Thu. Jun 30th, 2022

Boxing’s run of big clashes and multi-belt unifications continues on Saturday with what promises to be an all-action clash between WBC and IBF light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev and WBO champion Joe Smith Jr. The bout goes down from Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater on Saturday night (10 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Beterbiev (17-0, 17 KO) is one of the most feared punchers in the sport, having knocked out every man he has stepped into the ring with as a professional. He won the vacant IBF title in November 2017 with a knockout win of Enrico Kolling. Kolling nearly became the first man to take Beterbiev to the scorecards, but the relentless pressure of Beterbiev eventually caught up as he scored the knockout with just 27 seconds left in the fight.

Three fights later, Beterbiev added the WBC belt to his collection with a stoppage of Oleksandr Gvozdyk in a highly-anticipated fight that saw Beterbiev methodically break down an elite light heavyweight. He has twice defended his unified titles since the stoppage win over Gvozdyk.

In Smith (28-3, 22 KO), Beterbiev faces a fellow hard-hitting brawler who tries to use his power and grit to eventually catch his opponent and finish the fight.

It’s been a long run to a world championship for Smith, who beat Maxim Vlasov by majority decision in April 2021 to win the WBO title. That was Smith’s 30th professional bout. Prior to that, Smith had received a shot at WBA champion Dmitry Bivol in March 2019. Bivol dominated Smith in the fight, taking a wide decision that saw Smith only win two rounds at most.

Bivol’s presence in the division looms large ahead of Beterbiev vs. Smith. After Bivol scored a big upset over Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, he has the most name value — and possibly the most skill — in the division. The winner of Saturday’s fight could be set up for a four-belt unification with Bivol to crown an undisputed champion at light heavyweight.

Beterbiev vs. Smith card, odds

Odds via Caesars Sportsbook

Artur Beterbiev (c) -700

Joe Smith Jr. (c) +500

Unified light heavyweight championship

Robeisy Ramirez -450

Abraham Nova +350

Featherweight

Prediction

Smith can punch and punch hard. Given he’s a talented fighter with serious power, he’s a very live underdog at +500. That said, Beterbiev is a fantastic fighter and a level above Smith. Smith needs to find some way to keep Beterbiev off of him and have space to let his rangy power punches go. That’s a big ask, however, as Beterbiev is outstanding at closing distance, getting inside and mauling with work to both the body and head.

That approach to fights is how Beterbiev has been so successful. He forces opponents to fight on the inside, where he has the edge, and he breaks them down until they simply don’t have anything left. Smith is tough enough to survive for a while but not for a full 12 rounds. Pick: Artur Beterbiev via TKO9





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