Russian light heavyweight standout Artur Beterbiev (left) exchanges punches with America’s Michael Hunter during the 2012 Olympic Games on Aug. 1, 2012 in London, England.
The light heavyweight division caught fire in the second half of 2013. Adonis Stevenson made his debut drilling Chad Dawson in a single round and followed that championship victory by picking apart contenders Tavoris Cloud and Tony Bellew to mid-round stoppages.
Sergey Kovalev announced himself to the world stage with a fourth-round stoppage of Nathan Cleverly in Wales, grabbing the WBO crown before butchering Ismayl Sillakh in two rounds in his first title defense.
Fans also saw Bernard Hopkins extend his record for being the oldest fighter in history to win a world title when the 48-year-old veteran outpointed then-IBF titleholder Cloud and mandatory challenger Karo Murat. WBA beltholder Beibut Shumenov also returned from an 18 month hiatus to blitz Tamas Kovacs in three rounds to set up a possible unification with Hopkins.
Just when we though the division couldn’t get any hotter, former amateur star Artur Beterbiev, who holds an amateur win over Kovalev, left the unpaid ranks, moving from Chechenya, Russia to Montreal hooking up with Yvon Michel's GYM.
“It was a big move for me.” Beterbiev told RingTV.com. “When I decided to turn professional, I received many offers from different promoters. For me it wasn't the matter of money, it was a matter of a good team.”
Michel was very excited to add Beterviev to his deep roster of 175-pounders that includes Jean Pascal, Stevenson and Eleider Alvarez.
“Arthur Beterbiev is destined to have a great future,” Michel said. “He has the required discipline and determination, as well as a great team of manager and trainers around him, and a style built around ferocious will and unlimited power. I can see him challenging any light heavyweight champion, beside his teammate Adonis Stevenson, before the conclusion of 2014. Remember his name, he is the real deal.”
Since making the move Beterbiev has demolished all three opponents inside the distance. On Saturday, three days before his 29th birthday, he will take on Gabriel Lecrosnier in a six-round bout.
Beterbiev appeared in two Olympic Games, as well as two World Amateur Championships where he won bronze in 2007 and gold in 2009. He had a fierce reputation as one of biggest knockout artists, best illustrated by stoppages of Sillakh and Siju Shabazz.
Here’s what Beterbiev had to say ahead of his fourth pro bout:
Anson Wainwright: Tell us about your fight on the undercard of Bute-Pascal against Gabriel Lecrosnier.
Artur Beterbiev: I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a great day for boxing in Canada.
AW: You haven't wasted any time in the pro ranks. While you've fought journeymen, they're durable types that you have impressively stopped. What are your thoughts on your fights to date?
AB: It’s important that I fight to the best of my ability and capability. As a professional, I cannot think any differently. Each challenge is unique and I take them all seriously with the best level of dedication and commitment I can.
AW: How do you feel you've been able to adapt to the pros so far? What is the biggest difference for you?
AB: Amateur and professional boxing have lots in common but are different at the same time. In an amateur bout, knockouts are accidental. In professional boxing they are very common. Professional boxing is more aggressive, traumatic and dramatic as well. It’s hard work, dedication and victory at any price.
AW: What can we expect from you in 2014? Are you looking to move quickly?
AB: Personal growth is very important for me as an athlete, friend, parent or human being. There is always something to learn and something to achieve in this life. I look for progress in everything. For as long as I can box, you can expect my very best in training and performing. This approach, of course, will take me on the path to becoming the next world champion.
AW: If I can take you back you were born in Khasavyurt, Russia, can you tell us a little about your early years there?
AB: I came from a family of four children and I was the youngest one. I am very close with my brothers who have always supported me and now they are my biggest fans. Thanks to their support I have lots of good memories of my childhood. Even during the War in Chechnya, when times were tough, they were always there for me. To keep me away from the streets when I was ten years old, my brothers brought me to my first boxing gym. I will always remember that day, since then, me and boxing are inseparable.
AW: You had a tremendous amateur career, winning silver at the 2007 World Championships before coming back to win the gold in 2009. You're also a two-time European champion. Can you tell us about your Olympic experiences?
AB: Winning gold in 2009 was the most memorable and dear to me. As for the Olympic Games, I was very stubborn and Olympic judges were stubborn about me. I don't regret anything. It was a great experience.
AW: After the London Games you signed with Yvon Michel and relocated to Canada. That's a big move. How did this come to happen? Could you also tell us about the other members of your team, manager, trainer and what gym you train at?
AB: It’s true it was a big move for me. When I decided to turn professional, I received many offers from different promoters. For me it wasn't the matter of money, it was a matter of a good team. I'm very happy to deal with Yvon Michel, Marc Ramsey and my manager, Anna Reva. Besides being very professional, they are my good friends.
AW: As an amateur you hold a win over current WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev. You outpointed him. This looks particularly impressive today in light of his recent form. Can you tell us about that fight?
AB: When I fought Sergey Kovalev in semi-finals (of the Russian national championship), my heart was already set on the fight with the captain of the Russian team, Makarenko, in finals. My goal was set at that time. I had to beat Makarenko and to do that had to defeat Kovalev, which I did (smiles).
AW: What are your thoughts on the light heavyweight division and the current champions?
AB: I have lots of respect to all of them. It’s very hard to become champion. They deserve it.
AW: What are your goals now as a professional boxer?
AB: My goals are to continue fighting in a way that delivers my ambitions and gives fans what they come to see.
AW: What do you enjoy doing away from boxing?
AB: I’m blessed to have a family – my beloved wife and two children – and all my free time I spend with them. I also like to go to the cinema and watch movies.
AW: In closing what would you say to the light heavyweight division?
AB: I like my weight category. There are lots of great opponents, therefore, good opportunities to use boxing technique and skills. There is also lots to learn.