Welcome, everybody, to another edition of 'Let's punch gatekeepers in the face!'. If you're just joining us, this is a gameshow where young promising boxers punch people in the face and/or internal organs and some dickhead on the sidelines gives out style marks. So, basically, like figure skating but with gloves instead of ice-skates, and with a 'ring' instead of a 'rink'.
This show is a proud vassal of JOTD. All hail JOTD!!
In previous episodes we've covered:
Heavyweight Anthony Joshua, touted as the next great heavyweight of his generation.
Light heavyweight Russian youngster Dmitry Bivol
Minimumweight titleholder Kosei Tanaka
Former 2012 US Olympian Jose Carlos Ramirez, fighting at jr. welterweight.
Power punching American super-featherweight Saul Rodriguez
Former 2012 US Olympian Joseph 'JoJo' Diaz Jr., fighting at featherweight.
Argentinian buzzsaw light middleweight Brian Castano.
British giant super-middleweight Callum Smith
Olympic medalist and hopeful cruiserweight title challenger Evander Holyfield
Cossack otaman and rising cruiserweight contender Oleksandr Usyk
Floyd Mayweather's favourite young fighter: welterweight
Errol Flynn Errol Spence Jr.
Today, by popular demand, we take a look at Chechen Light Heavyweight Artur Beterbiev, who burst onto the World scene about 16 months ago with a much-discussed destruction of recent titleholder Tavoris Cloud. Beterbiev, like many other recent fighters from the former Soviet Union, had a long and decorated amateur career. He was a 2-time European champion, a World Championships gold medalist and previously silver medalist (although he deserved to win that final as well) and a two-time Olympian. He owns amateur victories over Sergey Kovalev, Ukrainian amateur star Ismail Sillakh (twice), Tervel Pulev, Thabiso Mchunu, Yunier Dorticos and most impressively, Egor Mekhontsev. But he also twice lost to Oleksandr Usyk. He turned pro in 2013 by surprisingly picking Canada and promoter Yvon Michel although he had other offers as well. This was probably the work of his manager at the time, Anna Reva.
He is currently 9-0 with 9 KOs and ranked in the top-10 at Light Heavyweight by pretty much everybody. He did, however, recently switch allegiances and abandoned Ana Reva for Al Haymon's stable of fighters.
Here are a few bouts of his on Youtube:
Here is his bout against Oleksandr Usyk at the 2011 World Championships in Azerbaidjan
Here is his professional debut, a 2 round stoppage of journeyman Christian Cruz.
Here is his breakout bout, the 2 round destruction of recent titleholder Tavoris Cloud
Here is his 7th pro fight, against previously undefeated American prospect Jeff Page Jr.
In April of last year, Beterbiev faced former titleholder and noted spoiler Gabriel Campillo, who had recently dominated and stopped another unbeaten prospect, Thomas Williams Jr.
His most recent bout is his longest to date, against Washington D.C. club fighter Alexander Johnson
Just for shits and giggles, here is his amateur stoppage of Siju Shabazz
As usual, here is a list of things I noticed, divided into several categories:
The Very Best
1) Power. You simply cannot start any conversation about Beterbiev other than with his insane power. Beterbiev has downright not-OK power. Just watching any of his bouts you seriously have to worry about his opponent. I would be perfectly comfortable saying Beterbiev has possibly the biggest punch in all of boxing. And I don't mean P4P, I mean straight up punches as hard as any heavyweight or even harder.
2) Quality pro opposition. Beterbiev has the same record as his amateur rival Oleksandr Usyk: 9-0 with 9 KOs, but he has faced much better opposition. The Campillo and Cloud destructions were particularly impressive.
3) Feints. Beterbiev is the second Russian Ligh Heavyweight we cover and interestingly they both make heavy use of feinting. Coincidence? I think not! Illuminati / Putin conspiracy? Well let's just say I have started learning Russian just in case.
4) Patience and offensive distance control. Beterbiev has eliminated his tendency to throw shots from outside of his optimum range. He will now patiently wait to find the correct angle and distance, even if that means interrupting a combination on a hurt fighter. He does not lunge and does not run or chase after a desperately flailing opponent.
5) Chin. I have seen Beterbiev take plenty of flush shots and not be bothered, so I am going to go out on a limb and say he probably has a solid chin. He got knocked down against Jeff Page but I think it was just a balance thing. I also have to believe that he wouldn't have such a crappy defense and an offense so indifferent to countershots if he was at all worried about being hurt. Beterbiev really has the demeanour of somebody who has never been seriously wobbled by a punch. Having said that, he hasn't really faced any big punchers as a pro.
6) Not punching himself out. For a guy that spends 90% of his time in the ring attacking targets that are desperately covering up, I have never seen him gassed or breathing heavily. He maaaaaybe had a moment in the Johnson fight (round 5), where he worked his opponent so intensely he expended more energy than usual, but he handled that situation beautifully. His attacks are calculated and surgical but not overly eager or aggressive.
7) Punch accuracy. This used to be a big problem but he's definitely made improvements.
8) Improvement. This is something I had no idea about before I saw the bouts, I've never heard it said about Beterbiev and it kinda goes against conventional wisdom for a fighter as old and as experienced as Beterbiev. But the simple truth is that he has actually evolved and improved after turning pro. He has improved his punch accuracy, has eliminated a good portion of his tendency to wing high shots, has improved his jab, his footwork, his hand speed and his body punching. He has not, however, improved his defense at all.
9) Size. Beterbiev foght as a 'heavyweight' in the amateurs, which is basically the equivalent of the pro 'cruiserweight' division. He is definitely bulky and strong for a light heavyweight, but not very long.
10) Body punching. This is one of the areas where Beterbiev has made improvements. He still doesn't go to the body as a 'finishing move' and doesn't fully commit to his body punches, but he knows how to attack the body to make a high guard disappear.
11) Hand speed. Beterbiev is at his best when he is throwing short, compact shots from mid-range or inside. If trying to attack from the outside, his shots are slow enough to see coming, I have no doubt about that.
12) Boxing fundamentals. I think most people would disagree with me here and I noticed the bout commentators definitely disagree, but I am going to be that strict teacher that says Beterbiev's fundamentals are no better than 'passable'. He is not very fluid in his movements, his footwork is mechanical or slow, he is often kind of squared up, he doesn't put his weight behind punches as much as he could (not that he needs any more weight behind his punches), he doesn't keep his hands up...
The Not So Great But Improving
13) Jab. This is one of the most visible changes in his game. His jab has gone from non-existant to 'work-in-progress'. It's kind of slow and kind of infrequent and he only sometimes uses it to set up his offensive charges. But it does have a definite thump to it.
14) Cutting off the ring. With his targets frequently on the ropes, this is a skill that might come into play more and more. I think he has the anticipation, but not the mobility necessary to effectively cut off the ring.
15) Closing distance. So far Beterbiev has had a small problem to overcome in his bouts. He seems to have a shorter reach than most of his opponents so he needs to close distance and get inside their jab / range to hurt them. He suffers in 3 areas that are usually key to closing distance: speed, footwork and head movement to avoid the jab. So outside of simply jumping on an opponent or walking to them if they don't move, he has developed two techniques: 1) the first is using a feint: he feints a jab but comes right after with an overhand lead right or feints a lead right hand but steps into a check hook with the left hand. 2) using a bruising jab, generally to the mid-section. I think a really smart fighter (Andre Ward?) taking these two things away from him could potentially massively hinder his gameplan.
16) Slow feet. This is one of his most serious problems. He doesn't have quick, pacey steps. He can push with his feet to get leverage or get a jump on his opponent, but he doesn't ever 'slide' with quick steps in succession. He can't quickly move back, to the side, or anywhere really. Basically he just walks like a normal shopper at the mall, just with a lot more punching of other nearby shoppers.
17) Head and upper body movement. Beterbiev is kind of stiff and to be honest I have almost never seen him dodge a punch. He eats jabs like they're potato chips.
18) Punch variation / angles. I happen to think that Beterbiev has a bit of a limited arsenal, he generally punches from the same position and from the same angles. I don't see him punching on the fly or changing angles mid-combination.
19) Counterpunching. Granted, Beterbiev almost never has to deal with opponents attacking him, but in the rare occasions when they do, I don't see him taking advantage of the openings they leave. Usyk was the aggressor in their amateur bout, Campillo jabbed him repeatedly and Johnson was confident enough to step forward a little bit and Beterbiev never timed them or did anything with their offense. This, to me, demonstrates he is not used to guys attacking him.
20) Al Haymon. After many back-and-forth negotiations, Beterbiev abandoned his first manager (the aforementioned Ana Reva) and signed with Al Haymon. Since then, he has fought only once and has been part of a long host of failed negotiations because apparently bouts between Haymon and non-Haymon fighters even at the fringe world level are very difficult to make. Then he got injured and was sidelined for the rest of the year. I hate to come with preconceived ideas, but until proven otherwise, we have every reason to believe that signing with Al Haymon will result in a lot of inactivity for Beterbiev going forward. Which by the way is a bad idea for a fighter who is 31 and still needs work in several areas. Plus, the fact that before signing Haymon and Artur were in on-again off-again negotiations for a long time tells me that they don't see eye-to-eye on every issue regarding his career.
The Downright Horrible
21) Guard / defense. How do you defense?
Well, this is a tough one. Basically Beterbiev has world-ending power and is just solid enough in every other aspect of the game to allow himself to put it into play. He does nothing else great and theoretically he has several things you could exploit against him. His defense in particular is a nightmare. The only reason he doesn't get tagged more often is that opponents are just mortified by his power and are afraid to go anywhere near him. But on the other hand you can't simply say 'His power aside, he is very beatable' because there is no such thing as 'his power aside'. I think that any gameplan against him has to rely on taking as much of his power away as possible. Usyk makes a great demonstration in the amateur bout above by using movement, range and jab to stay away from him. You could also presumably try clinching it away from him. Attacking him and beating him up before he attacks you could also work. It's not like he's a relentless pressure fighter. He leaves plenty of time and opportunities for his opponent to get his fair share of offense in as well. Counterpunching him early and really hard could (maybe?) make him gun-shy. But even then, there is no Light Heavyweight in the world that I would pick to beat him 3 times out of 3. Even a successful strategy wouldn't totally eliminate his power. Nobody escapes a bout without getting tagged at least a couple of times. So yes, right now I would actually pick Sergey Kovalev, Adonis Stevenson and possibly even Andre Ward to beat him, but again, not 3 out of 3, so you never know. However, here's a catch: I think Beterbiev's style is better suited to cruiserweight, where his lack of speed would much less of an issue, his power would be just as scary (I have no doubt about that) and making weight would be much easier (he is 31 after all) and would leave him much more energized. I would actually pick him against any cruiserweight except for Usyk, and even that one is just a question of style.
At Light Heavyweight, I think that realistically you can still hope to improve his control of distance, his jab, his body punching, his ability to cut off the ring and maybe at least vaguely improve his overall defense. Everything else (footwork, foot-speed, hand-speed, counterpunching, Al Haymon) is probably a lost cause at this stage in his career. But at the same time you are in a bit of a race against the clock with his advanced age. I say try to get him 2 or 3 fights by late fall and target Adonis Stevenson in late 2016 or early 2017. If Al Haymon feels like playing more games with Kovalev and starts getting into a second 'will-they/won't-they' game between the two Russians, then Beterbiev is bound to spend at least another year on the sidelines waiting for Godot, much like Adonis is doing right about now.
As a final note, who the hell abandons this: