Unified light heavyweight world champion Artur Beterbiev’s mandatory defense against Meng Fanlong, one of the many fights postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, has a new date and location.
Plans call for the bout to take place on Sept. 25 at the Ekaterinburg Expo in Ekaterinburg, Russia, and air on an ESPN platform in the United States, Top Rank told BoxingScene.com on Tuesday.
“The financial deal has been made for the Russian promoter to put on the fight,” Top Rank chairman Bob Arum said, referring to organizer Kirill Shchekutyev, who is involved with the Russian Boxing Federation, and his group. “Having the TV (rights) in the U.S. was part of the deal, a cornerstone of the deal we made.”
The fight was initially slated to headline a Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card on March 28 and take place at the Videotron Centre in Quebec City, Canada, which is not far from Beterbiev’s adopted hometown of Montreal.
Beterbiev, 35, represented Russia in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics but he has never boxed professionally in his home country. In preparation for his pro debut, which came in June 2013, Beterbiev relocated to Montreal after signing with Canadian promoter Yvon Michel before later signing with Top Rank.
Beterbiev has had 10 of his pro bouts in Canada and five in the United States, but Arum said Beterbiev was looking forward to fighting in his home country in the next fight.
“He’s very anxious to fight in Russia because (the Russian group) can pay him the amount of money that he thinks he is entitled to, which he probably is, but our arrangement for this fight was based on there being a substantial boost from the live gate in Quebec City. But we can’t do the fight with a gate because of the coronavirus," Arum said.
Beterbiev (15-0, 15 KOs), who is boxing’s only current titleholder with a perfect knockout percentage, knocked out Enrico Koelling in the 12th round to win a vacant 175-pound world title in November 2017 and has successfully defended the title three times, none bigger than in his last fight. That was on Oct. 18 at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia, where Beterbiev knocked out then-undefeated Oleksandr Gvozdyk in the 10th round of a very competitive fight to unify two world titles and also become the lineal world champion. Gvozdyk later announced his retirement.
The southpaw Meng (16-0, 10), 32, who was a 2012 Olympian, won a unanimous decision against then-undefeated Adam Deines on June 1 in Macau, China, in a world title elimination bout to become Beterbiev’s mandatory challenger. Meng returned for a second-round knockout of Gilberto Rubio on Oct. 5 in a stay-busy fight before his chance to fight for the world title.
The bout has shuffled to three different dates and sites. Initially, Chinese promoter Longjoy Sports, which has a working relationship with Meng promoter Roc Nation Sports, won a purse bid for the bout on Dec. 30, offering $1.9 million to beat the offer of $1.315 million from Top Rank. But Longjoy Sports eventually defaulted on its bid, giving underbidder Top Rank control of the promotion and scheduled the bout for March 28 in Quebec City before it had to scuttle those plans due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Dan Rafael was ESPN.com's senior boxing writer for fifteen years, and covered the sport for five years at USA Today. He was the 2013 BWAA Nat Fleischer Award winner for excellence in boxing journalism.