Artur Beterbiev has established himself as a true killer in the Light-Heavyweight division, with a 100% KO ratio in 15 professional fights. He has been the IBF Light-Heavyweight champion since 2017 and WBC champion since 2019. But, at 35 years of age, why wasn’t he gracing the professional circuit with his KO power far sooner?
Beterbiev had a truly exceptional amateur career representing Russia. He won gold twice in the European Championships, in 2006 and 2006, and took silver in 2006 and gold in 2009 at the AIBA World Championships. He left the amateurs with a 295-5 record, including two victories over future unified Light-Heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev and a close loss to future Cruiserweight king, Oleksandr Usyk.
With such a dominating amateur career and natural KO power in both hands, it would seem that Beterbiev took his time by turning pro in 2013 at 28 years old, later than already-late pro debuts from Oleksandr Usyk and Sergey Kovalev at 26.
The reason for this is down to the culture of sports in Eastern Europe. Unlike in the USA and the UK, amateur boxers in Eastern Europe receive financial support from their countries, which allows them to focus on things like the Olympics. Amateur sportsmen and women are respected in Eastern Europe in a way that they are not in the Western world.
While the west tends to focus on amateur sports only during the Olympics, amateur sportsmen receive funding and attention year-round in Eastern Europe. Beterbiev received a decent stipend as an amateur, with bonuses for winning medals, which allowed him to take care of his family and focus on fighting for his country, rather than turning pro to earn money.
The investment into facilities and training programs is also much higher in Russia than it is in Britain, which means that Beterbiev enjoyed a much more developed training environment than his British or American counterparts. With the added respect from his community and the financial support which basically made him a paid boxer even before he went pro, Beterbiev was in no rush to leave the amateur circuit.
His pro career and contractual issues
At the age of 28, Beterbiev turned pro in Canada and immediately made up for any lost time. He had an impressive debut year fighting three times, finishing each fight within 3 rounds.
The following year he fought four times, finishing all but one of his fights within 2 rounds. In just his 6th pro fight, he beat former IBF Light-Heavyweight champion Tavoris Cloud by 2nd round KO. Beterbiev’s pro success was expected by everyone who had seen him box as an amateur, but his freakish KO power was compounded by the lack of headgear and firmer gloves.
Towards the end of 2014, after some disputes with his first pro-manager Anna Reva, Beterbiev followed the advice given to him by promoter Yvon Michel and moved to terminate his contract with her. After a drawn-out legal dispute, Beterbiev split with Anna Reva and signed a multi-fight co-promotional deal with Groupe Yvon Michel and Al Haymon in May 2015.
For the first two years, things went ok, with Beterbiev fighting twice in 2015 and 2016, winning the vacant WBO International Light-Heavyweight title and defending his WBA–NABA Light-Heavyweight title three times. However, by 2017 Beterbiev was again having disputes with his team. On May 9th, 2017 Beterbiev posted on Instagram, “As many of you have already heard, my lawyer has filed this morning a demand for Declaratory Judgment asking the Superior Court in Montreal to confirm that my promotional agreement with Groupe Yvon Michel (GYM) is effectively terminated/expired.”
This was the beginning of a tense legal battle with Yvon Michel to void his contract and released him to resign with another manager and promoter, which was confusing for fans and pundits alike, as Beterbiev continued to achieve success while under contract.
The exact details of the disputes have not been confirmed but it is rumoured that Beterbiev was unhappy with the number of fights he was being given, as well as thinking he was underpaid. Given that he began his career with 3-4 fights per year, but under Yvon Michel was fighting just 1-2 times per year, it is easy to see Beterbiev’s side of things.
Finalizing his case against Groupe Yvon Michel, GYM, the Canadian courts ruled in 2018 that Beterbiev would remain under contract with GYM until 2021. Beterbiev was publicly accepting of the ruling.
A brief stint with Hearn and Matchroom
Hearn managed to sign Beterbiev to a three-fight deal in 2018, with Beterbiev appearing extremely happy with the arrangement. Beterbiev fought Callum Johnson, knocking him out in round 4, with the fight being broadcast on DAZN, as per Matchroom’s contracts. However, this would be the only fight Beterbiev would fulfil under his GYM-Matchroom co-promotional deal.
After beating Callum Johnson, Beterbiev announced he had signed a co-promotional deal with GYM and Top Rank, to broadcast on ESPN.
The confusing nature of Beterbiev’s contractual issues has cost him a lot of money out of court. Over the past 7 years, he has paid settlements to Anna Reva, Yvon Michel (who continues to promote him), and Eddie Hearn. This has all hampered his success as a boxer, as he has fought fewer fights during the periods when he was undertaking legal action against these many people.
A late bloomer?
With his reliance on his other-worldly punching power and stamina, is it possible that Beterbiev can keep fighting into his late thirties? While he looks extremely healthy at 175lbs, nothing about his frame would suggest he is as devastating a puncher as he is. Like Deontay Wilder, who looks athletic and slight compared to a hulking Anthony Joshua, Artur Beterbiev has punching power built into his DNA. His tremendous work ethic likely results in his impressive stamina, but some people are just built differently in that sense too. Or maybe there’s something in the water in Dagestan where he was born.
With no signs of slowing down just yet, it will be interesting to see how close to 40 Beterbiev can push himself as a professional boxer. There are a rare few who can remain genuinely competitive into their 40s, like Manny Pacquiao, and as we all know the heavier guys tend to enjoy longer careers as a standard.
However late he started, Beterbiev looks determined to stick around and dominate for a long time. He’s always exciting to watch, coming straight forward like a wrecking ball, with such extreme confidence in his powerful fists, that you can often see the doubt in his opponents’ eyes the first time they eat a clean shot. For Beterbiev’s best fights, watch any of his 15 KOs.