Is Beterbiev the best at 175, and can he beat Canelo or Kovalev?

Boxing

Artur Beterbiev vs. Oleksandr Gvozdyk lived up to the billing Friday night, plain and simple. Beterbiev overpowered the boxing acumen of the skilled and previously undefeated Gvozdyk in 10 rounds to become a unified champion, consolidating the IBF and WBC titles.

While Gvozdyk built an early lead on the cards, they came at a certain price, in term of his energy expenditure — and Beterbiev took advantage in the end.

With the first world title unification fight between undefeated champions in the history books, it’s time to look forward at Beterbiev’s prospects for the future.

Is Beterbiev the best light heavyweight in the world?

Steve Kim: This is an interesting question, given that Beterbiev, by winning this bout with a decisive TKO and picking up another belt, is now a unified champion — joining the likes of Andy Ruiz, Canelo Alvarez, Julian Williams, Errol Spence, Jose Ramirez, Vasiliy Lomachenko and Danny Roman as boxers who currently hold multiple belts in their respective weight classes.

But the case can be made that the No. 1 spot belongs to Sergey Kovalev, who faces Alvarez on Nov. 2. He still has the best overall résumé and track record in the division.

At the same time, Kovalev is 36 and on the back nine of his career. He has been stopped twice, and while he’s still a formidable fighter, he’s no longer in his physical prime, and he appears to be vulnerable. That’s precisely why Canelo is taking the risk in moving up two weight classes to face him. Just think about: He wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to face either Beterbiev or Gvozdyk, and yes, some of it had to do with Kovalev’s profile and the risk-reward ratio involved. But the two light heavyweights that we saw in Philadelphia are at their apex, with much less tread on their tires.

So based on the fact that Beterbiev defeated Gvozdyk on Friday, and the stakes involved in that fight, this could be considered the best victory by any light heavyweight in recent years — probably since Andre Ward stopped Kovalev in their rematch in 2017. And with that, Beterbiev makes a very strong case for at least being in the conversation for the top spot in this division.

But Kovalev, Dmitry Bivol and maybe even Alvarez will have something to say about that in the future.

Will Beterbiev unify the division further? When?

Dan Rafael: He definitely will not in his next fight. Beterbiev got an exception from the IBF to his mandatory defense to take a unification fight. He will next face mandatory challenger Meng Fanlong (16-0, 10 KOs), of China, who won a title eliminator in June. There were already discussions for the bout — regardless of who won Friday night — between Top Rank’s Bob Arum and Dino Duva of Roc Nation Sports, which represents Fanlong. They probably will hold the fight in China around the Chinese New Year celebration, which begins on Jan. 25.

If Beterbiev wins that fight, Arum said a unification might be possible with Bivol, who is a broadcast free agent and would fight on an ESPN platform. Kovalev’s situation is up in the air, because he faces Alvarez on Nov. 2. If Kovalev wins, he might have to do a rematch. If Canelo wins, there is almost zero chance Canelo would fight Beterbiev.

Bradley on Beterbiev: “He’s a wrecking ball”

One guy who became a real believer in Beterbiev on Friday night is former multidivision world champion Tim Bradley, who called the action ringside for ESPN.

“I thought Gvozdyk was boxing well, but he couldn’t slow down the strong, determined, undeterred Beterbiev with punching power,” said Bradley, just minutes after going off the air. He added that Gvozdyk simply, “didn’t have the gas tank,” to deal with the late onslaught that came his way.

Bradley says he believes Beterbiev absolutely matches up well with Kovalev, Alvarez or any other 175-pounder out there.

“He’s a wrecking ball. He’s a seek-and-destroy type of guy and he showed tonight he’s more cerebral than we give him credit for. He’s just not a come-forward guy,” said Bradley, who lauded Beterbiev’s trainer Marc Ramsay for his instructions in the corner. “You’ve got to go 36 minutes with this guy. The fact that he’s only been 12 rounds once — and he knocked out the guy — I thought the conditioning was going to be a factor, but he wasn’t the one breathing hard.”

What’s next for Gvozdyk? How can he rebuild?

Rafael: Top Rank is rich in the light heavyweight division. Arum plans to mix and match his guys, and when Gvozdyk comes back he could definitely be in the mix to face guys like Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez, Jesse Hart or Michael Seals, to name a few possibilities.

Who else caught your eye on the undercard?

Kim: Highly touted heavyweight prospect Sonny Conto got very little resistance from Steven Lyons, and as a result, Conto got in only one round of work in front of his hometown crowd.

But two other guys stood out on this undercard and displayed jolting power: light heavyweight Michael Seals, and lightweight prospect Joseph Adorno.

Seals opened up the card and he blasted Elio Heraldo Trosch in one round with a counter left hook while on the ropes. Seals is a natural puncher and an absolute wild card in the light heavyweight division because of his ability to knock down brick walls with either hand. While he would be the underdog against any of the current light heavyweight belt-holders, he would have the proverbial puncher’s chance. He is now working with Top Rank, who is looking for the right opportunity for him at a world-class level.

Adorno’s moniker is “Blessed Hands” because of his natural power in both hands. He showed that Friday night as he took out the normally durable Damian Sosa (who had never been stopped in 11 previous professional outings) in two rounds with a clear display of how much power he has.

In the first frame he sent Sosa to the canvas with his vaunted left hook, and then, in the second round, he caught Sosa coming in with a counter right hand that nearly sent Sosa through the ropes face first. After that punch, the fight was waved off.

“I just moved up in weight to 135, I took a fight with a guy that fights at 147, 140, so it was a great statement and my hands do the work, and it speaks for itself,” said Adorno, who improved to 14-0 (12 KOs). He also understands that his journey is now just beginning.

“I’m only 20 years old,” he said. “So I’m only taking baby steps. I want to take my career as long as I can go. It’s not a race, it’s a marathon.”

What was the biggest moment of the fight?

Rafael: Although Beterbiev broke through with three knockdowns in the 10th round to finish Gvozdyk, I thought the beginning of the end was in the ninth. Beterbiev had a huge round and it was very clear Gvozdyk was badly deteriorating. He took some massive right hands. He stayed on his feet, but it was clear he was wearing down. He also got creamed with an uppercut that did damage, and by the end of the ninth round, I thought Beterbiev would finish him in the 10th — and he did just that.

WBA light heavyweight Dmitry Bivol checks in

Bivol watched the Beterbiev-Gvozdyk fight in the early morning hours in Russia. Here’s what the WBA light heavyweight champion had to say, relayed through his manager, Vadim Kornilov.

“I thought Gvozdyk would have a bigger advantage in conditioning, and he started very good with movement, away from Beterbiev’s right hand,” Bivol said. “Beterbiev did well in going to the body mid-fight and breaking Gvozdyk down, slowing him down. It was a good fight; Beterbiev kept to his plan, and got the victory. Congratulations to him.”

Bivol, who is undefeated himself with a record of 17-0 (11 KOs), recently defeated Lenin Castillo in Chicago.

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