Artur Beterbiev once again delivered a violent display of boxing with his 19th-career stoppage in his 19th fight, an eight-round TKO of Anthony Yarde on Saturday in London to retain his three light heavyweight titles.
Beterbiev (19-0, 19 KOs) entered the ring ranked No. 8 in ESPN's pound-for-pound list and proved why with another methodical performance in a thrilling firefight. He hurt Yarde on several occasions throughout the bout but was stunned by the challenger as well.
Beterbiev's vulnerability is part of what makes him must-see TV. Despite Yarde's success -- he was ahead on two of three scorecards before Beterbiev stopped him -- he was no match for Beterbiev in the end. The champion landed a chopping right hand followed by a looping right that floored Yarde. The referee allowed it to go but quickly stopped the bout when asked by Yarde's corner after Beterbiev landed a few more thudding shots.
"That was one of the greatest light heavyweight battles I've had the privilege of watching," said Top Rank founder Bob Arum, who was ringside. "Artur Beterbiev is a true master of his craft. I favor him over anyone in the division."
Even fellow champion Dmitry Bivol?
Beterbiev, who fights out of Montreal, emerged with a marked-up face and a gash under his left eye. The fight was tougher than expected, and at 38, time is likely running out on Beterbiev's run at the top of the light heavyweight division.
Before it's too late, boxing must deliver the weight class' biggest fight since Andre Ward fought Sergey Kovalev in a pair of bouts in 2016 and 2017.
Bivol, 32, is ESPN's No. 1 light heavyweight and the reigning fighter of the year after he defended his light heavyweight title with an upset win over Canelo Alvarez in May and a dominating decision victory over Gilberto Ramirez in November.
Bivol (21-0, 11 KOs) and Beterbiev, who are both Russians, have circled each other for years and were in talks for a potential meeting in early 2022. A fight between the two would crown an undisputed light heavyweight champion and pit two of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. (Bivol is one spot ahead of Beterbiev at No. 7 in the ESPN rankings.)
"I want Bivol," Beterbiev said. "Right now, it's everything. In that fight, we'll have four belts. It's really good fight, I think."
Beterbiev is underselling the matchup, of course. Not only would Beterbiev-Bivol be highly anticipated by fans, but it would also be a fascinating clash of styles in the ring.
Beterbiev is boxing's only champion with a 100% knockout ratio, but it would be unfair to refer to him simply as a puncher. He owns one of the game's best jabs, a weapon he uses to break down his foes. The pressure he inflicts on his opponents -- both mental and physical -- has proven impossible to contend with thus far.
But Beterbiev has never faced anyone quite like Bivol. Bivol also possesses an elite jab, a punch he used to control the action against Alvarez. Bivol showed off his confidence, too, by standing right in front of a dangerous puncher with five- and six-punch combinations.
Bivol would likely be favored against Beterbiev in a matchup boxing must move swiftly to consummate. But it remains to be seen when this fight for all four belts can take place.
Bivol could face Alvarez in a September rematch at 168 pounds for the undisputed super middleweight championship after Alvarez fights John Ryder in May (if all goes according to plan). In that scenario, it's possible Bivol waits until 2024 to meet Beterbiev, though Bivol's manager told ESPN "we are ready for that fight, no ifs."
"Competition-wise, we will see Bivol vs. Beterbiev as one of the biggest fights that can happen," Vadim Kornilov said. "Let's make it happen."
It's also possible the WBC will order Beterbiev to make his mandatory defense against former super middleweight titleholder Callum Smith in the meantime. That, too, would make for a compelling Beterbiev fight against an Englishman while we wait to see him against Bivol.
Yarde raises stock in defeat
And if Beterbiev and Bivol are undoubtedly the two best light heavyweights in the world, Yarde (23-3, 22 KOs) staked his claim to the No. 3 spot, even in defeat.
The 31-year-old hurt Beterbiev several times in the fight and impressed with his jab. He also showed off the kind of guts necessary to compete at the top level, rallying back from Beterbiev's damaging shots in multiple instances.
"Everyone can punch hard at this level, and Anthony did, too," Beterbiev said. "But he's young. I turned into a professional when I was 28. He has time. I hope he does well in the future."
Yarde's other title challenge came in August 2019 when he was stopped by Kovalev in Round 11. Yarde was on the verge of stopping Kovalev in that bout before he punched himself out.
Against Beterbiev, Yarde appeared improved with more layers to his game. If he can build on this performance, Yarde could find himself in title position soon in a division short on genuine challengers.