There are few, if any, boxers in the light-heavyweight division that can survive a lengthy shootout with unified champion Artur Beterbiev. Anthony Yarde did admirably at London’s Wembley Arena on Saturday, but failed to make it through the eighth round.
Yarde hit back at many of the critics of this fight with an exceptional performance. He cut Beterbiev in the left eye, landed a series of hard left hands, led on two of three scorecards and was still stopped at 2:01 of the eighth round.
Beterbiev dropped Yarde in the eighth for the first knockdown of the fight with a combination that began with a blistering right. Yarde was on shaky legs and landed two or three more punches before his corner wisely asked referee Steve Gray to stop it.
That’s what’s going to happen when you go toe-to-toe with Beterbiev. He improved to 19-0 with the win scoring his 19th knockout. He can be hit and therefore beaten, but it takes a different strategy than Yarde’s.
“That was one of the great light-heavyweight fights I got to see,” said Top Rank chairman Bob Arum. “Artur Beterbiev is a true master of his craft. I prefer him to anyone in the division.”
The good news for boxing fans is that the man with the best chance, like Beterbiev, is an undefeated Russian with a world light heavyweight title. Dmitry Bivol, who beat Canelo Alvarez last year on his way to nearly the Fighter of the Year title, has the style that could beat Beterbiev.
That the fight, if it happens, would be for the undisputed light heavyweight title makes it that much better.
Bivol is 21-0 with 11 knockouts. He’s a sharp puncher, but he won’t scare many with his power. But he’s great at creating angles, controlling distance and breaking apart a man who, like Beterbiev, is looking for the home run more often than not.
It’s usually not a good idea for a boxer, no matter how good, to be willing to take two to land one, but one of the things that makes Beterbiev great is that he can do that if he needs to. He’s got both soul-stealing punching power and a granite chin that lets him pull that off.
Yarde felt he had to make it a gunfight to win, and he largely succeeded in strategy. But defensively there were no subtleties to his game, and when he was there to attack Beterbiev, he created openings for his Russian opponent to exploit.
The problem for Yarde is that Beterbiev landed nearly half of his power shots, according to CompuBox. He connected on 84 of 181 power punches, a connection rate of 46%. When someone hits as hard as Beterbiev, it’s usually a wrap.
The secret to beating Beterbiev will be to exploit his defensive shortcomings without letting him counter much.
That’s something Bivol has that Yarde and previous opponents like Joe Smith didn’t. Since Beterbiev defeated Oleksandr Gvozdyk in 2019, he may not have faced an opponent with that combination of skills.
He wasn’t shocked when Yarde tried to attack him, thanks to an elite corner headlined by Marc Ramsey, John Scully and Russ Anber.
“Every fight is different,” he said. “Other feelings, other preparations. I can’t say I put up a bad fight, but if I do it again I want to do better.
Frankly, he will have to be better to beat Bivol. Now Bivol is in an enviable position as he has the option of a rematch with Alvarez, the sport’s big money man, or battle for the undisputed title with Beterbiev.
It’s hard to imagine a few Russians who speak little English doing much business in the US, so that could mean going to ESPN to make it happen, where Beterbiev fights under the Top Rang banner.
That might help a potential Alvarez-Bivol bout in an odd way, given the notoriety of an undisputed title fight with Beterbiev on ESPN would make Bivol a bigger name on the road to a theoretical rematch with Alvarez.
However, that is a concern. On Saturday, Beterbiev (and Yarde, to be fair) proved that the light heavyweight division is alive and well.
Best of all, the best may be yet to come. Beterbiev is the furthest thing from a trash can there is, but he said the three words everyone would want to hear come from such a great fight: “I want Bivol.”