There are few, if any, boxers in the light heavyweight division who could survive a prolonged firefight with unified champion Artur Beterbiev. Anthony Yarde gave it an admirable shot on Saturday at Wembley Arena in London, but still couldn’t make it out of the eighth round.
Yarde punched back at many of the critics of this fight with an exceptional performance. He cut Beterbiev on the left eye, landed a series of hard left hands, was leading on two of the three scorecards and was still stopped at 2:01 of the eighth round.
Beterbiev dropped Yarde in the eighth for the fight’s first knockdown with a combination that began with a blistering right. Yarde got up on shaky legs and took two or three more punches before his corner wisely asked referee Steve Gray to stop it.
That’s what is going to happen when you go toe-to-toe with Beterbiev. He improved to 19-0 with the win by scoring his 19th knockout. He’s hittable, and thus beatable, but it’s going to take a different kind of strategy to pull that off than Yarde employed.
“That was one of the great light heavyweight battles I’ve had the privilege of watching,” Top Rank chairman Bob Arum said. “Artur Beterbiev is a true master of his craft. I favor him over anyone in the division.”
The good news for boxing fans is that the guy who has the best chance is, like Beterbiev, an undefeated Russian who holds a light heavyweight world title belt. Dmitry Bivol, who defeated Canelo Alvarez last year en route to nearly sweeping the Fighter of the Year honors, has the style that could beat Beterbiev.
That the fight, if it occurs, 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’s not going to scare many with his power. But he’s great at creating angles, controlling the distance and picking apart a guy who, like Beterbiev, is more often than not looking for the home run shot.
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 needed. He has both soul-stealing punching power and a granite chin that allows him to pull that off.
Yarde felt he had to make it a firefight in order to win, and he largely pulled off the strategy. But there were no subtleties defensively to his game, and when he was there attacking Beterbiev, he was creating openings for his Russian adversary 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 46% connect rate. When one hits as hard as Beterbiev does, that usually makes it a wrap.
The secret to beating Beterbiev will be to exploit his defensive deficiencies without allowing him to counter a lot.
That’s something that Bivol has that Yarde and previous opponents like Joe Smith did not. Perhaps not since Beterbiev defeat Oleksandr Gvozdyk in 2019 has he faced an opponent with that combination of skills.
He was not shocked that 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. “Different feelings, different preparations. I can’t say I did a bad fight, but if I do it again, I want to do better.”
He’ll need to be better in order to defeat Bivol, frankly. Now, Bivol is in an enviable position because he has the possibility of a rematch with Alvarez, the big-money man in the sport, or the bout for the undisputed title with Beterbiev.
It’s hard to imagine a fight between a pair of Russians who speak little English doing much business pay-per-view wise in the U.S., so that might mean in order for it to happen, it goes to ESPN, where Beterbiev fights under the Top Rank banner.
That could help a potential Alvarez-Bivol match in an odd sort of way, given the exposure of an undisputed title fight with Beterbiev on ESPN would make Bivol a bigger name heading into a theoretical rematch with Alvarez.
That’s a concern for down the line, though. On Saturday, Beterbiev (and Yarde, to be fair) proved that the light heavyweight division is alive and well.
Best of all, its best may be yet to come. Beterbiev is the furthest thing from a trash talker there is, but he said the three words all should want to hear coming off such a great fight: “I want Bivol.”