Smith is not an easy opponent for still-improving ‘killer’ Beterbiev

Former light-heavyweight contender John Scully has become one of boxing’s best analytical minds and, as part of Artur Beterbiev’s team, he has cautioned anyone looking beyond Liverpool challenger Callum Smith.

Light-heavyweight champion Beterbiev, 38, meets Smith in Montreal on August 19, and Smith, 29-1 (20 KOs), is the underdog, but certainly a live one. 

“You know, I think he's strong, he hits good, and anybody who fights Artur is going to step their game up because it's the opportunity of a lifetime, and they know Artur is a killer, and they have got to be prepared for that,” said Scully. “I think a lot of people don't think Callum Smith is a tough guy. A lot of people I see online… people think it's going to be an easy fight. I wouldn't say that. I wouldn't. And I would not be going into that [fight] thinking that at all.”

Smith went the distance with Canelo in November of 2019, before moving up from to 175lbs, fighting once a year in 2020, 2021 and 2022. Smith was huge at 168, and he possesses physical advantages over the champion, but Beterbiev is not complacent in his role as the favourite. 

“The good thing is, Artur doesn't go on the internet, and even if he did, he wouldn't ever listen to that,” Scully said, of those predicting a straightforward night for the Russian. “Like, never in a million years would he listen to that. But I read everything. I'm talking to people, and so many people are like, ‘Oh, it's going to be a blowout.’ That's how you get caught sleeping. We're not going to get caught sleeping. Smith creates problems with his height, and he is here, and he is in a fight. I would never think it's going to be an easy fight by any stretch. Artur could fight your grandmother, and he's going train like he is about to fight Sugar Ray Robinson!” 

The 33-year-old challenger is the second Englishman Beterbiev has boxed, having stopped Anthony Yarde in a London Fight of the Year contender back in January. Beterbiev looked pleased when that one was all over, even though some felt the writing had been on the wall and Yarde had been taking too many shots through the fight. Others felt it a sign the champion is slipping.

Not so, contends Scully. “People say that, but here's the thing. Like, anytime you're in with a world-class guy, it should be hard. It's a funny thing. He [Artur] gets to the point where he is killing everyone, so if someone just stays in there, it's like, ‘Oh, he's slipping.’ I said, ‘Well, you know, he's in a fight. He's in with a world-class fighter. You're supposed to get hit. You're going to get caught.’ I think Artur responded extremely well. I just thought it was a good fight, and he got hit more because he engaged more. I certainly knew, style-wise, he would get hit because the guy's fast, and it takes time to adjust to the speed.”

Scully, who has seen plenty through the years, as a decorated amateur, a sparring partner to the likes of Roy Jones, a long-time contender and as a trainer, had been impressed by the courageous but defeated Londoner.

“I thought he was good. I think he's good. I thought, like with anyone, when Artur starts catching you repeatedly, I had seen where people said, ‘Oh, he [Yarde] shouldn't have been stopped. They shouldn't have stopped the fight.’ I was like, ‘Listen, just because it doesn't look on video devastating. Trust me. Be in there. You get in there and let Artur touch you a couple of times, and you tell me if you think it's a good idea to keep going.’”

But at 38, there will come a time when Beterbiev starts to decline. It is inevitable but, in camp, Scully – who works with Beterbiev’s head trainer Marc Ramsay, sees no signs just yet. 

“I suppose, the thing is with Artur is when you look at his age, he's not going to, you know, fighters don't last forever…. Like there will come a point where the immovable object starts to get moved. Right? I say this, and I've noted, and I mean it. I'm not saying it, just as a trainer trying to hype it up, I think he's improved over the last couple of years. I think he's shown more, done better, and been more versatile, even in the gym. I’m seeing him do more things that he wasn’t doing before. I think he’s improved. One thing I always say under normal circumstances is that any man 38 will be sliding and going downhill, but Artur's different. He has a different mentality. He doesn’t drink. He doesn’t party. He doesn’t go to bars. He doesn’t hang out anywhere other than in his house with his family. He’s all about the training. He’s very similar to Bernard Hopkins in the way Bernard approached things. Bernard fought until he was 50, or 49, and he fought effectively until he was around 48.” 

Hopkins, however, had a very different style. He could nullify an opponent with his boxing IQ and turn their strengths into weaknesses. Beterbiev grinds his opponents down, bloodies and batters them and, more often than not, finishes them off. That, though, Scully adds, is merely a physical difference. Psychologically, there are parallels. 

“But Arthur's just his mindset is so strong,” Scully continued. “I feel good about where he is. Like, to be honest, I never think about his age. Watching him, I don't think of his age. I don't say, ‘Oh, we got to hurry up.’ I don't feel that way.”

Beterbiev remains 50 per cent of one of the best fights that can be made in the sport, with many yearning to see him against fellow light-heavyweight champion Dimitriy Bivol. If Beterbiev gets by Smith, it’s Bivol that he wants.

“Artur wants to fight,” Scully added. “Artur wants to fight whoever the champion, itts wherever the other champions are, and that’s Bivol. He wants that fight. And believe me, if there’s a hold-up, it’s got nothing to do with Artur.” 

The two champions sparred as amatuers and Scully admits that Bivol is the hardest fight out there for his man.

“I don't think it’s Canelo,” Scully said, of the flame-haired Mexican who won a belt at 175 before dropping back down to 168. “A lot of people have been saying that Artur should fight Canelo. 

“There is a reason why he has not fought Canelo. You know, when Canelo tried to get the two light-heavyweight fights? He didn’t pick Arthur. He picked other people [Kovalev and Bivol]. Bivol – stylistically and everything – is in his prime and it is [Arthur’s] toughest fight out there.” 

With so many champions jumping between weights, Scully says there have never been any talks even within the camp about Beterbiev venturing up to cruiserweight, to fight the likes of Chris Billam-Smith or Arsen Goulamirian, and it has never been mentioned to Scully. But does Scully envision Beterbiev hanging around even remotely as long as Hopkins did?

“Strictly guessing… I have never talked to Artur or Marc [Ramsay] about it. He is where he is, right? He is good. Even a lesser Artur is still one of the best light-heavyweights, even if he decreased by 10 per cent, he'd still be at the top, so he has an opportunity to make money for his family, and he likes boxing and likes fighting so I don't see a reason to stop at this point.”