By Jake Donovan
A quick glance at the ring résumé of Artur Beterbiev will immediately draw attention to his 13 knockouts in as many pro fights.
Just as glaring, unfortunately, is the spacing between those moments.
“It’s been difficult for me, because I just want to concentrate on fighting (in the ring), not in (court),” Beterbiev (13-0, 13KOs) admitted to BoxingScene.com of his lack of activity in recent years. “That’s all behind me now, it’s a big relief to be with Top Rank and to finally just move on with my career.”
The 34-year old from Canada by way of Russia has fought just six times in the past four calendar years. His most recent bout came last October, rising from an early knockdown to drop and stop previously unbeaten Callum Johnson in the first defense of his light heavyweight title.
From there came the latest in years-long legal battles before scoring his biggest career win to date—severing ties with Yvon Michel’s GYM Promotions, with whom he turned pro in 2013 after two Olympic tours for his native Russia. Beterbiev officially moved on from Canada’s leading promoter this past March, signing with Top Rank and ESPN shortly thereafter.
His official debut as a Top Rank boxer comes this Saturday, headlining an ESPN tripleheader in a title defense versus Radivoje “Hot Rod” Kalajdzic (24-1, 17KOs) live from Stockton Arena in Stockton, Calif.
“I’m very grateful that Top Rank has signed me and allowing me to fight on ESPN,” Beterbiev notes of the moment, his second fight on the platform, having won his title in a 12th round knockout of Enrico Kölling on the network in Nov. ’17.
The feat came in one of the highest-rated shows in the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN series since its 2017 relaunch. An average of 1.9 million viewers tuned in for the bout, which benefited from immediately trailing the most viewed sporting event of the weekend, a high-profile game between then-undefeated college football powerhouse Alabama Crimson Tide and SEC rival Mississippi State.
In addition to the lofty ratings, Beterbiev’s knockout win also played to a massive crowd of more than 14,000 in attendance at the Save Mart Arena in Fresno, Calif. Most were there to see local favorite Jose Ramirez, who headlined the show in a knockout win over Mike Reed.
This weekend’s ring appearance comes under similar circumstances, at least in terms of crowd appeal. This time, Beterbiev serves as the main event, but with most the expected sold-out crowd of more than 10,000 coming to see local unbeaten super featherweight prospect Gabriel Flores Jr., who fight in a televised six-round undercard bout.
“I like that Top Rank is able to put me on these shows in front of big crowds, but it’s the same whether there’s 1,000, 10,000 or 50,000 in attendance,” Beterbiev insists. “All I think about is fighting. That’s what people are coming to see, fights. The size of the crowd doesn’t change my (mindset). All I’m thinking about is the fight.”
It’s all that the unbeaten light heavyweight has thought about ever since his last fight, which in turn came in a string of long stretches between victories. Ever since resolving his promotional issues, he’s been able to train with a clear mind and place all of his energy and focus on his upcoming opponent.
Kalajdzic enters the ring with an interesting story of his own. The 27-year old boxer from Florida by way of Serbia returned to the ring just last year after having previously called it a career in 2016 due to chronic hand injuries. The benefits of stem-cell research healed the pain in his hand and provided the necessary mindset to shed 50 pounds of natural body weight in returning to the light heavyweight division.
The lone loss of his career came in a highly questionable eight round decision in 2016. He’s since won three straight including a pair of 1st round knockouts upon last year’s ring return.
For his first career title fight, Kalajdzic promises an all-action fight, that their come-forward styles should produce a bout “that will top the Canelo (Alvarez vs. Daniel) Jacobs fight” which also takes place Saturday, live on DAZN from Las Vegas, Nev.
Being in the fight of the night is of less concern to Beterbiev than just finally being in a fight at all.
“Look, I know he has good power, he is a good boxer and can use his size,” Beterbiev says of his upcoming challenger. “He believes he’s going to win and that he will force a war. That’s very good, I hope he does.
“But I pay less attention to what he says and whatever other fights (take place on Saturday) and just about what I need to do and the instructions my team gives me during the fight. Whatever he says, he needs to think about that. I’ve thought enough about boxing (since last October). Now, I just want to fight and to keep fighting.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox