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  The Hardest Hands At Light Heavyweight:
The Match Made In Heaven

By Iberedem Ekure
Photos: "Sugar" Ray Bailey


Bob Arum’s Top Rank partnered with ESPN to put together what was billed as “A Match Made In Heaven”, and that tagline resonated for good reason: Russian, Artur Beterbiev and Ukrainian, Oleksandr Gvozdyk, the IBF and WBC light heavyweight champions respectively, had amassed an impressive combined record of 31-0 with 28 knockouts. With both titles on the line, hardly anyone saw this fight going the distance; one man would assert his dominance and end the fight before the allotted 12 rounds.

The location was Temple University’s Liacouras center in Philadelphia. In the city of brotherly love however, there was no love lost between the Russian fighter and his supporters and the overwhelmingly pro-Ukraine crowd adorned with many a Ukrainian flag in the arena. The political tensions between Russia and Ukraine could be felt in the stands and some Philadelphia Eagles fans threw in their dislike for the visiting Dallas Cowboys football team with a “Cowboys suck, so does Artur” chant. Artur Beterbiev made his entrance with the Black IBF belt strapped around his waist, kitted in black trunks and looked on with intent despite the heavy boos from the crowd. The fan favorite Oleksandr Gvozdyk came into the ring in silver and black trunks to much fanfare and chants of Ukraine - “OOH-KRA-EEH-NA” echoing around the arena.

The fight started with Gvozdyk looking sharp with good footwork, circling Beterbiev and landing jabs to the body. Beterbiev was sizing Gvozdyk up and trying to cut the ring off. In the last 10 seconds both men got in a tangle and Artur seemed to push Gvozdyk to the ground after landing a right hook. The referee began the count to much protest from Gvodzyk’s trainer Teddy Atlas. Gvozdyk got back on his feet quickly and that was the last action of the round. Flashes of their meeting 10 years ago in the amateurs when Beterbiev won by KO must have flashed through Gvozdyk’s mind. His bid for revenge wasn’t off to a great start.

The second round started much like the first, with Gvozdyk landing jabs and moving, but Artur's power advantage started to show as he was able to land a few power punches that pushed Gvozdyk back and had the Ukrainian on the back foot for much of the round. It was becoming clear that Gvozdyk would have to box his way to victory as standing toe-to-toe with Beterbiev was a bad idea.

Gvozdyk was more assertive in the third round, landing jabs and putting in a few combinations. Although Beterbiev picked up the pace in the last minute of the fight, it was clearly a Gvozdyk round. Gvozdyk opened round four with a great show of boxing IQ. He landed jabs to the head and body and even spent some time on the inside exchanging with Beterbiev. Gvozdyk looked comfortable and was having his best round of the fight before Beterbiev landed a few good power punches just before the bell.

In round five, Gvozdyk landed combinations but the power difference was clear. Artur was landing the more meaningful power punches and Gvozdyk started to look a little tired towards the end of the round.

In the sixth, Beterbiev was stalking Gvozdyk across the ring but Gvozdyk counterpunched effectively. Gvozdyk landed a hard left hand that snapped Beterbiev’s head back, towards the end of the round and the Russian responded in kind. Gvozdyk goes to the canvas but the referee ruled a slip, perhaps in a bid to make up for his knock-down call in the first round.

In the seventh and eighth rounds, both men upped the ante and began exchanging more freely with Beterbiev having the better showing in the seventh and Gvozdyk outperforming in the eighth, landing several clean punches. However, the power in Beterbiev’s hands was clearly doing damage to Gvozdyk, as he looked tired going back to his corner after each round.

The ninth round was huge for Artur Beterbiev. He landed a few body punches early that seemed to take Gvozdyk's legs out and he followed up with right hooks that he was landing at will. Gvozdyk did well to stay on his feet but he wasn’t going to last much longer at that rate.

Beterbiev smelled blood in the tenth and after landing a big right hand, swarmed Gvozdyk on the follow with one-two combinations. Beterbiev scored a knockdown and then another in quick succession. Teddy Atlas and the referee were watching Gvozdyk closely each deciding whether to throw in the towel or stop the fight respectively. Beterbiev kept up the pressure and after a couple of hard right hands, Gvozdyk took a knee and the referee stopped the fight to the disappointment of an already quiet crowd.

The few Russian fans in the audience stayed back chanting to celebrate their champion as the pro-Ukrainian crowd headed for the exit into a lively Philadelphia night life.

Dmitry Bivol, Sergey Kovalev and Canelo Alvarez must have watched this fight and sizing themselves up against the new lineal heavyweight champion and from my viewpoint the new king looks very formidable. May his reign be long.


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