By Lem Satterfield
IBF light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev and his team have pushed a scheduled second defense against Joe Smith from December 15 to sometime in February citing too swift a turnaround – a span of 69 days -- from last month’s fourth-round stoppage victory over previously unbeaten Callum Johnson in Chicago.
The 33-year-old Beterbiev (13-0, 13-0) had a back-and-forth clash with Johnson (17-1, 12 KOs), scoring first- and final-round knockdowns but being dropped, himself, in the second by Johnson, whose run of four straight knockouts, including three in the first round, was ended.
“Actually, it was from me [who felt the Smith fight should be pushed back] because of [the proximity to the] Johnson fight, and [the opponent,]” said Beterbiev’s trainer, Marc Ramsay, said to BoxingScene.com.
“Artur has only just returned from a two-week vacation in Russia. That’s really a very short amount of time to prepare for a 12-round championship fight. For a fighter like Joe Smith, you need at least eight weeks. We made the decision together, but my advice to Artur was that the amount of preparation time was not enough. We don’t have an exact date, but it will be in February.”
Smith (24-2, 20 KOs) owns definitive first and eighth-round stoppages of title challenger Andrzej Fonfara and two-division champion Bernard Hopkins in June and December 2016.
Beterbiev-Smith was to be part of a high-profile undercard to the main event at Madison Square Garden in New York featuring Rocky Fielding’s WBA “regular” super middleweight title defense against Canelo Alvaez (50-1-1, 34 KOs) of Mexico, who is after a third crown in as many divisions.
The 28-year-old to Alvarez still retains the WBC and “super” WBA middleweight championships he earned by split-decision over 36-year-old Gennady Golovkin (38-1-1, 34 KOs) in last month’s rematch of their draw from September 2017. The 31-year-old Fielding (27-1, 15 KOs) of England dethroned Tony (23-1-1, 13 KOs) in July by fifth-round TKO, flooring the German in the final round.
“When we confirmed December 15th last week, Artur realized, after being back to the gymnasium, the short delay between the two fights was a concern of not having the optimized conditions to perform at his best. Even if the Johnson fight was short, it was intense, and Artur was floored in the second round,” said Beterbiev’s promoter, Yvon Michel, in an interview with ESPN.com.
“Smith Jr. is also a good puncher and a strong fighter you can't take lightly. Taking everything into consideration, his health and his intention to be champion for long time, he took the decision not to get in the ring Dec. 15. We were very comfortable with his decision. We are looking for a February date for his next title defense.”
Along with Beterbiev, his Canadian-based promotional stablemates Adonis Stevenson (29-1, 24 KOs), and Eleider Alvarez (24-0, 12 KOs) will also soon defend their WBC and WBO crowns along with WBA counterpart Dmitry Bivol (14-0, 11 KOs).
The left-handed Stevenson (29-1-1, 24 KOs) is the division’s longest reigning champion at 41 years old. In his last fight in May, “Superman” Stevenson fought to a draw with two-division champion Badou Jack (22-1-3, 13 KOs), improving his mark to 16-0-1 with 14 knockouts since a second-round stoppage loss to Darnell Boone in April 2010 he avenged by sixth-round KO in March 2013.
Stevenson pursues his 10th defense against Oleksandr Gvozdyk (15-0, 12 KOs) on December 1 at Centre Videotron in Quebec City on Showtime.
The 34-year-old Alvarez scored a three-knockdown, seventh-round knockout to dethrone Sergey Kovalev (32-3-1, 28 KOs) in August. On the same card as Alvarez, the 27-year-old Bivol (14-0,11 KOs) earned a unanimous decision over Isaac Chilemba.
Bivol makes his third defense against former titleholder Jean Pascal (33-5-1, 20 KOs) on November 24, and Alvarez-Kovalev II is slated for February 2.