Not one of Artur Beterbiev‘s 19 professional opponents has lasted to hear the final bell, but Callum Smith will not be focusing on survival when he faces boxing’s most intimidating fighter Saturday (ESPN/ESPN+, 10 p.m. ET). Instead, Smith is going for the knockout in a title fight that has been rearranged after it was postponed in July.
Beterbiev has delivered knockouts consistently as a metronome and, despite turning 39 years old later this month, arguably produced his best performances in his last two fights, victories over Joe Smith Jr. and Anthony Yarde. Many are expecting Beterbiev to defend his WBC, IBF and WBO light heavyweight world titles by knockout for the 20th successive time at the Centre Videotron in Quebec City, Canada, and set up the possibility of an undisputed title fight against fellow Russian Dmitry Bivol (22-0, 11 KOs), the WBA champion.
But Beterbiev’s reign faces a serious threat in Smith, a former super middleweight world champion who has been plotting the light heavyweight king’s downfall during training camps at home in Liverpool, England, and in Los Angeles, with renowned coach Buddy McGirt.
Smith (29-1, 21 KOs), 33, is a heavy puncher himself and, following two stoppage victories at light heavyweight since losing a decision to Canelo Alvarez at super middleweight in December 2020, believes he has the qualities to beat Beterbiev.
“He’s a very good fighter, his record speaks for itself, but he’s not invincible, he can be hit and he can be hurt, we’ve seen that,” Smith told ESPN. “I believe he can be hurt and he can be put over. I know I can put him over and we have worked on that, I believe I can finish Artur Beterbiev.
“I don’t watch him thinking I can’t beat him. I believe the best version of me can beat him and I believe the timing is right on my side. We don’t know if he’s aging yet, but I just know that I’m in with a big puncher and because of that he keeps me more switched on.”
Smith also understands that one mistake against Beterbiev and his quest to become a champion in a second weight class could be all over.
“With this level of opponent, like Beterbiev, it could be done in seconds — I know that. But it brings out the sharpness in me and gives me the fear factor to put into training and keep pushing.”
Beterbiev (19-0, 19 KOs), who is based in Montreal but originally from Khasavyurt, Russia, gave his mandatory challenger reasons to be concerned with how he performed in his last fight, stopping Yarde in eight thrilling rounds in January. Beterbiev finished Yarde’s spirited effort with a crunching right hand and was just as destructive in his second-round demolition of American Joe Smith in a title unification fight in June last year.
But an infected jawbone suffered by Beterbiev required surgery and caused this fight to be pushed back from a date of Aug. 20 to this weekend. Smith will have been out of the ring 16 months come the first bell, and Beterbiev just under a year.
Smith’s own lack of activity does not concern him, even though he has only boxed six rounds since losing to Alvarez. Smith has looked devastating in two nontitle wins over Mathieu Bauderlique in September 2021 and Gilbert Rivera in August 2022.
“I wanted to be more active after fighting [Bauderlique] on the Anthony Joshua-Oleksandr Usyk show, but I was kept waiting for a date due to scheduling,” Smith told ESPN. “It wasn’t ideal, and then I had to pull out of a fight in March with a little injury.
“But I’m always in the gym, always training. I was very active in the first half of my career, I’ve not been as active recently but I was out for 11 months before my last fight and it didn’t seem to matter. If you have a good camp, it’s OK. I’m not too fussed about how long it’s been since my last fight.”
Smith, who has been training alongside his elder brother Liam Smith, a former junior middleweight world champion, said he feels very good with the extra weight at 175 pounds.
“Stepping up [in weight] was a combination of a few things. My age and a move to working with Buddy McGirt made me a much happier fighter,” Smith said. “I’m punching much harder and I’m performing better than ever. I split my training between being based at the Rotunda gym in Liverpool and at Buddy’s gym in California. I’ve been training alongside the likes of [heavyweight] Dillian Whyte, [junior welterweight] Josh Taylor, and my brother Liam. I love those sort of environments, it brings out the best in you, you learn from them.”
Smith said boxing is a solo sport, but he added that it feels good to work with other people, and he is enjoying his new team — it makes the training a bit easier, he said.
“Canelo was clever and you do learn from fighting him. Afterwards I made changes in my camp and developed areas that I needed to,” Smith told ESPN. “When you are champion you don’t look at your faults so much, but losing can make you reflect and it has given me more drive and more determination to get back to where I was.”
If Smith can pull off the upset against Beterbiev, it will eclipse anything he achieved in his already successful career.
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