Artur Beterbiev-Oleksandr Gvozdyk will give clarity to a crowded division
Four light heavyweights hold the division's four major world titles, but by late Friday night -- barring a no-contest or a draw -- that number of titleholders will be reduced to three. WBC titlist Oleksandr Gvozdyk and IBF belt-holder Artur Beterbiev are set to face off in a unification bout at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia (10 p.m. ET on ESPN).
Sergey Kovalev (WBO) and Dmitry Bivol (WBA) are the other two light heavyweight titleholders, but there is no clear No. 1 at 175, or any easy way to separate them. Gvozdyk vs. Beterbiev could be a good opportunity to bring some clarity to the top of this weight class.
Let's take a look at where each titleholder stands in the division:
Oleksandr Gvozdyk (17-0 14 KOs)
The 32-year-old Ukrainian won his belt by stopping Adonis Stevenson in December.
Gvozdyk, who was part of the storied Ukrainian national amateur team -- which also included unified lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko and former undisputed cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk -- came into the pro ranks as a highly touted prospect, and for the most part he has lived up to the billing. He's a solid technician with an upright, orthodox style, who does a good job controlling distance and spacing, and has a right hand that's as straight as an arrow. Gvozdyk is trained by Teddy Atlas, who has built a close bond with "The Nail."
Gvozdyk can be described as a cerebral fighter, who is also very well rounded inside the ring. A victory over Beterbiev will give Gvozdyk -- who is ranked No. 1 in the light heavyweight division by ESPN -- a strong claim in solidifying his top spot.
Chances of unifying the division: Gvozdyk gets step one against Beterbiev. Fortunately for him, he is under the promotional banner of Top Rank (which also promotes Beterbiev and co-promotes Kovalev), which makes unification fights in the division easier. As for fully consolidating 175, it likely will depend on what happens on Nov. 2 when Kovalev faces middleweight world titlist Canelo Alvarez, who's going up in weight for the fight. While Kovalev is ensconced as a light heavyweight, it's not clear if Canelo will stay in the division if he wins.
Best possible unification bout: Beterbiev is the most favorable unification fight for Gvozdyk given that Beterbiev's style is probably easier to decipher than Bivol's long-range boxing. Gvozdyk and Beterbiev have some history between them, too, as they met as amateurs about a decade ago. In that fight, Beterbiev scored a second-round stoppage.
Artur Beterbiev (14-0, 14 KOs)
Beterbiev is a beast, one who can hurt you with any punch he throws. What he may lack in technical precision, he makes up for it in natural strength. His record says it all: None of his opponents have seen the final bell. That includes Radivoje Kalajdzic, who had never been stopped in 25 previous fights, only to be dominated by Beterbiev in a fifth-round KO on May 4. Beterbiev, ranked fourth at 175 by ESPN, makes no pretense of being a ring stylist -- he's a guy who always comes forward. He has been buzzed and knocked down, but he has always gotten up and turned things around.
Chances of unifying the division: Like Gvozdyk, Beterbiev has a chance to add another belt to his collection on Friday, and you get the sense that at age 34, he doesn't want to take meaningless fights moving forward. He has a fan-friendly style, and as long as the other belt-holders are on the same side of the street as he is, there really shouldn't be an issue making unification bouts.
Best possible unification bout: Gvozdyk is the best unification matchup for Beterbiev. While Bivol is becoming an ultra-cautious boxer, who hides behind his jab from the outside, and Kovalev, a weathered veteran, still has a very educated left hand. Gvozdyk, on the other hand, is a guy who, despite his skills, will mix it up at times. Based on how their meeting as amateurs played out, Beterbiev enters this clash with a psychological advantage.
Sergey Kovalev (34-3-1, 29 KOs)
"The Krusher" might be in the twilight of his career, but he has the best résumé of all the current light heavyweight titleholders by far. After he was knocked out by Eleider Alvarez last summer, it looked like Kovalev's best days were behind him, but to his credit, Kovalev is now going through a career renaissance under the guidance of trainer Buddy McGirt. Since they started working together, Kovalev conclusively gained revenge on Alvarez in February, and then held off the challenge of Anthony Yarde in late August in an 11-round TKO victory.
Kovalev, the second-ranked light heavyweight in ESPN's divisional rankings, is still a very effective fighter who, instead of hitting through guys as he did earlier in his career, now tenderizes opponents with his consistent jab. Yeah, he's a vulnerable fighter now, which is a big part of the reason Canelo decided to face him in the first place, but he's still a difficult out at 175.
Chances of unifying the division: If Kovalev should beat Canelo, you'd figure that the other light heavyweight titleholders would absolutely want to face him as soon as possible. He would be the big-money fight in the division, and he would still have the WBO belt in his possession to boot. How much credit will Kovalev receive for defeating a fighter moving up two full weight classes to face him? Quite a bit, actually, as it would come against one of the biggest marquee names in boxing. It would do wonders in rebuilding his popularity, and he would once again be the man to beat at 175.
Best possible unification bout: Given that he and Gvozdyk share manager Egis Klimas, this might be a tad awkward for everyone involved. Beterbiev would be a very interesting opponent, given that both fighters have questionable punch resistance and their styles would mesh well. Kovalev, with his attack predicated on the jab, against Beterbiev's power is a recipe for a good fight, with both men a threat to stun one another at any time.
Dmitry Bivol (17-0, 11 KOs)
Bivol is talented and undefeated, but in recent fights he has seen his stock drop. It's not that he has been in any real danger, but after scoring a series of eye-opening knockouts while introducing himself to the American audience, his past four bouts have gone the distance. It isn't so much that his fights are going to the scorecards, but rather a growing trend of Bivol seemingly becoming more and more cautious in his approach inside the ring.
Using his left jab, Bivol, ranked third by ESPN at 175 pounds, is a master in jousting from the outside and using the perimeter of the ring. The issue is that there doesn't seem to be another layer to his attack, and he seems content with just outpointing his opponents. While he wins by wide margins on the cards, Bivol isn't gaining any style points for his efforts. Bivol easily controlled Lenin Castillo in his most recent fight, on Saturday, but you could hear how restless the audience was by the end of this contest.
Chances of unifying the division: While Gvozdyk, Beterbiev and Kovalev have relationships of varying degrees with Top Rank, Bivol, a broadcaster free agent, has had his past two bouts on DAZN and promoted by Matchroom Boxing. Even if one of these title fights against Bivol could be made, have Bivol's recent performances really created a demand for any of those other titleholders to face him?
Best possible unification bout: Any of them. Beggars can't be choosers, as they say. Right now Bivol needs some real challenges who will get him out of the safe cocoon he clearly has mastered.