Chechen-born Artur Beterbiev is an anomaly in modern boxing. He boasts an amateur record of 295-5, winning European and world honors along the way, and twice participated in the Olympics. Entering the professional game at twenty-eight, he won the IBF light-heavyweight title in his twelfth fight, has a 100 percent knockout ratio, and has the capacity to unify the division. With kind translation assistance from Damir Khayretdinov, Hannibal Boxing caught up with the self-effacing Montreal resident and his esteemed trainer, Marc Ramsay.
Coronavirus allowing, the Chechen powerhouse will be placing his WBC and IBF light-heavyweight crowns on the line against Chinese southpaw Fanlong Meng, a fight scheduled originally for March 28 at Centre Videotron in Quebec City. “Quebec is like a second home for me now, so I have a sense of responsibility fighting here. Every fight is big for me and more important than the last one. Any person who leaves home in the morning takes a risk in life, but when you step into a boxing ring, the risk becomes a lot bigger. My opponent is undefeated and that brings intrigue and challenge to the fight. That’s a big driving factor for me.”
Coach Ramsay added: “After a very emotional fight like we had against [Oleksandr] Gvozdyk, it’s important to not be on cruise control. That’s not the style of Artur, but at the same time we must be aware as a team, a coach, and a boxer that Fanlong Meng is by far better than what his reputation makes out. I followed him as an amateur fighter and, as a professional, he’s southpaw, never lost, [is] fast, and has a good snap in his punch. I would say, after Gvozdyk, this is our biggest challenge.”
Ramsay is certainly qualified to comment on amateur form, having been a part of the Canadian amateur boxing training contingent. He guided Jean Pascal to the 2004 Olympics and eventually to WBC light-heavyweight and Ring Magazine professional world championships.
He currently boasts a cosmopolitan stable of fighters that also includes Oscar Rivas, Arthur Biyarslanov, Eleider Alvarez, Christian Mbilli, Erik Bazinyan, and Sadriddin Akhmedov. It’s worth noting (at the time of writing), the aforementioned boxers collectively come with a record of 123 wins and only two losses via points decisions. Ramsay commented on Beterbiev’s work ethic. “Oh my God. The best I’ve ever seen. But it’s not just about how he is in the gym. Every single decision that guy makes [serves] his professional career. Artur has never drunk alcohol in his life, he never goes to sleep late, and really takes care of his body in terms of food and nutrition. He has no time in his life for anything else apart from his family. Every little thing he does is for his boxing.”
And what about comparisons with Pascal? “They are two very different kinds of boxers. Pascal was a very athletic guy with a lot of natural ability. He worked hard when he trained with me and I’m sure he’s still a hard worker, but sometimes his focus was not there. He liked to talk a lot on social media and stuff like that, which took a bit of his energy and took his focus out of the game. Beterbiev is maybe a little less natural than Jean [in terms of ability], but he works so hard and the results show in every fight. Right now, he’s the most complete guy I’ve ever worked with. No doubt about it.”
No stranger to light-heavyweight world champions, Ramsay also trains fellow stablemate Colombian-born Eleider Alvarez, who knocked out Kovalev in August 2018 and enjoyed a short reign as WBO light-heavyweight king. A fight against Beterbiev, however, is not something in Ramsay’s immediate plans. “We are going to do everything we can do to make sure that doesn’t happen and send them in different directions in terms of the future. But if one fighter cleans up the division then there might be that opportunity—but right now, I don’t see it happening.”
Despite possessing a destructive record and immense ring confidence, Beterbiev was reluctant to give any predictions for his fight against Chifeng born Meng. “The most important thing for me is to be 100 percent prepared for the fight, but I never reveal my secrets before my fights to anyone.” Equally as discreet, Ramsay added, “I don’t even like to mention the sparring partners because that gives the other team an [idea] of what we want to do in the fight. What I would say is that Beterbiev is like Mike Tyson in the ’80s. We need about seven or eight guys and they need to be strong, healthy, and fresh. To be honest, I don’t have anyone who does more than about eight rounds with Artur. Even in sparring, he drops a lot of guys.”
His perfect stoppage record as a professional is not part of the game plan. “I can tell you, 100 percent, out of the fifteen fights, I have never once intentionally gone looking for a knockout. My main concern is always to show my best boxing skills, give my best performance, but the priority is never to go for the knockout. Also, I never like saying, ‘I’m going to knock him out,’ because that’s all trash talk and I’m not the kind of person who likes to trash talk before a fight or in general. I don’t like to say anything bad about my opponent or try to scare them by saying things that I can’t guarantee I can prove in the ring.” Ramsay added, “He’s a very sensible fighter who doesn’t focus on that power, but at the end of the day, we can see what his power does and that’s why we are fifteen knockouts in fifteen fights.”
A victory against Ukrainian Gvozdyk on October 18, 2019, added the WBC strap to his trophy cabinet. Without being too presumptuous, a win against Meng could lead to a big unification fight against WBA light-heavyweight champion, Dimitry Bivol. Beterbiev commented on the potential showdown. “Everything comes at the right time. I’m not the sort of person who when winter is approaching I’m already looking at spring. Some people look too far ahead. If the fight with Bivol comes at the correct time, of course, I’ll be ready to take the fight. Here’s an example. I was offered to fight Sergey Kovalev and Gvozdyk, but both refused. Then two weeks later Gvozdyk and his team accepted the fight. The same thing goes for Bivol. I’m interested in any unification fight, but, once again, everything comes at the right time.”
Outside of Bivol’s WBA title, the WBO belt is currently under the ownership of Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, who won the title by beating Kovalev. Beterbiev expressed his interest. “He’s a multiweight world champion and it would be a great challenge for me, one which would definitely motivate me.” Coach Ramsay was a little more vocal. “That fight? For sure, and for many reasons. First for the size of the challenge and also the money aspect could be very good too. To be honest, though, from my point of view, I don’t see how Alvarez can deal with Beterbiev. It’s not because he’s not good enough. He’s achieved a lot of good things already, but Artur is way too big and way too strong for him. I don’t see Alvarez finishing the fight.”
Englishman Callum Johnson had a brave attempt to dethrone Beterbiev in 2018, but what does he make of the other light-heavyweight threats from the UK, namely Anthony Yarde and star in the making, Joshua Buatsi? “I really don’t know much about Buatsi and I only saw the fight with Yarde against Kovalev when he was knocked out. Callum Johnson, however, is a very good fighter, very tough. If there is an opportunity to fight again against him, I’d be more than happy to take that fight as long as he wants to fight me again.”
Ramsay gave his views on the British trio. “I followed all these fighters, especially when they are in a division of one of my boys. I still follow amateur boxing and I saw Buatsi coming from a long way. I remember him turning senior as an amateur and not winning everything, but winning some good bouts. He’s made a very good evolution, especially in the year of the Olympics. For me, he’s the best of the three. The most complete. He’s a good puncher, boxer, and he’s definitely got a bright future.
“For Callum Johnson, that’s a guy I respect a lot and I respect his coach, Joe [Gallagher], who’s one of the best in the world. We saw so many fighters at the weigh-in against Beterbiev who looked like they were beaten already, but Callum showed that he came to fight for real. I have a lot of respect for him. I think his level of ability is a little under Buatsi, but he has very good power and he’s a very brave kid.
“Yarde I’d have as third in the group at the moment. I think they tried to rush him from the international level to suddenly being in a match like Kovalev. He has all the ability in the world. Physically he’s a monster, he knows how to box and don’t forget, he didn’t have a big amateur background, so that’s pretty impressive in terms of what he did. But I think he needs a little bit more development at an experienced level.”
Having campaigned as a heavyweight in the amateurs, fighting the likes of Oleksandr Usyk and Michael Hunter, Beterbiev discussed the likelihood of a move up to the cruiserweight division. “I do not consider the possibility of moving up in weight at the moment. It’s looking likely I will remain at light heavyweight. But here’s something interesting. When I was IBF light-heavyweight world champion, Usyk at the time was the undisputed unified cruiserweight world champion and our team made a proposal to Eddie Hearn to organize a fight against him. I said I would sign a promotional agreement with Eddie Hearn, but it never came to fruition.”
At the age of thirty-five, how much more can we expect from Artur Beterbiev? “I hope to show everyone that I still have much more to show in the ring than you have seen so far. I feel as fresh as when I was a young fighter and my training intensity has never decreased. Even today, after my training session, I discussed with my coach [Ramsay] that I want to go down in history as a good boxer and person when I leave the sport. That’s my biggest motivation and challenge.”