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Why Artur Beterbiev could achieve much more than just undisputed champion status in 2023

As far as skilled boxers who possess an equal level of danger and knockout threat, there are very few on the planet as well-rounded and dynamic as Artur Beterbiev. Conversely, it would be difficult to find a champion this accomplished who flies so far under the radar in terms of crossover appeal. 

That reality is expected to change for Beterbiev (18-0, 18 KOs), the unified light heavyweight champion, should he finish 2023 by conquering the type of challenges that could be in front of him — namely unbeaten WBA champion Dmitry Bivol — in an attempt to become not just the undisputed champion at 175 pounds but recognition as, quite possibly, the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world. 

Beterbiev, who returns Saturday at London’s Wembley Arena to defend his trio of titles against mandatory challenger Anthony Yarde (23-2, 22 KOs), is the only world champion in boxing with a 100% knockout rate. The native of Russia, who fights out of his adopted home of Montreal, has also left behind a trail of terror in his biggest title bouts, finishing the likes of Joe Smith Jr., Marcus Browne, Oleksandr Gvozdyk and Callum Johnson with relative ease. 

Those who know boxing on a hard-core level are all aware of Beterbiev and his excellence. But how is it that someone this destructive, even with the fringe P4P consideration he has received, has failed to make a larger dent in the general consciousness? And how is it possible that he is already 38 years’ old? 

Beterbiev was a decorated amateur who won big at the international level but was also unable to break through in his biggest moments, losing to current unified heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk at both the 2011 World Championships and 2012 Olympics at light heavyweight. In fact, Beterbiev didn’t end up turning pro until 2013 when he was 28. 

From there, Beterbiev endured a handful of obstacles, including a promotional dispute with Yvon Michel, which saw him fight just once in a two-year span ending in 2018. He also endured a 17-month layoff in recent years due to the coronavirus pandemic. And even though Beterbiev has worked hard to learn English, and conducts his interviews that way, the results have been very … vanilla. 

Asked this week how training was, Beterbiev said, “I feel good, not bad” and “my team and I always try to be ready for anything, any strategy.” Pressed for comments about a future fight with Bivol, he said, “Right now, it’s Saturday night. I can only think about Saturday night.”

Even when Beterbiev was asked about how little he often says, the results were predictable, “You know, I don’t want to talk a lot.”

Luckily for Beterbiev, those within boxing who know how special his professional run has been, have no problem speaking up for him.

Former light heavyweight contender “Iceman” John Scully, who assists head trainer Marc Ramsey in Beterbiev’s corner, told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday that his fighter matches up well with any 175-pound fighter in the history of the sport. 

“Artur is there with any of those guys,” Scully said. “Size-wise, certainly punching power-wise and technique-wise, I’d say he’s right in the top echelon as far as boxing skill and all of that type of thing. I think he fights right in there with any of those guys.”

After a one-off fight under the banner of Eddie Hearn and Matchroom Sport following the breakup Michel, Beterbiev signed on with Hall-of-Fame promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank and the 91-year-old couldn’t help but gush when asked about his fighter’s ability during Thursday’s final press conference. 

“There are fighters today that are known for their power but I think, pound-for-pound, the biggest puncher in boxing today is [Beterbiev], who has knocked out every opponent who has been put in front of him,” Arum said. “It’s not because he isn’t a good boxer, he is a good boxer. But he also has that magic that you can’t really train a fighter for. It’s instinctive, the ability to punch and knock out an opponent.”

Although Beterbiev has been installed as high as a 9-1 favorite to defeat the powerful but limited Yarde, a 31-year-old slugger from England who was stopped by Sergey Kovalev in his only previous title fight, the true test of Beterbiev’s career is expected to come from Bivol later this year. 

Already on the short list for best fights to make in 2023, a Beterbiev-Bivol clash would declare the division’s first four-belt undisputed king but isn’t expected to be easy. 

Bivol might not be able to match Beterbiev’s power, but the 32-year-old Russian (who was born in Kyrgzstan) is a boxing savant and a master of controlling distance. He’s also fresh off a fighter of the year campaign in 2022 that saw him knock undisputed super middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez from his P4P throne before dominating 44-0 challenger Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez, all the way showing more of an offensive urgency than fans were used to. 

The sport of boxing is expected to produce four fights in 2023 that could go a long way in further defining the true P4P king of the sport, including Beterbiev-Bivol, Errol Spence Jr.-Terence Crawford, Tyson Fury-Usyk and Naoya Inoue-Stephen Fulton Jr. And should Beterbiev get past Yarde and extend his knockout streak with one against Bivol, it would be difficult to keep Beterbiev away from that type of consideration. 

He may be a man of few words outside of the ring and his window to maximize his greatness may be growing small as he closes in on 40. But Beterbiev does his best talking once the bell rings and the next 12 months could go a long way in the “Beast” cementing his name in the history books for a long time to come.

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