In a fight billed as a clash of hard-hitting champions, Artur Beterbiev made short work of Joe Smith Jr. by scoring a second-round TKO on Saturday night (June 18) at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden to claim his third light heavyweight title.
Entering the bout as the WBC/IBF champ, Beterbiev (18-0, 18 KOs) captured Smith’s WBO belt to become the unified world light heavyweight champion.
Smith, 32, pressed the action early behind a flickering jab, but Beterbiev outboxed his foe with elusive lateral movement and by countering with powerful overhand rights. After landing a power shot that dropped Smith to a knee (in what was ruled a slip), Beterbiev knocked down Smith for the first time in his career with a crushing overhand counter right in the final seconds of the opening round.
Round 2 became a brutal slugfest as both fighters went toe-to-toe. Near the end of the first minute, Beterbiev again dropped Smith with another clubbing overhand right. Moments later, Beterbiev unleashed a flurry of power punches that left Smith wobbling against the ropes.
After taking a standing count, Smith bravely fought on by trading punches, but was clearly shaken and hurt. Beterbiev then unloaded an array of punishing shots, topped by two devastating uppercuts that sent Smith spinning backward against the ropes.
Referee Harvey Dock had seen enough and stopped the fight at 2:19 of the second round.
In terms of punch stats, Beterbiev outlanded his opponent by connecting on 48 of 102 punches thrown (47%) compared with 11 of 67 (16%) for Smith. He also landed more power shots—34 of 63 (54%)—versus 7 of 34 (21%).
In his best performance since taking the WBC belt from Oleksandr Gvozdyk in 2019, the undefeated Russian champion based in Montreal demonstrated his fearsome punching power and boxing instincts in dispatching a quality opponent in Smith (28-4, 22 KOs) via a savage beatdown that included three knockdowns.
Smith fought aggressively with heart but was clearly overpowered and constantly beat to the punch. Like the 17 other boxers that have faced Beterbiev, he could not escape or withstand the hammer-like fists and brute power that have notched 18 straight KOs.
After the fight, Smith was taken to a local hospital for observation.
Beterbiev assessed the fight by saying, “Joe’s a little bit open and more easy for me to get him. Two fighters both have good punch and both tried to get [there] first. This time I’m lucky; I get there first.”
Standing as the only champion in boxing with a 100% knockout record, ESPN’s No. 1 light heavyweight now sets his sights on becoming undisputed champion. That would entail a matchup with WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol (20-0, 11 KOs), who outfought Canelo Alvarez last month to earn a unanimous decision victory.
Yarde, 30, welcomes the opportunity and gives due credit to Beterbiev by saying, “He’s a beast. He hits very hard.” He then added, “I’m a beast, too. That’s why I think it’s such an exciting matchup.”
However, it may not be so appealing to die-hard boxing fans who want to see the two best light heavyweights tangle for undisputed status. Not many fans think that Yarde has a chance against the heavy-handed Beterbiev or that he could even beat Bivol.
Given the promotional situation where Beterbiev is with Top Rank and Bivol is with Matchroom Sport, Yarde’s promoter Frank Warren will probably work with Top Rank to arrange a Beterbiev-Yarde match before Bivol enters into the picture.
Assuming that Beterbiev will get past Yarde toward facing Bivol for the undisputed championship, the Beterbiev-Bivol match would captivate the entire boxing world in showcasing the two best fighters in the light heavyweight division.
Even at 39, Beterbiev’s dominant victory over Smith suggests that he is an unstoppable boxing machine. Beating the classic boxer in Bivol, 31, would indeed confirm his status as the best light heavyweight on the planet.