailed, but also that his chin appears solid (though, to be fair, with seven stoppages in 16 wins, Johnson isn’t exactly the second coming of Earnie Shavers). Johnson also succeeded in forcing Beterbiev to give ground as he moved forward behind the jab and some well-timed body punches, something almost no one has done to date. Beterbiev responded well, taking his time and patiently working to corner his man and land his heavier shots.
A flush right hand early in round four forced Johnson to desperately grab Beterbiev around the waist and signaled a change in the fight as the Russian took charge and began battering his man on the inside. To his credit, Johnson stayed in the trenches and battled back but he was simply outgunned. If round three was competitive, the fourth was a rout and the beginning of the end.
No one had ever survived into round five against Beterbiev and Johnson demonstrated he had in fact come to Chicago to fight and win, not just survive, as he leveled some serious blows at the Russian’s mid-section. But again, Beterbiev’s advantage in sheer power was simply too much to be overcome by the game southpaw. A perfectly timed left jab caught Johnson coming in and forced him to touch the canvas with his glove to keep from toppling over. Then a series of heavy shots punctuated by a flush right uppercut had Johnson collapsing into the ropes and a second knockdown was called. For the rest of the round Johnson took a beating.
Showing admirable courage, Johnson came out aggressively in round six while Beterbiev, for the most part, coasted. But in the seventh the contest was decided by what will likely be the key factor in any Artur Beterbiev fight: sheer power. A left hook floored an off-balance Johnson early in the round and then a vicious right hand to the temple sent Johnson down again and ended the match.
In most respects this was Beterbiev’s most impressive performance to date. While Cloud and Campillo sported more impressive records, in fact Johnson gave the Russian his stiffest test yet and Beterbiev passed it with ease. His power alone makes him a formidable opponent for either Adonis Stevenson or his former Russian rival Sergey Kovalev, but Beterbiev also exhibited outstanding accuracy and intelligent movement as well as toughness in this, his ninth professional match.
Only big names and big fights should be in Beterbiev’s near future, which means only excitement for lucky fight fans. Stay tuned. — Robert Portis