NEW YORK – Artur Beterbiev jokingly asked press conference moderator Mark Shunock on Thursday why he reminded the undefeated light heavyweight champion that he is 37 years old.
Beterbiev didn’t make his pro debut until he was 28, after he represented Russia at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. The Montreal-based Beterbiev didn’t become a world champion until he was 32, but he hasn’t shown signs of slowing down during any of his five title defenses since he knocked out Germany’s Enrico Koelling to win the then-vacant IBF light heavyweight title in November 2017.
Mindful of his age, however, Beterbiev often checks with his training team for reassurances that the knockout artist looks like he did a couple years ago.
“I always ask my coach, condition coach, boxing coach, ‘How do you think I do? Less work than two years ago?,’ ” Beterbiev said during a press conference Thursday at Madison Square Garden to promote his fight against Joe Smith Jr. on Saturday night. “And they tell me, ‘No, you do better than two years ago.’ Maybe they lie to me. I don’t know.”
Beterbiev wasn’t the only one on stage Thursday that didn’t want to hear about his age. Smith dismissed the suggestion that he won’t box the best version of Beterbiev in their 12-round, 175-pound championship unification fight at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater.
“I believe this guy is in his prime right now,” Smith said. “I don’t think age has anything to do with it. I know he’s here a hundred-percent ready to go.”
Smith, of Mastic, New York, is 32 and still in his physical prime. The last unbeaten Russian light heavyweight champion Smith encountered, Dmitry Bivol, was just 28 when he out-boxed Smith in their 12-round fight for Bivol’s WBA belt in March 2019 at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York.
Though notably older than Bivol was when he beat Smith, most oddsmakers have installed Beterbiev as at least a 7-1 favorite.
ESPN will televise the captivating clash between Beterbiev (17-0, 17 KOs) and Smith (28-3, 22 KOs) as the main event of a doubleheader slated to start at 10 p.m. ET. The hard-hitting 175-pound champions will fight for Beterbiev’s IBF and WBC crowns and Smith’s WBO belt.
Featherweight contenders Abraham Nova (21-0, 15 KOs), of Albany, New York, and Robeisy Ramirez (9-1, 5 KOs), a two-time Olympic gold medalist from Cienfuegos, Cuba, will meet in the network’s 10-round co-feature.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.