The 100 percent knockout ratio remained intact Saturday. Bring on Bivol.
WBC/WBO/IBF light heavyweight world champion Artur Beterbiev of Montreal (20-0, 20 KOs) successfully defended his titles in his long-delayed return. He took out Callum “Mundo” Smith of Liverpool, England (29-2, 21 KOs) in front of an enthusiastic home crowd at Videotron Centre in Quebec City, Canada.
In Beterbiev’s first fight in over a year, the 39-year-old showed zero ring rust or effects of age. He is considered a slow starter but must have known future foe Bivol was watching ringside. He came straight at Smith. Smith kept his guard up and avoided any mistakes early but was pinned into the ropes multiple times as Beterbiev cut off the ring.
In the following rounds, Beterbiev settled into stalking mode, looming and presenting a threatening presence. He did not need to rush after being out of the ring for longer than he intended. The rounds will serve him well in his next and more important contest.
Beterbiev added the jab in the third round, sticking Smith in the eye with the right hand and forcing him back. By the end of the fight, Beterbiev landed more jabs (95) than power punches (87).
Pressure Plus Power
After three rounds, Smith’s nose was bleeding from the jab alone. Beterbiev is an attrition fighter. Once he’d laid the groundwork, he moved Smith back, putting him into serious trouble against the rope. Referee Michael Griffin was ready to step in, but Smith finally circled out. His face showed the kind of damage you see after 12 rounds, not just four.
Smith gave it his best, landing an excellent series of left hooks. But they didn’t give Beterbiev anything to worry about. Smith staggered to his corner. “We gotta fight back,” said trainer Buddy McGirt, counseling Smith to go to the body and adding, “Stay your ass off the ropes, no good buddy!”
Beterbiev added the right hand to start the sixth round, and the short rights kept coming. Smith has never been knocked down or stopped. His streak ended in the seventh round as Beterbiev caught him and began chopping. His knees finally gave way. Smith got to his feet, and Beterbiev drove him back to the canvas.
Trainer Buddy McGirt had seen enough and told referee Michael Griffin the fight was over at the two-minute mark of round seven.
HE DOES IT AGAIN.
— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) January 14, 2024
Asked how he was able to stop Smith for the first time in his career, Beterbiev shrugged and said, “You know it’s because of luck. Yes. It’s my coach, my team is working hard with me, but it’s luck.”
Beterbiev said the team had multiple strategies prepared. “You have to be prepared for several strategies. He gave me a good fight; he stayed strong. But today, luck is on my side.”
Smith: ‘The better man won tonight'
Smith wasn’t able to threaten Beterbiev and get his respect. But in a post-fight interview with ESPN’s Bernard Osuna, a battered, dejected Smith said it was the pressure, not the power. “Good momentum, good pressure, he stopped me getting through to him,” said Smith.
“I don’t think it was his boxing ability that I found a problem tonight, it was his constant pressure, touching touching touching, and kind of stops you getting your rhythm on, your momentum.
“He got his 20th finish, he kept his run going. He’s a good fighter, a good champion. I wasn’t the best tonight … No excuses, the better man won tonight.”
Smith said he would spend time with his family and consider his future. “I’ve been a world champion, I’ve been to the top of the mountain. I gave a lot to boxing over the years. I need to sit down and assess what goals I still want to achieve. I want to be two-division world champion; I came up short tonight, and it’s hard to accept that I’m not the best in the world. I always believed I was. I have to sit and assess what the future holds.”
Beterbiev vs Bivol: July in Saudi Arabia?
Beterbiev can be reasonably certain of his future. However, Top Rank promoter Bob Aru said no deal is signed yet securing a unification bout with Dmitriy Bivol. Yet.
“No, it’s not done yet, but absolutely, we want to do it. I’ll be talking to my friend, His Excellency Turki Alalshikh. He wants to do it, but Ramadan is coming. Ramadan ends in the middle of April. So about three months after the end of Ramadan,” said Arum, which places the potential fight in mid-July. Alalshikh posted the following after the fight.
Impressive performance…congratulations brother, thanks to God I can sleep now happy … 🥊 pic.twitter.com/MQ0ZVsVcY6
— TURKI ALALSHIKH (@Turki_alalshikh) January 14, 2024
Beterbiev is on board. “Yes, of course. I need another fourth belt. It means, like, in this category, I have that work. Unification means the top. Merci Quebec, merci Quebec!”
Christian Mbilli Gets 2024 Off To Blazing Start
Super middleweight Christian Mbilli of France (26-0, 22 KOs) made his case for consideration as a world title challenger with an impressive victory over Rohan Murdock of Burleigh, Australia (27-3, 19 KOs).
Born in Cameroon and now based in Montreal, Mbilli gave his loyal Canadian fans a rousing performance, blasting away at Murdock with the artillery of a heavyweight. But he delivers it at a super flyweight's volume of punches.
Give Murdock credit, he took an impressive amount of incoming fire and did his best to make Mbilli pay. But he was standing in front of a human buzzsaw. His most challenging shots were wicked angled uppercuts and hooks, drawing gasps and shrieks from the audience. He avoided being knocked down, but perhaps it only prolonged the assault. Murdock is the fighter too tough for his own good.
Those punches also concerned Murdock's trainer, Chris Carden. He warned Murdock he would stop the fight if his man took too much damage in round six. He stood on the lip of the ring with the towel in his hand. He sat down, but in the final seconds of the round, Mbilli blasted Murdock, causing his mouthpiece to fly into the lap of Top Rank executive Carl Moretti.
Murdock made it to his corner, and Carden, who has trained Murdock since he was a teenager, said, “You can live to fight another day, mate.” It was the right call.
“Tonight, I send a message. I am a fighter with vision. I am the future of the division,” said Mbilli.
“I know Canelo is best. Everyone knows Canelo is the best. That is why my goal is to fight Canelo. I will do everything I can to make it happen.”
Will We See Canelo vs. Mbilli?
Mbilli is laser-focused on his goal of fighting Canelo Alvarez before the Mexican unified, undisputed champion retires. He will need to lean on the sanctioning bodies to force the issue. There is no reason for Alvarez to accept a fight with Mbilli, who is not especially well known and offers little reward for the risk.
But there are plenty of other good fights. Caleb Plant? Bektimir Melikuziev? David Morrell? David Benavidez? A battle between Mbilli and Benavidez would be a blockbuster down the road.