Blood. In a boxing ring, it’s the great equalizer, maybe even more so than a well-placed left hook to the liver or a right cross to the jaw.
When it flows, it can take the one who inflicted the damage to a new level of ferocity, and for the damaged, it might just be the beginning of the end, official or not.
Unless you’re a different fighter than most.
Recent International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee James Toney was making the second defense of his IBF super middleweight title in March of 1994 when a third-round clash of heads with number one contender Tim Littles left “Lights Out” with a nasty gash over his left eye. The doctor told the champion he had one round left before the fight was waved off.
Toney stopped Littles in the fourth round.
Another hall of famer, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, had just engaged in two of the most ferociously fought rounds in boxing history with fellow all-time great Thomas Hearns in April of 1985. In the third stanza, a cut Hagler suffered in the first round opened up, prompting a visit from the ringside physician. Hagler wasn’t given an ultimatum by the doctor, but from himself, and at 1:52 of round three, Hearns was stopped.
Fast forward to December 17 of last year, and unbeaten Artur Beterbiev was defending his WBC and IBF light heavyweight titles against Marcus Browne at Bell Center in Beterbiev’s adopted hometown of Montreal.
In round four, Beterbiev was behind on two of the three judges’ scorecards when there was a clash of heads. Browne leaving with a cut over his right eye while Beterbiev bled profusely from a gash on his forehead.
“We wanted to start that fight slow and put gradual pressure on Marcus Browne,” said Beterbiev’s longtime coach, Marc Ramsay on Top Rank’s preview show – Blood, Sweat and Tears. “With the cut, we had the danger that they’d stop the fight.”
“He make me angry,” said Beterbiev of the head clash “They took us to the doctor. The doctor said one more round.”
Beterbiev got more than that, but he didn’t need 12, as he won every round from the fifth on, dropping Browne twice before knocking out the New Yorker in the ninth.
“He became a little bit like an animal and just broke down Marcus Browne,” said Ramsay of his charge’s 17th win without a loss. And if you’re not keeping score, all 17 of the Chechen 175-pounder’s victories have ended before the final bell.
He’s just built different. And though most knew that about the two-time Olympian when it came to his punishing style and brutal punching power, it may not have been until the Browne fight that the world saw the 37-year-old as comfortable being the nail as he is being the hammer. That ca n’t be taught, but when his titles were in jeopardy and he was in danger of losing for the first time in his professional career, he found another gear.
“Seek and destroy,” said assistant trainer John Scully.
On Saturday, Beterbiev seeks another piece of the 175-pound championship puzzle, and to get it, he has to destroy WBO champion Joe Smith. There is no other option, because if Smith has proved anything over the course of his career, it’s that you may beat him, but you’ll never break him. And Beterbiev has been an expert in breaking opponents. If you’re not ready for that attack on fight night, he’ll get you out of there early. If you’re willing to go into those dark places with him, it may take a little longer, but he still gets the result he wants.
Yet Smith isn’t like most fighters, few of whom are lining up to face Beterbiev. In fact, he’s volunteered to meet him more than eleven, and as soon as he knocked out Steve Geffrard in January, he jumped at meeting his fellow titleholder in an effort to unify three belts and then go chasing the fourth held by recent Canelo Alvarez conqueror Dmitry Bivol.
It’s the recipe for one of the best fights of 2022 from not just a high stakes point of view but a stylistic one, as well, and when you add in a room full of Smith’s fans making the trip from Long Island to Madison Square Garden’s Theater to cheer their man on, and the atmosphere should be something special.
Not that any of that matters to the soft-spoken Beterbiev, a married father of four and devout Muslim who has a one-track mind when it comes to his career.
“The titles motivate me,” he smiles. “I always liked titles.”
He got his first world crown in 2017, knocking out Enrico Koelling in the 12th round for the vacant IBF title, and added the WBC version of the championship in 2019 with a 10th round finish of Oleksandr Gvozdyk. Now it’s a chance to make it three at 175 pounds, and while the stakes keep getting higher, the work remains unchanged.
“The difference isn’t the talent, it’s the discipline and the work ethic that he has,” said Ramsey. “He’s really focused on his job. For him, this is a profession, and he’s looking at all small details. And if sleeping late is not good for him, he’s not gonna do it – end of story. And he does that with every single aspect of boxing.”
In Blood, Sweat and Tears, Beterbiev’s strength and conditioning coach Andre Kulesza said that his fighter once told him, If I’m not there at 7 o’clock, it’s because I’m dead.”
It was a joke between fighter and coach, but it shows who Artur Beterbiev is. He’s here to win and to get titles. And a little blood won’t stop him.