Russian light heavyweight titleholder Artur Beterbiev probably wants to get a fight under his belt in the pandemic era before he even starts countenancing future unification bouts, but for his co-trainer, the big picture remains clear: targeting the other (for now) remaining threat in the 175-pound division.
"All things considered I think the eventual plan would be to see (Dmitry) Bivol in 2021,” John Scully, a longtime aide-de-camp to the Beterbiev team, told Boxingscene.com, referring to the WBA titleholder. “That’s the biggest and most important fight right now to make at 175 pounds, in my eyes.”
The 35-year-old Beterbiev, whose head trainer is Montreal’s Marc Ramsay, has run into one brick wall after another in the time since his breakout performance against Oleksandr Gvozdyk in October 2019.
Beterbiev (15-0, 15 KOs) was all set to defend his IBF and WBC light heavyweight belts against Meng Fanlong (16-0, 10 KOs) of China on March 28th in Quebec City, but the early stirrings of the Covid-19 crisis quickly nixed that arrangement. Then, the fight was re-scheduled for September 25th in his homeland of Russia, in Ekaterinburg, but that was also cancelled after Fanlong ran into visa issues. Fanlong was replaced by Adam Deines and the fight was re-scheduled to Oct. 23, but Beterbiev subsequently suffered an injury to his ribs, thus causing another postponement.
The fight was moved to Jan. 30, but in the most recent development, Beterbiev tested positive for Covid-19.
Beterbiev has since announced that he is back in the gym and training. And according to the WBC, the defense against Deines is going to land on March 20.
A Beterbiev-Bivol unification bout would pit three of the major titles in the division (the WBO is currently vacant). Bivol, a native of Kyrgyzstan, has been a longtime Russian resident. Although he has not faced as many instances of bad luck as Beterbiev, Bivol (17-0, 11 KOs) has not been exactly active either. He has not fought since his points win over Lenin Castillo in 2019.
Scully says Beterbiev has been in good spirits, despite all the cancellations.
“The plan is generally to just to get back in the ring as soon as possible and to maintain the momentum and continue riding the wave Artur was on after the performance against (Oleksandr) Gvozdyk,” Scully said.
Beterbiev stopped Gvozdyk in the 10th round. Gvozdyk subsequently retired from the sport.
“Artur had been in camp pretty much the entire year of 2020," said Scully. "[He is] always in some sort of training and keeping mentally and physically within range to actually fight. He's what you would call a true full-time fighter and in this era that's really saying something.”
In the shorter term, Beterbiev is most likely in line to face the winner of the vacant WBO title fight between Joe Smith Jr. and Maxim Vlasov bout on Feb. 13 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Scully says the revenge angle would make that fight very appealing for Beterbiev. Smith (26-3, 21 KOs) knocked out Beterbiev’s stablemate Eleider Alvarez (25-2, 13 KOs) in the ninth round last August.
“I think that has become a very viable and interesting fight based on Joe defeating Artur's close friend and stablemate, Eleider Alvarez, and also just based on the fact that he would be a very willing and dangerous underdog,” said Scully. “Joe is a guy who may not as skilled or experienced as Artur and he would be a decided underdog but you absolutely must respect his power and his determination to win at all times.”
Scully says he does not expect Beterbiev to budge from the light heavyweight division anytime soon.
“Speaking strictly from my opinion, I don’t see him moving up or down in weight right now,” Scully said. “Although he boxed at and was successful as a 201 pounder in the amateurs at a very high level, I would say 175 suits him perfectly.”
Asked if he was concerned that the prolonged layoff would negatively affect Beterbiev, who turns 36 in late January, Scully said he was not worried.
“One thing people need to understand is that this is a very young 35 year old man,” Scully said. “He is a very clean living and devout Muslim who doesn’t drink or smoke or abuse his body in any way. He also has not taken any real punishment as a professional so in this case you have a guy who may very well be at the height of his powers, in the middle of his prime, as opposed to being on the other side of it. His improvement just over his last few fights has been very noticeable and impressive so, in my eyes, I see the best is yet to come for him.”
“Just like everyone else, it has been a monumentally frustrating year for everyone in boxing but the silver lining is that you have a guy like Artur who lets nothing slow his progress and his attempts to get better,” Scully continued. “He obviously wants to fight and hates the current situation, but he is a very focused individual and unlike a lot of boxers during the pandemic, this is not going to slow his progress towards improvement as a fighter. You'll never catch him slipping in that regard.”