This Friday night streaming live on ESPN from Philadelphia, unbeaten light heavyweight titleholders Artur Beterbiev and Oleksandr Gvozdyk square off in one of the best fights on the schedule right now.
What’s at stake?
Beterbiev (14-0, 14 KO) and Gvozdyk (17-0, 14 KO) are both bringing titles to the fight, Beterbiev the IBF belt and Gvozdyk the WBC. Both fighters are undefeated, at the top of the 175-pound division, and are experienced without being past their primes.
How did Artur Beterbiev get here?
The 34-year-old Beterbiev was a standout amateur in Russia, competing at both the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, but he never really had the “amateur style,” as good as he was in the unpaid ranks. As a light heavyweight, he suffered a controversial loss to Zhang Xiaoping of China in Beijing, and moved up to heavyweight (201 pounds) in 2011, then lost to Oleksandr Usyk at London 2012.
He turned pro in 2013, already 28 years old and pretty much a finished product. Like a lot of recent amateur standouts going pro, he didn’t waste a ton of time — by his sixth pro fight in 2014, he was matched with former titleholder Tavoris Cloud, who had lost two straight to Bernard Hopkins and Adonis Stevenson. Hopkins beat Cloud over 12 rounds, and Stevenson stopped him after seven. Beterbiev got cloud out inside two, and Cloud hasn’t fought since.
But things didn’t take off as hoped or expected from there, owing to various setbacks. After a trio of wins, he was in line to face Sergey Kovalev, an old amateur rival, but had to undergo shoulder surgery and missed a year of action. After a pair of rather easy wins, he was out another 11 months and then fought Enrico Koelling for the vacant IBF belt. He won the fight and the belt, dominating and stopping Koelling in the 12th round.
A long battle with promoters at Groupe Yvon Michel saw Beterbiev sidelined another 11 months before he got back into action, beating Callum Johnson on a Matchroom show in Oct. 2018. It was a firefight, with both hitting the canvas. Beterbiev stopped Johnson in four.
This year, after a lot of talk, Beterbiev finally signed with Top Rank, who promised him a fight before Ramadan. The only open Saturday resulted in him going head-to-head with Canelo vs Jacobs, meaning even though the fight was aired on ESPN, not that many people watched it. But he overpowered Radivoje “Hot Rod” Kalajdzic inside of five rounds to retain his title, and now has set up the biggest fight of his pro career.
How did Oleksandr Gvozdyk get here?
32-year-old Ukrainian Oleksandr Gvozdyk was, like Beterbiev, a very good amateur, a bit more successful than Beterbiev in that he won bronze at the 2012 Olympics in London.
Gvozdyk signed with Top Rank in 2014 and turned pro that April, deep on the Pacquiao-Bradley II undercard in Las Vegas. His first nine fights into 2016 went as planned, beating opponents he was expected to beat, until a bit of a step-up fight with Nadjib Mohammedi in April 2016, which he won via second round stoppage.
Wins over Tommy Karpency, Isaac Chilemba, Yunieski Gonzalez, and Craig Baker followed as he continued to pretty much outclass second-tier opposition. He fought Mehdi Amar for the interim WBC title in Mar. 2018, winning a 12-round decision, before stepping up to the world title level for real a little less than nine months later, traveling to Quebec to take on WBC titleholder Adonis Stevenson.
Gvozdyk and Stevenson didn’t really separate for most of the fight, but Stevenson led on two of three scorecards after 10 rounds. But in the 11th, Gvozdyk started to get aggressive, with a series of hard blows putting the veteran titleholder on the canvas. The fight was waved off there, and we had a new titleholder and top fighter in the light heavyweight division.
Gvozdyk returned in March of this year, facing underwhelming opponent Doudou Ngumbu in Philadelphia. In a goofy fight where Ngumbu largely refused to engage, the challenger suffered a leg injury and was stopped in the fifth round.
This fight with Beterbiev is a step back up to the real top level of the division and sport.
How do the fighters match up?
Physically, Gvozdyk has some advantages. He’s 6’2” with a 75½” reach, compared to 5’11½” and a 73” reach for Beterbiev. He’s also the better technical boxer, without question — when “The Nail” is on his game, he’s able to control the distance and tempo of fights, and has the power to do damage when he gets rolling on offense.
This is a fight that’s going to be all about style. Beterbiev is an absolute mauler — he’s not unskilled, but he charges downhill and gets in his opponent’s face, and makes them endure his pressure and power. Ideally, anyway. He hasn’t faced a boxer as good as Gvozdyk in the pros, either, and if Gvozdyk can pump his jab and move around enough to keep Beterbiev from building that momentum, it could be a long night of ineffective aggression for the Russian. The story of this fight, while seemingly pretty simple, figures to be fascinating.
Who’s the favorite?
As of this writing, lines are all over the place. Some books have both fighters as “favorites,” which is rare and speaks to how good a fight this is, and none of the lines are too far apart.
Beterbiev is listed between -130 and +110, with Gvozdyk between -110 and -137. There is no clear favorite here as far as the oddsmakers are concerned. This is going to be a lot about whose style can take over, if anyone’s.
Who will win?
Check back Thursday at Noon ET for our staff predictions!
In the main attraction on the undercard, veteran welterweight and former titleholder (many moons ago) Luis Collazo will take on rising would-be contender Kudratillo Abdukakhorov in a 10-round bout. Collazo (39-7, 20 KO) is long past his true prime, but the crafty southpaw remains a tough out if you’re not legitimately a top fighter at 147 pounds. He’s won three straight over Sammy Vasquez, Bryant Perrella, and Samuel Vargas, and hasn’t lost since 2015, when he was beaten by Keith Thurman.
In fact, look at the list of fighters who have beaten Collazo over the years. Outside of Edward Cassiani in 2002 and an off-night against Freddy Hernandez in 2011, it’s all world titleholders: Ricky Hatton, Shane Mosley, Andre Berto, Amir Khan, and Thurman.
If Abdukakhorov (16-0, 9 KO) is the real deal, he should beat Collazo. At 38, the New Yorker just won’t be beating top fighters again. But we don’t know if the 26-year-old from Uzbekistan is a top fighter. He’s a contender, and he’s in line for a title shot having won an eliminator over Keita Obara in March, but he’s still pretty unproven. Beating Collazo wouldn’t make him elite, but it’d keep him going forward and that as at least a possibility. Top Rank are desperate for welterweight talent with Bud Crawford and no other top fighters in-house, so the winner of this really could be in line for a Crawford shot in 2020.
Style-wise, don’t count Collazo out here. He gets hit more than he used to, but he’s always been a very tough guy, too, and he still gets his shots in. He doesn’t have big power, but his veteran moxie could keep him in this. Abdukakhorov hasn’t exactly showcased incredible skills or anything thus far — he’s good, but he hasn’t looked great.
The rest of the undercard features showcase matchups for light heavyweight veteran Michael Seals and prospects Josue Vargas, John Bauza, Julian Rodriguez, Sonny Conto, and the Adorno brothers, Joseph and Jeremy.