Five Fighters Who Could Step In To Face Bivol After Beterbiev’s Injury Withdrawal

May 4, 2024
3 weeks
Artur Beterbied and Dimitry Bivol at the press conference to announce their fight

The undisputed light-heavyweight title bout between Dimitry Bivol and Artur Beterbiev has been postponed after Beterbiev suffered a knee injury in training.

WBC, WBO, and IBF title holder Beterbiev sustained a ruptured meniscus, meaning the Russian-born Canadian has no chance of being fit and ready in time for the fight on June 1 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

It has left organizers scrambling to find an opponent for Bivol. Saudi boxing chief Turki Alalshikh revealed to ESPN that the plan is for the fight to still be staged, and the hunt is now on to find a fighter at less than weeks’ notice.

The undisputed title fight was expected to follow on from, and headline, the Matchroom Boxing vs Queensberry Promotions 5-vs-5 event, which Alalshikh said will go ahead as planned.

So, with just weeks to go until fight night, who could step in to face Bivol? On one hand, it would be a world title opportunity, but on the other, there is very little time to prepare, especially for someone as skilled as Bivol.

Buatsi To Take Mandatory Shot?

The most obvious name to turn to is Joshua Buatsi. The British fighter made himself the mandatory challenger to Bivol’s WBA title after his thrilling points victory over domestic rival Dan Azeez in February.

The expectation was that Buatsi would have to bide his time to get his first world title shot, with Bivol and Beterbiev scheduled to fight on June 1 and a likely rematch expected to take place towards the end of the year.

Instead, the unbeaten Londoner entered talks with another British rival, Anthony Yarde, for a fight to take place in the fall.

However, recent turns of events have opened up an opportunity for Buatsi. Promoter Ben Shalom revealed this week that talks with Yarde had stalled, leading Buatsi to look for “other opportunities”.

Well, opportunities don’t come any bigger or better than facing Bivol for a world title. The only concern would be whether Buatsi would be willing to take the fight at such short notice. A training camp reduced by half is hardly the ideal preparation for facing such a formidable champion.

That said, if Buatsi gave a good account of himself, even in defeat, he could earn a rematch in which he would be afforded the appropriate amount of time to prepare.

Azeez To Bounce Back Against Bivol?

If Buatsi is unwilling to take his title shot at such short notice, then beaten opponent Azeez could view it as an ideal, nothing-to-lose opportunity.

Azeez held the light-heavyweight European, Commonwealth, and British titles until recently, so is looking to bounce back from his defeat to Buatsi.

Shalom, who also promotes Azeez, said recently that he was aiming to get the Londoner a fight on the June 15 card headlined by Chris Billam-Smith’s WBO cruiserweight title defense against Richard Riakporhe.

If Azeez is prepared to return in six weeks, he would surely be tempted to return in four weeks, particularly if it’s for a world title opportunity.

Smith To Have Another Go?

Former super-middleweight world champion Smith made a seamless transition to 175lbs with knockout victories over Gilbert Castillo Rivera and Mathieu Bauderlique. However, in his first world title fight, he was the latest to suffer a knockout defeat at the hands of Beterbiev.

That defeat took place in January, so Smith should be on the lookout for his next fight and would surely jump at the chance to contest another world title.

In a classic case of styles making fights, the Englishman would prefer his chances against the slick Bivol than he did against the heavy-hitting Beterbiev.

Smith would also be a big enough name who could salvage interest in the fight. Once again, though, would he take it with less than four weeks to prepare?

Eifert To Benefit?

The big problem organizers are going to face is fighter availability. A look near the top of the light-heavyweight rankings shows a succession of potentially worthy opponents already booked.

Former world champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk is fighting David Benavidez in June, Albert Ramirez is scheduled to face Adam Deines on May 25, and Craig Richards and Willy Hutchinson fight each other on the 5-vs-5 card.

It could open the door for Michael Eifert. The German is the No 1-ranked challenger by the IBF and is coming off the best win of his career against the experienced Jean Pascal. The problem, though, is that fight was 14 months ago.

Another issue is that Eifert doesn’t carry any sort of name. Would an inactive fighter who fans barely know be a worthy last-minute replacement? Probably not.

Berlanga To Step Up To Face Bivol?

The other way organizers could go is to look at the super-middleweight division, which is stacked with talent. If only Canelo Alvarez knew this would happen, he would undoubtedly have made a rematch with Bivol his priority!

Again, though, the biggest names are already booked. Canelo fights Jaime Munguia this weekend, WBC interim champion Benavidez is facing Gvozdyk, interim WBA champion David Morrell takes on Radivoje Kalajdzic, and Christian Mbilli fights Mark Heffron.

One available fighter near the top of the 168lbs rankings is Edgar Berlanga. The unbeaten American is coming off an impressive stoppage win over Padraig McCrory in February and had hoped to be in contention to face Canelo.

Another advantage is that Berlanga is represented by Hearn, who also promotes Bivol and is working closely with Alalshikh, so a quick turnaround in negotiations would be possible.

It would also be a free hit for Berlanga; a shot at a world title in an unfamiliar division, should he lose he can continue his career at his more natural super-middleweight.