Over the past six years, two fighters have emerged as the two best in the light heavyweight division - Artur Beterbiev and Dmitry Bivol. Though 2023 will not provide the year that they face each other, we hope that 2024 will be that year.
The two fighters share a weight class and a reputation for dominance, yet fight with polar opposite approaches to the sport of boxing. The three-belt world champion, Beterbiev, who holds the IBF, WBO, and WBC light heavyweight titles is a talented boxer, but best known for hitting like a heavyweight. Bivol, who has been a long-reigning WBA light heavyweight world champion is best known for his ability to outbox and outthink his opponents as he produces some of the lowest connect percentages in the sport of boxing when it comes to his defense. As Bivol currently according to CompuBox has the third lowest amount of punches landing on him per round, at 5.9, only behind Shakur Stevenson and the number-one fighter in this category, Demetrius Andrade.
The bout should make itself, but boxing is never that simple.
The major reason we haven't seen the fight is simple. Neither fighter has a huge American fanbase.
Both Beterbiev and Bivol are supremely talented, but also lack that reward finnicially that gets other great fighters interested in facing them. The risk outweighs the reward.
Hence, we have two long-reigning world champions, that seemingly struggle to get TV main event spots, despite both being on the pound-for-pound list.
Let's look at both fighters a bit more closley.
In terms of accomplishments, Beterbiev has done it all. Known for his power and agrression, the 2012 Olympian only lost to Oleksandr Usyk in the Olympics. Yet, he has bounced around between networks before landing at Top Rank Inc., and with ESPN in 2017.
Beterbiev won his first world title in 2017 by capturing the IBF belt with a late-round knockout of Enrico Koelling. Yet, two things standout from this performance. Beterbiev's power never goes away, and two, he fought in Fresno, California, in a co-feature. Despite being a fighter who has won every fight by way of knockout, Beterbiev, is a guy who also has struggled to find a home for his talents. Some of his fights included the ill-fated and rebook bout against Callum Smtih, take place in his new hometown of Montreal, but even then Beterbiev is struggling to move the needle.
When he fought in Stockton, California, as the main event, he walked out with no music after local ticket seller Gabriel Flores Jr., got a knockout win. A lot of locals left thinking it was just a match coming on after the main event. It has been a weird ride for the talent that is Beterbiev, because boxing is just as political as it is a sport, and Beterbiev's career reflects that talent is only part of the equation in forming a star.
Beterbiev's biggest win was a unification bout against Oleksandr Gvozdyk, as Gvozdyk was trained by the popular personality, Teddy Atlas. Despite some having Gvozdyk up at the time of stoppage, Beterbiev was able to overwhelm Gvozdyk, who couldn't take the taxing pressure presented by Beterbiev.
Then COVID-19 happened, and Beterbiev fought less. Averaging a fight a year essentially for a great while, Beterbiev didn't fight in 2020, and slowly lost the momentum he built for the Gvozdyk fight. Add to it, Gvozdyk retired, which also made people forget how meaningful the fight was during that time as well.
Beterbiev is one of the best light heavyweights ever, and has a case to be made that he could've beaten any light heavyweight on any given day...now the question becomes how much does he have left.
Beterbiev is in his late 30s. In the Anthony Yarde fight he looked to be slowing down, and it seems that his prime, might be past him. That said, is Beterbiev that special that even a shell of himself is better than most of his generation? That is the question.
In terms of aesthetics, Bivol is a lot more 'fun' to watch. Beauty, science and craft meet as one when looking at the fighting style of Dmitry Bivol. This is seen by him having the highest jab landing percentage according to CompuBox at 52.4% (8.6 of 16.4), with second place being a whole five percent lower with Tony Harrison at 47.2% (6 of 12.7).
Bivol won his world title in 2017, and has held the belt ever since, and made eleven world title defenses. His crowning achievement was his career-year in 2022, in which he outboxed Canelo Alvarez to retain his title, and knock some of the luster off Canelo, only to follow that up with a one-sided unanimious decision win over Gilberto "Zurdo" Ramirez.
After becoming the consenus boxer of the year, Bivol has seen 2023 be a great misfortune. He seemingly waited the first half of the year to see if he could land a Canelo Alvarez fight, yet Canelo has now left for the Premier Boxing Champions, on a three-fight deal, which seemingly ends some hope of that rematch ever happening. Bivol is now being 'rumored' to get a fight in October or November, but given his accolades it is strange he isn't being granted a main event spot, as he is one of the best fighters in the world.
Bivol is in a weird spot as guys who occupied this spot in prior generations often lost close fights to stars and got avoided - think Erislandy Lara. Bivol, on the other hand, beat Canelo Alvarez, but poises such a risk, he seemingly can not entice fights to be made, despite an undefeated record, and a win over the face of boxing.
Bivol is between a rock-and-a-hard place as he is a very special talent, but he is far from a brawler, and it seems that the brawlers get more good fortune than a scientist at times. Add to the fact, that the Russia-Ukraine conflict has somehow mostly impacted Bivol more than any other fighter.
It is crazy to think, last year, Bivol was a star, and this year, Bivol might not even get a fight date.
Bivol is back in training, but even then who knows when he can return as October is starting to fill up on the fight calander and that leaves only two more months for him to book a fight.
How Does The Fight Look
It is always easy to doubt Beterbiev, whether it is his age or his style - he is so easy to underestimate until he is in front of you.
One can't help, but to favor the younger, Bivol, who has a style that seems tailor-made to defeat a fighter like Beterbiev, yet the power of Beterbiev makes every fight he is in interesting, based on just that.
No matter how good you are doing - he can win based on his strength, and sneaky good fight IQ.
The bout is truly a 50-50 fight, as Beterbiev's age might make astute pundits lean toward Bivol, but this fight needs to happen soon as it is one of the questions we need answered in this great sport of ours.