By Robert Aaron Contreras
Nearing the end of the broadcast, Artur Beterbiev (15-0, 15 KO) could be seen in the center of the ring holding up two belts—one green, the other red. Yet it was a third title, unseen, abstruse as ever, that mattered most of all. That lineal title, pried from the shaky grip of Oleksandr Gvozdyk (17-1, 14 KO) in the tenth round, where referee Gary Rosato could only bear to watch the previously undefeated Ukrainian knocked down three times before signaling the end to the championship bout.
Photo Credit: Top Rank Boxing Twitter Account
Beterbiev added Gvozdyk’s WBC strap to his IBF belt; the contest also represented light heavyweight lineage: often called the true championship: “the man who beat the man who beat the man.” Gvozdyk unseated Adonis Stevenson last year for the nominal title and now the honor belongs to Beterbiev.
The action was a power struggle until the very end. The champion out of Ukraine, Gvozdyk gained control early behind quick successions of right and left hands. In fact, the bell rang and without a thought of a touch of gloves, Gvozdyk opened the fight with a snapping one-two, quickly setting the tone with a right hand upstairs and then a left to the body of Beterbiev.
Suddenly, in the final seconds of the first round, the giants wrapped each other up, chippy blows reigned down from Beterbiev, and Gvozdyk tipped over. Clearly a slip, the ref initially called a knockdown before it was overturned by the commissioner.
For the next two rounds, Gvozdyk could be seen outlanding Beterbiev, a 34-year-old from Russia who owned a crushing victory over the defending WBC champ back in the amateur circuit. The rounds may have been tallied for Gvozdyk but a couple of cross-counters from his opponent, hurled over Gvozdyk’s straight punches, caught his attention.
In Round 3, Beterbiev was generating incredible amounts of force in close quarters. The short blows chipped away at Gvozdyk’s confidence, ruddying his face in the process.
Gvozdyk, 32, carried on his sharpshooting. Tagging away at Beterbiev with a finely tuned offense: left jabs and right crosses zipping up and down. The Russian bulldozer kept him honest with singular punching, including feinting right uppercuts only to shoot straight left hands.
The rest of the way, Beterbiev was established in the center of the ring. And in the fifth stanza his best shots were a pair of wrecking ball right hands to Gvozdyk’s midsection; they took the air right out of him.
Both men were doing their best to outdo the other. A race to beat the other man to the punch. Exchanges exploded across every inch of the canvas. Coalescing, then rushing to land a shot as they disengaged. The end of the sixth inning was especially great. The opposing champions traded parallel right crosses. Gvozdyk even hit the deck; it was only another slip.
Gvozdyk, though, was on the verge of a real knockdown in the ninth, flustered more than ever. Beterbiev had seek-and-destroy pulsating from his eyes. Clubbing right hands touched up Gvozdyk. A mauling attack ensued consisting of uppercuts and body blows, pausing only to push Gvozdyk away so as to create enough space and leverage for more punishment.
In the fateful tenth period, a slinging right hand landed on Gvozdyk’s temple and sent him to one knee. The Ukrainian puncher stood back up. He tried grappling before jabbing with the Russian predator. Beterbiev’s left hand had no problem busting open the feeble guard of the shaken champion and plugged away for the second knockdown.
Rosato made it clear to Gvozdyk he had one more chance. So when two more right hands forced Gvozdyk onto another knee, it was no surprised the fight was over.
The punch stats revealed a slight edge in activity from Gvozdyk, landing118 of 614 total punches (19 percent) while Beterbiev connected on 161 of 515 total shots (31 percent). Of course it was the power numbers that carried Beterbiev across the finish line and he was successful on 40 percent of his power punches (113 of 283) whereas Gvozdyk landed just 27 percent of his own power shots (94 of 354).
Gvozdyk suffered the only defeat of his professional career. It is just the second for him and his stablemates Vasyl Lomachenko and Oleksandr Usyk, who together ran unchecked at the championship level. Usyk, for one, picked up a lineal title of his own at cruiserweight against Murat Gassiev in none other that Moscow, Russia.
Vengeance it could be said is Beterbiev’s and his countryman. Though having transplanted to Canada, he may be a lone wolf. He is as much in the light heavyweight division, by himself—atop them all, their new king.
Kudratillo Abdukakhorov (17-0, 9 KO) def. Luis Collazo (39-8, 20 KO) by decision
Abdukakhorov is still undefeated, scoring a technical decision over Collazo, after a headbutt in the tenth and final round opened up a severe gash over the gutsy veteran’s right eye.
Just a minute into Round 10, Abdukakhorov again found himself cornered, pressured into the ropes by the tattooed, snarling figure in front of him. He zagged diagonally to his right to escape, but Collazo simultaneously threw his weight into an overhand left putting both of their heads on a collision course.
The result was a clash with such force that Collazo tumbled over, hitting the deck. The American southpaw lifted his head to reveal a glowing red split above his eye, blood quickly streaking down his face.
Referee Benjy Esteves immediately sent the fight to scorecards. And all three judges scored the fight in Abdukakhorov’s favor: 98-92, 99-91 and 97-93.
Abdukakhorov, a 26-year-old technician out of Uzbekistan, remains unbeaten since turning professional in 2015.
Collazo, 38, may be longer in the tooth but was still competitive. At least until injuring his right arm halfway into the fight. Abdukakhorov’s pattering punches secured the first round but did nothing to keep the older man off of him. Collazo gladly walked through his opponent’s composite punching in the second frame.
Abdukakhorov was forced to outmaneuver Collazo’s barreling attack the rest of the way. His potshotting served him well. Switching between southpaw and orthodox, the Uzbek stylist repeatedly outjabbed Collazo over the distance.
But the action belonged to Collazo when Abdukakhorov caught himself in any corner of the ring. Sweeping right hand left hooks bounced off the upstart’s face. The American, though, could not keep up the pace: his offense all but limited to one hand in the latter stages and his gas tank depleting as the bout went on.
Abdukakhorov’s flawless record leaves him on the cusp of a world title fight, already the No. 1 contender to Errol Spence Jr.’s IBF belt. He is also world-rated by the WBC and WBO. Collazo saw his three-fight win streak snapped, a resurgent run that dated back to 2017.