By Jake Donovan
The biggest knock on Artur Beterbiev in recent years has been his criminally infrequent fight schedule. His team has taken note and is now making up for lost time.
The unbeaten light heavyweight titlist from Canada by way of Russia will make the second defense of his title in late December, in a development first reported by RDS Canada. Beterbiev’s promoter, Yvon Michel has revealed the defense will come versus New York’s Joe Smith, landing on either December 15 in New York City or December 22 in Atlantic City.
Several moving parts will dictate when exactly the 33-year old knockout will next fight. The good news is that either date puts Beterbiev (13-0, 13KOs) back in the ring less than three months after his most recent start, a 4th round knockout of Callum Johnson on October 6 in Chicago, Ill.
Photo Credit: Artur Beterbiev Twitter Account
“It is almost certain that Artur will fight against Joe Smith,” Michel told RDS CA on Monday. “What is less certain is (the exact date). One thing is for sure; (Beterbiev’s) next fight will take place in 2018.”
Sports streaming app DAZN USA will carry the event, regardless. Whether it’s on December 15 or December 22 depends almost entirely on the streaming service securing the rights to the December 15 showdown between secondary super middleweight titlist Rocky Fielding and reigning World middleweight champion Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez.
A press conference to formally announce the event—which will take place at Madison Square Garden in NYC—will be held on Wednesday in NYC. It has been widely speculated that DAZN will win the sweepstakes, although HBO—with whom Alvarez enjoyed an exclusive contact since 2014, but is now exiting the boxing business—very much remains a contender, in what could be (through its Pay-Per-View arm) its final boxing broadcast of a storied 45-year run as the industry leader.
Should DAZN win the sweepstakes, Beterbiev’s title defense will land as the chief support. Otherwise, he will headline a separate card in Atlantic City. Either scenario will mark the East Coast debut for the hard-hitting light heavyweight, who earlier this month traded knockdowns with Johnson before putting away the previously unbeaten Brit in a bout that served on the stateside debut of DAZN USA’s boxing series.
The win was Beterbiev’s first piece of ring action since a 12th round stoppage of Enrico Koelling last November in Fresno, California. He hadn’t fought in 11 months prior to that bout, having boxed just twice in each of the prior two years (2015 and 2016).
It’s been a frustrating past few years for the former amateur standout and two-time Russian Olympian, but an alignment with promoter Eddie Hearn—DAZN’s primary content provider—is already promising better days ahead.
“Artur Beterbiev (versus) Joe Smith Jnr for the IBF World title done for DAZN USA in December,” Hearn announced via his verified social media account on Monday. “(It’s) going to be a WAR! Date and venue announced very soon!”
Meanwhile, news of the title shot is still resonating with Smith since he was already training for another heavily rumored opportunity.
The full-time union worker and top-rated light heavyweight contender from Eastern Long Island was previously linked to a November 24 title challenge versus unbeaten Dmitry Bivol. That bout was due to headline on HBO, but is now just left as Bivol headlining the show although former champ Jean Pascal has since been suggested as the new opponent.
Regardless, it remains the first career title fight for Smith Jr. (24-2, 20KOs), who is best known in boxing circles for his knockout win over future Hall of Famer and retiring former two-division champ Bernard Hopkins in Dec. ’16. The feat came six months after he scored a shocking 1st round knockout of then top-rated contender Andrzej Fonfara, in a bout which aired live on free-to-air NBC in primetime.
The win over Hopkins was the first of two HBO appearances for Smith Jr., who seven months later returned to the network in a 10-round loss to perennial top contender Sullivan Barrera. The setback was not without its moral victory, as the now 29-year old New Yorker was celebrated for having fought through a broken Jaw for most of the fight.
Just one fight has since come from the healing process, a rust-shaking 1st round knockout of Melvin Russell this past June in Uncasville, Conn. It was enough to put him back in the title mix, not having to wait very long – or wasting any time in preparing for the life-changing opportunity.
“All I can tell you is that Joe Smith is training very hard,” Phil Capobianco, Smith’s manager told BoxingInsider.com on Monday. “He will definitely fight (for the title) before the end of the year.”