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Artur Beterbiev Overpowers Oleksandr Gvodzyk, Inches Closer to Ultimate Goal

Beterbiev secured his second belt after defeating Gvodzyk in 10 rounds and capturing the WBC title.

PHILADELPHIA – I admit: I have a distaste for boxing’s sanctioning bodies.

The WBA? They have almost as many titles as there are fighters?

Want to be an interim champion? Just pay the WBA’s sanctioning fee.

The WBC? Franchise champions, silver, Mayan and pearl titles—they are a jewelry store of useless hardware.

The WBO? They once ranked a fighter after he died.

Plus, they have a weird relationship with PBC.

The IBF? They operate with a little more integrity—but that’s largely because four members of the organization were indicted in a pay-for-rankings scandal in 1999.

Fighters place so much value in these titles and more often than not the titles have little value.

Every so often, though, they become useful. Last week, Alexander Usyk made his anticipated debut at heavyweight. The reason it was anticipated was because a year earlier Usyk unified the cruiserweight title. As undisputed champion, Usyk caught the attention of Tony Bellew, a popular ex-cruiserweight titleholder who Usyk stopped in a star-turning fight.

Without those four belts, Usyk likely never would have had a shot at Bellew.

Without that status, Usyk would have moved up with far less fanfare.

On Friday, the sanctioning bodies proved useful again. Artur Beterbiev vs. Oleksandr Gvodzyk was a terrific fight on paper. Two undefeated 175-pound champions with a 90% knockout ratio between them. Beterbiev had stopped all 14 of his opponents, while Gvodzyk was less than a year removed from ending the nearly six-year reign of Adonis Stevenson.

It was a terrific fight.

But it needed something.

Yes—it needed titles.

And it had them. Beterbiev put his IBF belt on the line; Gvodzyk staked his WBC title.

Suddenly, a fight between two relatively anonymous Eastern European’s had a little extra juice.

With the stakes raised, both came to fight. Gvodzyk, the more polished boxer, peppered Beterbiev with punches early, frustrating the bigger fighter with combinations while avoiding the big shot. Beterbiev was the aggressor, hunting Gvodzyk, forcing him to spend the full three minutes of each round on the move. 

It was a back and forth fight until the tenth. The ninth round saw Beterbiev land some heavy shots. Gvodzyk, visibly tiring from the fourth round on, struggled to keep Beterbiev from creating the space needed to land big shots. With Beterbiev closing, Gvodzyk took three knees in the tenth, the last causing referee Gary Rosato to step in and stop the fight.

“I really have never seen a light heavyweight with that kind of power,” said promoter Bob Arum, before listing off a handful of fighters who came close. “Gvodzyk fought a good fight. But if you keep getting hit like that, it wears you down.”

Indeed. Beterbiev flexed his power on Friday, which the hardcore boxing fans always knew he had. And he walked out of the ring with another title, which moves him one step closer to acquiring the kind of popularity he craves.

“It doesn’t matter {who I fight next.},” Beterbiev said. “Anyone. I’m focused on title, not on name.”

U.S. promoters, Arum said, have had a tough time marketing Eastern European fighters. “[Vasyl] Lomachenko is one of the few,” Arum said. Sergey Kovalev, backed first by NBC and later by HBO, achieved a measure of success in the last decade. But Kovalev needed a win over Bernard Hopkins and a pair of fights with Andre Ward to get there.

Beterbiev doesn’t have those opponents. Not yet, anyway. What he does have, like Usyk, is a pathway to the undisputed championship. Dmitry Bivol, an equally anonymous light heavyweight titleholder who defended his belt last week, is out there. Eddie Hearn, Bivol’s co-promoter, says that he has no problem walking Bivol over to Top Rank’s side of the street to finalize a matchup that would unifiy three pieces of the 175-pound crown.

“Eddie said he would do it,” Arum said. “So will we.”

If Beterbiev beats Bivol—and it says here that the relentless pressure will wear the smaller Bivol down, as it did Gvodzyk—he will be one belt shy of the undisputed championship—and potentially a rich fight that comes with it.

On Nov. 2, Kovalev will be an underdog when he challenges Canelo Alvarez, the middleweight champion who is jumping two weight classes to take on Kovalev. Should Alvarez win, the expectation is he will vacate and move back to 160 pounds.

But what if Beterbiev picks up three pieces of the title?

What if Alvarez has a chance to fight for the undisputed light heavyweight championship?

It’s a fight Arum can’t envision.

“Canelo is not stupid,” Arum said. “Neither are [Alvarez’s trainers] the Reynoso’s. It’s one thing to go after Kovalev, a good fighter, arguably shot. He certainly didn’t look good in his last fight. I can see taking a shot with Kovalev. But if you’re Canelo, and you’re watching this fight, no matter what cajones you have, you ain’t looking to fight this guy.”

Perhaps. But Canelo has been public about his desire to seek the biggest challenges.

And Beterbiev for the undisputed light heavyweight championship is as big as they get.

If it happens we will have—gulp—the sanctioning bodies to thank for it.