For many die-hard fight fans, last night’s big light heavyweight showdown was expected to be one of the best fights of the year. Enthusiasts of hardcore, toe-to-toe fisticuffs eagerly put their money down in anticipation of Beterbiev vs Smith being a brutal slugfest between two aggressive warriors and vicious punchers. And the over four thousand fans packing The Hulu Theater in New York City did indeed witness brutality, but what most did not foresee was the carnage being one-way, inflicted exclusively on Joe Smith Jr. As soon as Artur Beterbiev connected cleanly, it was evident Smith was hopelessly out-gunned; he would be floored three times en route to a second round TKO defeat, his first stoppage loss in nearly twelve years.
Despite his reputation as a seek-and-destroy fighter, and his one hundred percent KO rate, Beterbiev began the match employing smart lateral movement, using his jab to probe for vulnerabilities and to hopefully draw Smith into a trap. Near the end of round one the Russian-born Montrealer found the opening he wanted and floored Smith with an overhand right to the temple. Just like that, the tone was set and the expectations of the crowd were drastically altered. Instead of a dramatic and violent battle, the match now threatened to be a one-sided wipe-out.
Indeed, Beterbiev picked up where he left off in the second, patiently drawing the brave Smith into his web and striking with laser-like precision when the openings came. Another counter right to the temple scored knockdown number two, and this time the Local 66 Laborer was in truly deep trouble. Smith rose but when the battle resumed he never attempted to disengage, to clinch or buy time, and seconds later he was nearly knocked out of the ring in a manner similar to when he closed the curtain on Bernard Hopkins‘ legendary career in 2016. Fortunately for Smith, referee Harvey Dock ruled a knockdown, deeming the ropes held Smith up (which they did), and began a count. But the end came soon after as a pair of beautifully placed uppercuts caused Smith to turn his back on Beterbiev, prompting Dock to wave off the contest immediately. At the 2:19 mark of round two, it was all over.
“My coach told me it’s not too far until I become a good boxer,” Beterbiev said afterwards, humble as always. “Joe’s a little bit open, and it was more easy for me to get to him. [Both of us] have a good punch, and both tried to [connect] first. I’m lucky that I was first.”
Going forward, “King Artur” made it clear that his sights are set on unifying the division, with WBA champion Dmitrii Bivol being the last obstacle in his way. “Unification fights are more interesting, more motivating,” he declared after his stunning victory. “I prefer unification fight. I want to be undisputed.”
Unfortunately for him, he may have to wait until 2023 to realize his dream of becoming the one-and-only light heavyweight champion, as WBO mandatory Anthony Yarde was in attendance and, even in the wake of Beterbiev’s destruction of Smith, he made it clear he intends to enact his right to a title shot later this year. When Yarde was asked if Beterbiev’s display of power would make him reconsider his normally aggressive approach, Yarde responded, “I hit hard too.” He might want to reconsider that take before their tentative date in October, considering that an aging Sergey Kovalev was able to weather Yarde’s best punches in 2019, just months before Canelo Alvarez decimated the Russian.
In the co-feature, two-time Olympic Gold Medalist Robeisy Ramirez scored an explosive fifth round KO over unbeaten featherweight prospect Abraham Nova. Ramirez, while showing spurts of inactivity behind his high guard, had the upper-hand throughout with his dazzling combinations and angles. Late in round five, a perfect straight left put Nova flat on his back in his own corner, prompting referee Charlie Fitch to wave off the contest and summon medical attention. Nova eventually exited the ring on his feet, but make no mistake about it, he was out.
Ramirez, who won the USBA featherweight title with his effort, was satisfied with his performance. “It was all about the strategy. I’m blessed to work with Ismael Salas, who is a genius in my corner. It really was about setting up that shot. If you watch the fight, it was about working, tapping the body until that opening was created. I knew he was dangerous, so I had to be careful, but when I saw my opening, I took it.”
Now 10-1 (6 KOs), Ramirez looks forward to bigger and better things at 126, a division with plenty of talent at the top including Mark Magsayo, Rey Vargas, Emanuel Navarrete, and Josh Warrington. Ramirez is also the last fighter to defeat unified 130-champ Shakur Stevenson, taking a split decision over him in 2016 to win an Olympic gold medal, so a potential grudge match between the two may be looming.
Beterbiev vs Smith did not give us the Fight of the Year type drama die-hard fans were wishing for, but there were certainly fireworks at the Garden last night nonetheless. “King” Artur once again showed why he is one of the most feared and destructive forces in all of boxing, and a fight to unify the 175 pound weight class between him and Dmitrii Bivol just became that much juicier. — Alden Chodash