by Cliff Rold
Two year ago, Russian power puncher Artur Beterbiev appeared to be the most interesting rising, with a bullet, star in the light heavyweight division. Early knockout wins over former titlist Tavoris Cloud and Gabriel Campillo in less than ten fights was a hell of a start. Combine those names with a strong amateur pedigree that included two Olympic appearances and a World amateur championship; it was easy to see why hopes got high in a hurry.
Now 32 years old, Beterbiev (11-0, 11 KO) is fighting for only the fourth time since his April 2015 win over Campillo. A shoulder injury played a part along the way but absence is ultimately still absence. It’s not all bad. He still got to a title shot by his twelfth fight.
But while he may be the television main event, fighting for the IBF belt left vacant by the retirement of Andre Ward, Beterbiev is really borrowing a crowd.
The crowd enthusiasm folks will likely see on the live ESPN telecast (10:30 PM EST) will be for US Olympian Jose Ramirez (20-0, 15 KO). Ramirez is the draw in his hometown of Fresno, California where Top Rank has developed him into one of the most reliable ticket sellers in the United States.
That’s okay. Beterbiev wouldn’t be the first fighter to borrow a crowd and the upside comes if he can deliver the thunder that kept his name out there even when he wasn’t.
Beterbiev can borrow the crowd and make them his before he leaves town.
That assumes he can get by Germany’s Enrico Koelling (23-1, 6 KO). The assumption isn’t a reach. Koelling has never been stopped but he doesn’t appear to have the power to keep Beterbiev from coming at him. Nothing on his professional resume suggests a foe as talented as Beterbiev.
That doesn’t mean Koelling has no chances. He appears quicker than Beterbiev and puts punches together well. If one were gambling, an upset here just feels like a long shot.
If the assumption is correct, the best case scenario for Beterbiev is for Koelling to act as fuel to restart the engine of his career. After almost a year on the shelf (Beterbiev hasn’t fought since last December), Beterbiev has what could potentially be the biggest audience of his career.
The ads on ESPN this week alone might be the best dissemination of his name to date, though he did get time on some of the nationally televised PBC cards as well. Regardless, this is more than a chance to be seen. It’s a chance to garner momentum.
Momentum is important at light heavyweight right now.
The division is packed even without Ward. WBC titlist Adonis Stevenson still has a claim to history’s title and may be headed to a showdown with Badou Jack. Sergey Kovalev and Vyacheslav Shabranskyy will fight later in November for the vacant WBO belt. Oleksandr Gvozdyk, Dmitry Bivol, and Sullivan Barrera are all serious contenders. Mixed and matched, there is quality violence to go around. It’s a solid mix of technically sound talents and some killer punchers.
An impressive night for Beterbiev on Saturday could put his name on the tip of a lot of tongues. Who wouldn’t want to see him against a Stevenson, Kovalev, or Gvozdyk? The only folks who might are those who don’t know who he is.
He can make the population of the unknowing smaller this weekend. If he can get some activity going in 2018, Artur Beterbiev may finally arrive to the destinations he appeared to be headed, if only a little behind schedule.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]