It looks as though Artur Beterbiev’s first defense as unified IBF/WBC light heavyweight champion will be an away game. Roc Nation, which represents mandatory challenger Meng Fanlong, has reportedly won today’s purse bid with a massive $1.9 million offer, outstripping Top Rank’s $1.35 million bid. According to Mike Coppinger, the fight “will likely be staged in China in the spring.”
There is, however, a complication.
According to veteran boxing scribe Gabe Oppenheim, Beterbiev (15-0, 15 KO), a Dagestani Muslim, refuses to fight in China due to the nation’s ongoing mass internment and reported human rights abuses of the Uighurs. He was originally supposed to feature on the February 1st card now headlined by Jose Ramirez vs. Viktor Postol.
Beterbiev wouldn’t agree to appear in China -- as a Muslim, he takes great offense to China’s mistreatment of coreligionist Uighurs (an ethnic group related to the Turks) in the country’s west, one million of whom are said to be detained in concentration camps (it didn’t help China’s lying about this when documents about official Uighur brainwashing were recently leaked).
So Beterbiev was replaced as the card’s headliner with undefeated 140-lb. champ Jose Carlos Ramirez, who usually fights in Fresno, California, where he fills up a 14,000-seat arena. It was a strange substitution, but Top Rank was scrambling, understandably -- this was too much to forgo.
There are now three ways this can proceed. The ideal situation sees the two sides compromise on another location, The morally questionable situation sees Beterbiev fight Meng (16-0, 10 KO) there anyway. The most likely situation, if this reporting is accurate, likely sees Beterbeif vacate the IBF belt and campaign solely as the WBC champion.
Should that last one happen, the IBF would presumably order Meng to face the next-highest ranked contender, Britain’s Joshua Buatsi, for the vacant belt.
We’ll keep you appraised as this develops.