The light heavyweight division is booming in boxing right now. This weekend sees us edge closer towards a potential undisputed fight in the division as IBF and WBC champion Artur Beterbiev squares off with WBO champion Joe Smith Jr at Madison Square Garden this weekend.
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Joe Smith Jr turned professional in 2009, and has been on some journey to get his world title. His professional debut saw him knock David Brown out in one round. Smith Jr would win the first four bouts of his career with first round knockouts, his fifth and sixth bouts saw him dispatch his opponents Walter Foster and Charles Wade in two rounds.
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Smith Jr would start fighting in six rounders from his seventh bout, however, disaster struck in his seventh bout as he was stopped in the fourth round by Eddie Caminero. Following the Caminero bout, Smith Jr bounced back with a knockout victory over Santos Martinez.
It would be in Smith Jr's 22nd fight when he would get his big break. Smith Jr faced WBC international light heavyweight champion Andrzej Fonfara. Fonfara was coming off the back of a big victory over Nathan Cleverly, but now had Smith Jr standing across the ring from him. Smith Jr wasted no time in the bout, as he dropped Fonfara down twice in the first on his way to a stunning TKO victory in the first round.
Smith Jr was then selected as the last opponent of Bernard Hopkins' illustrious career. Smith Jr prevented Hopkins of having a fairytale ending to his career, as Smith Jr fought through a cut in the second round to knocked Hopkins out in the eighth round, sending him through the ropes in the process.
Smith Jr's hot run of form became derailed when he lost his WBC international title to Sullivan Barrera by unanimous decision, despite dropping Barrera in the first round. Smith Jr would return to knock out Melvin Russel in a round. Smith Jr was then offered a world title shot against Dmitry Bivol. Smith Jr put up a great fight, but came up short as he lost on a wide points decision. Smith Jr would return in a big fight though, as he defeated Jesse Hart by split decision, including dropping Hart in the seventh, to pick up the WBO NABO title.
Smith would build on the Hart victory, as he returned to knock out former world champion Eleider Alvarez in nine rounds. Smith got offered the second world title fight of his career in next, as he would face Maxim Vlasov for the vacant WBO world title. Smith Jr would become world champion as he was on the right side of the majority decision. Smith Jr's first defence was scheduled to be against Britain's Callum Johnson, but Johnson was ruled out of the bout with Covid. Steve Geffard was drafted in as a replacement, and Smith Jr dispatched Geffard in nine rounds to sucessfully defend his belt.
Artur Beterbiev had a very different rise to the top, as he turned pro in 2013, following a stellar amateur career that culminated in the quarter finals at the 2012 Olympic games, where he came up short to the now unified heavyweight world champion Oleksandr Usyk. Beterbiev's professional debut resulted in him stopping Christian Cruz in two rounds.
In his sixth fight, Beterbiev picked up his first title as he stopped Tavoris Cloud in one round to pick up the vacant NABA light heavy title. Beterbiev continued his knockout streak as he began to pick up ranking belts with dominant performances. In his tenth fight, Beterbiev would defend the NABA title for the final time, as he brutally dispatched Isidro Ranoni Prieto in a round, after dropping Prieto twice.
A world title shot came next for Beterbiev, as he fought for the vacant IBF world title against Enrico Koelling. Beterbiev dominated Koelling for 12 rounds, before dropping Koeeling twice in the final round, leading to a 12th round knockout victory. Beterbiev's first defence came against Callum Johnson. Beterbiev was dropped for the first time as a pro by Johnson, but came back to knock Johnson out in the fourth.
Beterbiev made one more defence, as he knocked Radivoje Kalajdzic out in five rounds before landing a unification bout. Beterbiev would take on WBC champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk. In a very close fight, Beterbiev found a breakthrough in the tenth round, as he would drop Gvozdyk three times in that round before getting the stoppage.
Beterbiev has had two fights since the unification bout with Gvozdyk, as he knocked Adam Deines out in 10 rounds, before taking on Marcus Browne. Beterbiev would drop Browne in the seventh round, before going on to stop him in the ninth round. Beterbiev is the only world champion to still hold a 100% knockout record.
Every world champion has dream to become undisputed, and that dream will become closer for one of these men Saturday when the square off for three of the four major belts. The only other man holding a world title in the light heavyweight division currently is Dmitry Bivol. Bivol is coming off the back of a career best performance when he defeated Canelo Alvarez. This weekend's huge light heavyweight unification between Beterbiev and Smith Jr will be broadcast live in the UK on Sky Sports in the early hours of Sunday morning.