Artur Beterbiev no longer has to worry about making a personal compromise for the sake of going through with his next fight.
The unbeaten World light heavyweight champion will now get to call the shots for his next title defense, which is due to come in early spring versus mandatory challenger Fanlong Meng. Promotional rights for the bout have landed in the hands of Top Rank Inc., Beterbiev’s promoter after Rejoy Group and Longjoy Sports defaulted on the original terms of the purse bid.
Journal de Montreal's Mathieu Boulay was the first to report the development.
A purse bid hearing held at International Boxing Federation (IBF) headquarters on December 30 saw Roc Nation Sports’ Dino Duva—Meng’s stateside promoter—submit a massive bid of $1.9 million on behalf of Andrew Lu’s Rejoy Group to secure promotional rights for the ordered title fight.
Terms of the hearing called for the winning bidder to place a non-refundable 10% deposit of the total purse amount at the time of the purse bid, with another 10% deposit to be submitted no later than five (5) business days later.
That time frame has come and gone with such terms being honored, which nullifies the winning bid. As such, it places the rights back in the hands of Top Rank Inc., who submitted a bid of $1.315 million at the time of the December 30 session. BoxingScene.com has learned that plans call for Beterbiev (15-0, 15KOs)—a two-time Olympian for his native Russia who is now based in Canada—to defend his title in late March either in Quebec City or Montreal.
It’s a drastic switch from Beterbiev—a devout Muslim—mulling the possibility of having to travel to China, in light of its government’s accused ethnic cleansing of Uighur Muslims, roughly one million of whom are currently being held in mass detention in the Xinjiang province.
With the latest development comes a sigh of relief, as it is now Beterbiev who will presumably enjoy hometown advantage for his first fight since becoming a unified titlist and lineal light heavyweight champion. The 34-year old knockout artist—who has stopped all 15 pro opponents to date—surged to the top of the 175-pound mountain following a 10th round knockout of previously unbeaten Oleksandr Gvozdyk in their unification clash last October in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Overall, Beterbiev will make the fourth overall defense of his IBF title, which he claimed in a 12th round stoppage of Enrico Koelling in November 2017. The bout marked the lone time in his career in which Beterbiev has been extended that deep in a prizefight. Wedged in between his two title-claiming wins were knockout victories over Callum Johnson and Radivoje Kalajdzic.
The latter served as an ESPN-televised headliner this past May five months prior to laying claim as the best light heavyweight on the planet following his stoppage win over Gvozdyk in October, also on ESPN. His title defense versus China’s Meng (16-0, 10KOs) will likely be carried on an ESPN platform, be it linear TV or on its ESPN+ streaming service.
Either way, Top Rank gets its wish to stage this defense in Canada, to where Beterbiev relocated upon turning pro in 2013, one year after the second of two Olympic tours for his native Russia at the amateur heavyweight limit in 2012 London.
Those same games saw Meng compete in the light heavyweight division for his native China, where his handlers hoped to bring this particular fight. Meng dropped a decision to eventual Bronze medalist Yamaguchi Falcao in the 2012 London Olympics, though not turning pro for another three years.
It’s been a rapid race to the top for the 31-year old southpaw, who worked his way to the mandatory position by his 15th pro fight following a 12-round win over fellow unbeaten contender Adam Deines this past June in Macao. The title eliminator took place as part of the annual IBF convention, with the promise of a title fight taking place no later than the 1st quarter of 2020.
With the patience of allowing Betetbiev an interim bout now comes the opportunity to challenge for two major titles. Only now, it comes on the terms of the defending champion.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox