Largely lost in the chaos of a Saturday night headlined by Canelo Alvarez beating Daniel Jacobs in a much-hyped DAZN main event was Top Rank’s card over on ESPN, headlined by IBF light heavyweight titleholder Artur Beterbiev defending against Radivoje “Hot Rod” Kalajdzic.
Kalajdzic had his rooters coming in, mostly diehard fans who recalled his detestable robbery loss to PBC prospect Marcus Browne in 2016, but Beterbiev was just too much for him, dropping the game and feisty Kalajdzic in the third round and finishing him off early in the fifth, when referee Dan Stell had seen enough.
So what’s next for Beterbiev?
First things first, hopefully an active schedule. The 34-year-old Russan, a former amateur standout who competed at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, turned pro in June 2013 but has had only 14 pro fights, all of them won by stoppage.
There have been several reasons for this. He’s had injuries requiring surgery, he’s had promotional issues, but finally he’s with Top Rank, something he had tried to do for a long time before finally settling the dispute with his former promoters, Groupe Yvon Michel. He fought last October on a Matchroom show in Chicago, and made his Top Rank debut this past weekend.
Beyond that, let’s get a bit more specific and hopeful.
Gvozdyk (17-0, 14 KO) is another Top Rank fighter and also the WBC titleholder, taking that belt from Adonis Stevenson last December on the road in Quebec City. Gvozdyk, 32, returned for a title defense against uninspiring veteran challenger Doudou Ngumbu on March 30 in Philadelphia, winning when Ngumbu injured his leg in the fifth round.
Gvozdyk and Beterbiev are a nice matchup on paper. Not only are they a pair of unbeaten titleholders, but style-wise it could be interesting. Gvozdyk is a good boxer and has power, too, whereas Beterbiev is — how should I put this? An educated mauler with terrific close range power.
This should be an easy enough fight to make, in all reality.
Kovalev (33-3-1, 28 KO) got back in business on Feb. 2 in Texas, outboxing Eleider Alvarez over 12 rounds to regain the WBO title that he’d lost in a knockout upset to Alvarez in Aug. 2018.
At 36, Kovalev’s best days are behind him, but he looked very sharp and refreshed against Alvarez, and was working with new trainer James “Buddy” McGirt, who seemed to get all the right things out of the veteran.
Kovalev also has Top Rank/ESPN ties, but he looks headed toward a mandatory defense in Russia against Anthony Yarde this summer.
Another fellow Russian, the 28-year-old WBA titleholder Bivol (16-0, 11 KO) is a real rarity among major fighters in the boxing game right now: he has no ties to a certain broadcast partner. Last November, he beat Jean Pascal on HBO, and he hasn’t signed with anyone since that network’s boxing division went under.
In his last outing, Bivol outclassed Joe Smith Jr on DAZN. Bivol has said he’s looking for big fights, either at 175 or if he has to try going down to 168. Bivol, like Gvozdyk, is a good boxer with some power, and makes for the same intriguing style matchup.
Someone Not So Interesting
I do think that by the end of 2019, Top Rank will at least try to put together a title unification fight, but it might not come next, and from there we turn to the latest IBF rankings.
The top two slots are empty, as is often the case with that particular sanctioning body.
No. 3 is Germany’s Dominic Boesel (29-1, 11 KO), who has won five straight since a stoppage loss to Karo Murat in July 2017. No. 4 is Sweden’s Sven Fornling (15-1, 7 KO), who was at one point attached to the May 4 Beterbiev fight. Fornling’s loss came in 2016 against club fighter Yevgenii Makteienko, a true upset, a fifth round stoppage. He’s won five straight since then, the best win in December over the aforementioned Murat.
Neither of those guys are going to spark any real interest among anyone. The same goes for Adam Deines (17-0-1, 8 KO), another German, ranked No. 5.
After those guys you’re looking at Umar Salamov, Meng Fanlong, Enrico Koelling (Beterbiev has already beaten him), Joshua Buatsi (a prized Matchroom prospect, you can count that out), Karo Murat (who would fall in line with Gvozdyk-Doudou level matchmaking), Sullivan Barrera, Callum Johnson (Beterbiev has already beaten him, though it was a fun fight), the just-vanquished Kalajdzic, Felix Valera, and Michael Lee.
The name that might should jump out at you there is Felix Valera (18-2, 15 KO), a 31-year-old Dominican fighter who was on the Beterbiev-Kalajdzic prelims on Saturday, stopping Mario Aguilar in the fourth round of a stay-busy matchup.
Valera can fight a little bit, so he’d hardly make the list of Worst World Title Challengers, and even though he’s lost to Dmitry Bivol and Sullivan Barrera, he’s never been stopped. He’s also not the most enjoyable fighter to watch, and as he proved by hitting Barrera low several times in 2017, ultimately losing three points (Barrera also lost one for the same foul), he’s willing to make a fight plenty dirty.
I want to see a unification with Gvozdyk or Bivol next (as mentioned, Kovalev is probably busy) as much as anyone does, but I get the feeling it’s going to wind up being Beterbiev-Valera, and at the very least you have to suspect Valera is Plan B if a better fight can’t be put together for whatever reason.