What mindset do you place yourself in, to take on WBC and IBF light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev, who´s stopped all seventeen opponents in his professional career?
WBO champion Joe Smith Jr is donning his strategic thinking cap, because it´s a question which will starkly and poignantly confront him at Madison Square Garden, just up the road from where he lives on Long Island, dateline Saturday June 18th.
For years, Joe has balanced a day job in construction with his night work as a boxer. In 2017, he and his dad founded Team Smith Tree Service. On the big night, he must do everything in his power to wield the axe, chop and bring about the felling, while avoiding: “Timber!”
Born in Khasavyurt Russia, but now Canadian, Artur who started his pro career in 2013, is a destroyer in the ring. Up to now and like the Mounties, he´s always got his man. He KO´s and TKO´s opponents from round one and dispatches them in the twelfth, like he did with Enrico Koelling for the vacant IBF title. He finally caught up with elusive Enrico, dropping him twice in the eleventh and twice more in the twelfth.
Switch-hitting for a moment, cricketing legend Sir Ian Botham, said of master batsman Alvin Kallicharran that fully fit he was supreme, but when limping he was devastating, because he only wanted to hit sixes! That`s comparable to what happened after Arthur`s forehead was vertically sliced in the fourth round, after a clash of craniums with Marcus Browne. With blood pouring and masking his face crimson, he went into ferocious overdrive, dominating, by dropping Marcus with a left to the body and a right to the head in the seventh, and then upending him again with a mighty right to the head in the ninth, with the referee waving it off. A bloodbath victory!
Ian, who`s not renowned for his tact or diplomatic skills, has also quipped: “I don`t ask my wife to face fast bowler Michael Holding, so there`s no reason I should be changing nappies.” OUCH! Arthur who`s a father of four, has done his share of diaper changing!
Joe, who turned pro in 2009, is paradoxically nicknamed Beast from the East. His record stands at 28-3, including 22 KO`s. One of his losses via UD was to Sullivan Barrera. Joe put Sullivan down in the first, but had to prove his mettle and anvil resolve to go the distance, because he suffered a broken jaw in the second, which later required surgery. Earlier in his career Eddie Caminero had fractured his jaw in two places in the second. Joe withstood searing pain until the fourth, when it was stopped. Back then, he`d needed repair via surgery.
Joe´s toughest fight was against WBA champion Dmitry Bivol. The slimmer and smaller Bivol was happy to engage in exchange after exchange. Both had their moments. Bivol came very close to stopping Joe in the last ten seconds of the twelfth and final round.
Joe´s finest victory was stopping Andrzej Fonfara in round one, when they fought for the WBC International crown. A big right dropped Andrzej and then a left right combination felled him again and it was all over. Joe also stopped the legendary Bernard Hopkins. It was Bernard`s final farewell fight. Joe knocked him through the ropes in the eighth and Bernard couldn`t get back into the ring to beat the permitted count of twenty by Referee Jack Reiss.
Artur´s finest hour was against also undefeated Oleksandr Gvozkyk, who he stopped in the tenth. Oleksandr who was the WBC and lineal champion, put up terrific, determined and sustained resistance, giving IBF champ Artur as good as he got…but up to a point. Arthur who isn´t an elegant boxer, never relents. In a war of attrition, he felled Oleksndr in the six with a left right combination, and then went to work with some clouting, sinking body shots. He dropped Oleksandr three times in the tenth, all with mighty rights, to bring down the curtain.
The only time Artur has even visited the canvass was courtesy of a mighty left hook from Brit Callum Johnson in the second, after Artur had knocked him down in the first. Arthur`s steam hammer right dispatched the Englishman to the canvass in the fourth and Callum wasn`t able to beat the count.
One fine day, like with all us Artur will get old? He`s aged thirty seven, while Joe is thirty two. Joe who`s six feet tall has a seventy-six-inch reach, a three inch reach advantage on Artur who`s half an inch shorter.
Joe won the WBO title by defeating six feet four inches tall Maxim Vlasov by split decision. Although Joe prefers to fight in the trenches, he can also box, which he did very effectively, before stopping Eleider Alvarez with a superb TKO in the ninth round.
This is going to be a heavy hitting, lion hearted encounter. It`ll test Joe`s jaw and his heart won`t be found wanting either. Has Arthur fully healed from that atrocious gash on his forehead, or will it re-open under heavy bombardment? Although he surely has a sturdy mouth guard, is he becoming a little long in the tooth?
They`re ready to give it their all and go hell for leather. The winner might have to venture to hell and back in an incandescent firefight, which is unlikely to go the distance. War and peace in The Big Apple!
By James Blears