Chris Algieri's School of Thought: Artur Beterbiev-Dmitrii Bivol is the fight the world needs but Joshua Buatsi could challenge them if he beats Dan Azeez

A fight between Artur Beterbiev and Dmitrii Bivol has become the most essential fight that can be made.

It’s been marinating for a long time, and to the extent that where it was once a fight for the purists, it’s become one for a mainstream audience. Beterbiev’s destruction of Callum Smith, combined with Bivol returning to action and how difficult it is to determine which is the division’s number one, also shows that it’s the most competitive and appealing match-up it may ever be.

Bivol is a superb technician; his defence, output, conditioning, accuracy and consistency are as impressive as the combination of Beterbiev’s power and fundamentals. If Bivol’s a clinician, Beterbiev’s a Terminator-like machine who doesn’t make any mistakes. Beterbiev not only outboxed Smith, he took away the power that had been putting other light heavyweights to sleep as much with his technical ability as his ferocity.

Until that fight Smith would have been considered Britain’s leading light heavyweight – and it’s a highly competitive scene – but after it he seemed so downbeat that it could take him some time to rebuild. The very appealing fight between Joshua Buatsi and Dan Azeez on Saturday can instead determine Britain’s new number one.

Buatsi’s so far proven himself a better technician than Azeez. He has sound fundamentals, good conditioning, and good power. But Azeez has an x-factor, a long reach, aggression, power, and the ability to fight on the inside. If Buatsi doesn’t tame him early he could find himself in a very difficult fight – Azeez’s ability to be so dangerous makes their fight as close to a 50-50 as exists.

Their friendship and history of sparring together will remove the surprise factor they could otherwise offer each other, but without the headgear and while wearing the smaller gloves it’ll be very different for them – which means it could go both ways. There’ll be very few or no rounds spent feeling each other out, or they’ll be tentative all night. There’s so much on the line between them – not just their rivalry and bragging rights across south London, but Azeez’s British and Commonwealth titles and a potential shot at Bivol’s WBA title. 

It’s their responsibility as professionals to block out the noise that comes with the territory of their fight, but what will be harder to control, in that context, is their previous sparring partners. Sparring partners often bounce around from camp to camp; people talk; information can get passed around. That’s not only part of the sport, it’s potentially a reality surrounding their fight. 

Chris Algieri's School of Thought: Beterbiev-Bivol is the fight the world needs but Buatsi could challenge them if he beats Azeez
Mikey Williams/Top Rank

Buatsi’s impressed me for a long time. He once worked alongside me as a guest commentator, and his boxing brain, knowledge and hunger all stood out – as did him talking to me about the business side of the sport. Even then he was eager to be involved in the biggest fights. That type of hunger can take a fighter a long way – “This guy really wants to be something” – and the more I’ve watched him the more I’ve been impressed, because he also has the talent and physical gifts needed to succeed. 

Buatsi might even be the fighter to succeed Bivol and Beterbiev at the top of their division, but if he is he needs to beat Azeez. Every world champion has a fight such as theirs at some point in their career – against an opponent in a similar position and that leads to one earning a title shot and the other starting over.

Almost as important as Buatsi’s physical abilities is having a coach with the mind of Virgil Hunter. Hunter doesn’t just work with any level of fighter – he’s very particular – and Buatsi’s willingness to travel from London to San Francisco, and the insight into his mentality that that provides, is another strength. I’ve seen Hunter work with fighters like Daniel Jacobs; a willingness to be disciplined and to meet his demands is just as positive.

Craig Richards, who Buatsi beat in 2022 and who previously really tested Bivol, is another strong British light heavyweight, but it’s Anthony Yarde, who next week fights Marko Nikolic, I’m really looking forward to seeing again. Yarde’s very dangerous – an explosive, fan-friendly fighter who’s capable of contending with the world’s leading light heavyweights. He was competitive and showed heart throughout his fight with Beterbiev in 2023. He’s also so athletic he’s successfully compensating for his lack of amateur experience, and he continues to learn – like he did from his fight with Sergey Kovalev in 2019.