NEW YORK — The ESPN main event of Artur Beterbiev vs. Joe Smith Jr. was hyped as a can’t-miss action fight, and it delivered for as long as it lasted – even if it was never competitive.
Beterbiev knocked Smith down three times on way to a second-round TKO to win his third light heavyweight title in front of 4,537 fans at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater on Saturday.
Beterbiev, boxing’s only champion with a perfect knockout record, dropped Smith with a counter right hand in the last seconds of the first round.
In Round 2, the 175-pounders continued to battle it out, and Beterbiev’s power and shot placement proved too much. Smith was floored with a left hook by the 37-year-old, and he was on the mat again seconds later following a barrage of blows.
Smith, 32, made no attempt to recover consciousness. He instead attempted to punch his way out of danger. Beterbiev (18 to 0, 18 KOs) finished him off with a left uppercut followed by a right uppercut as the referee stepped in to stop Smith from falling a fourth time. The time of the halt was 2:19. Smith (28 to 4, 22 KOs) was sent to a nearby hospital for evaluation.
“I want to be [a] good boxer one day maybe, that’s why today was a little bit better than the past, I hope,” admitted Beterbiev, ESPN’s No. 1 light heavyweight. “Joe’s a little bit open and more easy for me to get him. Two fighters both have good punch and both tried to get [there] first. This time I’m lucky; I get there first.”
From the first bell, Beterbiev outpunched Smith. There was no waiting period between the two dangerous punchers, and the bout lived up to the anticipation for a little more than five minutes.
Smith was the aggressor and attempted to pin Beterbiev in the corner, but the Russian, who fights out of Montreal, was able to exploit Smith’s pressure. He frequently moved one step back and fired a counter shot that hit its target, but Smith was unconvinced.
After all, Smith has repeatedly defied the odds. His first-round knockout of Andrzej Fonfara in 2016 signaled his coming, as did his knockout of Bernard Hopkins later that year, which put the legend through the ropes and into retirement.
The long-term construction worker continued to improve. In a loss to Sullivan Barrera, he fought through a fractured jaw and was able to knock out Dmitry Bivol in a championship bout. Following that, he fought Jesse Hart before stopping former champion Eleider Alvarez in 2020 for his career-best win.
When Smith received his second shot at a belt, he won by majority decision against Maxim Vlasov last April to claim the light heavyweight title.
Smith, on the other hand, was no match for Beterbiev. Through 18 battles, no one has been able to hang with Beterbiev. Not Marcus Browne, who Beterbiev knocked out in December, nor Oleksandr Gvozdyk, who Beterbiev knocked out in his only other unification fight.
Beterbiev is now preparing for a battle with Anthony Yarde, the 30-year-old Englishman who came agonizingly close to stopping Sergey Kovalev in a 2019 title fight. There is no agreement in place, but the aim is for Beterbiev to defend his three championships against Yarde in London on Oct. 29, according to ESPN sources.
“He’s a beast,” Yarde (22-2, 21 KOs) said. “He hits very hard. I’m a beast, too. That’s why I think it’s such an exciting matchup.”
An absolute light heavyweight title bout with Bivol, who beat Canelo Alvarez in May, will most certainly have to wait.