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Artur Beterbiev starts high stakes 2023 as Dmitry Bivol and Canelo Alvarez boxing fights loom large

Sporting News 1 day ago Dom Farrell
© Provided by Sporting News

Artur Beterbiev defended his WBC, WBO and IBF light-heavyweight titles with a thrilling eighth-round stoppage win over Anthony Yarde in London on January 28, kicking off what promises to be a stellar 2023 in the 175 and 168-pound divisions.

Beterbiev (18-0, 18 KOs) was the clear favourite going into his showdown with Yarde (23-2, 22 KOs), although the home fighter did his reputation no harm at all as he and the champion engaged in a brutal, high-quality war before a pair of sledgehammer rights put the challenger on the canvas.

It means Canadian-based Russian Beterbiev has set up a potentially blockbuster year when Yarde is unlikely to be the last British fighter taking his chances against one of the best fighters in the sport over the months ahead.

Pound-for-pound star Dmitry Bivol holds the WBA light-heavyweight title, which he successfully defended for the 10th time last November, producing a masterclass to widely out-point the previously undefeated Gilberto "Zurdo" Ramirez in Abu Dhabi. 

MORE: Sign up to watch Artur Beterbiev vs. Anthony Yarde, exclusively on ESPN+ 

Bivol (21-0, 11 KOs) has repeatedly stated he simply wants more belts, whoever has them. An undisputed fight against Beterbiev is one the world wants to see, although if the 38-year-old beats Yarde, an April or May meeting with Bivol is not on the agenda since he will observe Ramadan.

What’s more, the less-that-divine authority that is the WBC has ruled Callum Smith should fight Beterbiev as his latest mandatory.

Former WBA and WBC super-middleweight champion Smith (29-1, 21 KOs) has looked explosive since stepping up to 175lbs and is due out against a yet-to-be-confirmed opponent in his home city in March. The Liverpool man getting a shot at becoming a two-weight champ against Beterbiev would not feel like a second-hand thrill in the absence of Bivol taking on an undisputed fight.

Well, this particular undisputed fight…

Bivol’s masterful victory over Saul "Canelo" Alvarez last May established him as a major player in the sport. It also means a rematch with Canelo remains by far his most lucrative option.

Were that to happen at light-heavyweight, the extent to which Bivol was a clear winner against Canelo (58-2-2, 39 KOs) the first time around means there could only be so much intrigue. However, at his post-fight press conference following the Ramirez fight, Bivol talked up the potential of him dropping down to 168lbs to fight Canelo for all the marbles.

MORE: Making the case for Yarde's upset potential vs. Beterbiev

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If the undefeated Russian decides that’s the way to go, that fight would be most likely to land in September around Mexican Independence Day, one of Canelo’s traditional money-spinning slots every year.

The four-weight world champion did not fight in September 2022 after undergoing wrist surgery. Canelo's mooted comeback this May could be against popular Brit John Ryder at super-middleweight.

Ryder (32-5, 18 KOs) has suffered defeats to the likes of Billy Joe Saunders, Rocky Fielding and Smith. However, he finds himself on the crest of a wave following a battling win over Daniel Jacobs and a triumph against the previously undefeated Zack Parker, who suffered a broken right hand and withdrew during their November clash at the O2 Arena.

The popular Londoner would be a big outsider against Canelo but few would begrudge him the shot at greatness. Bivol could also have a UK fighter for company in May.

MORE: Could Claressa Shields' 2023 include Jonas fight, Marshall rematch?

Joshua Buatsi was originally slated for a shot at the champion at the end of last year before the WBA mandated Bivol to fight Ramirez. Rio Olympic bronze medalist Buatsi (16-0, 13KOs) has displayed skills and power in abundance during his so-far unblemished professional career and would be an intriguing foe.

Irrespective of whether or not Buatsi gets the Bivol showdown he craves, ideally at some stage this year his long-simmering domestic rivalry with Yarde can be settled in the ring.

Canelo ringfencing all the belts at 168lbs means genuine world title fights remain at a premium, but that does not have to preclude elite matchups — something shown by the undefeated David Benavidez being set to face former world champion Caleb Plant on March 25 handily demonstrates.

That fight is set to be staged by promoter PBC, whose reluctance to work outside of their stable of fighters has frequently frustrated fans over recent years. However, their super-middleweight roster should make for some pleasing in-house matchups.

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Former super-welterweight and middleweight champion Demetrius Andrade is now campaigning at 168lbs. The American has long claimed he would have the beating of Canelo but, at 34, time is running out to put those words into practice.

The winner of Benavidez vs Plant would represent an attractive opponent, as could former Cuban amateur standout David Morrell. If Canelo looks to resume his pre-injury levels of activity, then a December bout with Andrade (32-0, 19 KOs) would be fascinating.

Benavidez (26-0, 23 KOs) has done plenty to try and goad Alvarez into a grudge fight and that one might be left to marinate a little more until Cinco de Mayo next year.

MORE: Boxing vs. MMA history: Mayweather vs UFC's McGregor and more

If Beterbiev and Bivol are in the market for three-fight years, then perhaps there would be scope for them to round off 2023 with the showdown we all want to see. Bivol last fought three times in the same year in 2018, with Beterbiev not doing so since 2014.

But, hey, we can dream.

As Beterbiev demonstrated when facing up to Yarde’s dangerous challenge, the road to that point — whether it’s late this year or in early 2024 — is likely to feature plenty of plot twists, frustrations, and maybe the emergence of a new character or two.

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Dream men’s boxing schedule for 2023 at light-heavyweight and super-middleweight

January 

  • Artur Beterbiev vs. Anthony Yarde (WBC, WBO, and IBF light-heavyweight titles)

March 

  • David Benavidez vs. Caleb Plant (WBC interim super-middleweight title)

May

  • Saul "Canelo" Alvarez vs. John Ryder (WBA, WBC, WBO, and IBF super-middleweight titles)
  • Dmitry Bivol vs. Joshua Buatsi (WBA light-heavyweight title)

MORE: Boxing’s 30 most desired fights in 2023, from Tyson Fury vs. Oleksandr Usyk to Errol Spence Jr. vs. Terence Crawford

July

  • David Morrell vs. Demetrius Andrade (WBA ‘regular’ super-middleweight title)

September

  • Saul "Canelo" Alvarez vs. Dmitry Bivol (WBA, WBC, WBO, and IBF super-middleweight titles)
  • Artur Beterbiev vs. Callum Smith  (WBC, WBO, and IBF light-heavyweight titles)
  • Joshua Buatsi vs. Anthony Yarde (12 rounds light-heavyweight)

December

  • Artur Beterbiev vs. Dmitry Bivol (WBA, WBC, WBO, and IBF light-heavyweight titles)
  • Saul "Canelo" Alvarez vs. Demetrius Andrade (WBA, WBC, WBO, and IBF super-middleweight titles)
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