NEW YORK –- Artur Beterbiev was like a machine. Like a truck going downhill with no brakes. Like a wrecking ball smashing into a building.
He simply ran over Joe Smith Jr., knocking him down three times in a blistering second-round knockout victory to unify three light heavyweight titles in the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN main event on Saturday night before 4,537 at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden.
— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) June 19, 2022
“I want to be a good boxer one day maybe, that’s why today was a little bit better than the past, I hope,” a humble Beterbiev said.
Most expected a two-way action fight between big punchers, but it was mostly one-way violence as Beterbiev (18-0, 18 KOs) maintained his perfect knockout percentage as the only undefeated current champion to win all of his fights by knockout.
Smith, who looked much bigger than Beterbiev after rehydrating, nonetheless could not keep him off of him. Nor could he get much of a lift from the crowd, which chanted “Joe Smith! Joe Smith!” at the start of the fight.
During the first round, Beterbiev, who retained the WBC and IBF titles and took Smith’s WBO 175-pound belt, raised swelling around Smith’s left eye and then just before the bell, Beterbiev dropped him to a knee with a right hand.
Things got no better for Smith in the second round as Beterbiev was on the attack. Smith tried to fight fire with fire as they traded toe to toe, but Beterbiev landed another big right hand and again Smith sunk to a knee.
And then when Beterbiev landed another booming right hand, he sent Smith between the top two ropes and referee Harvey Dock properly ruled a knockdown because the ropes held him up.
Moments later, Beterbiev finished the fight when he connected with a brutal left uppercut, a right uppercut and a right hand that strayed behind the head, It turned Smith around and sent him wobbling toward the ropes and gave Dock no choice but the wave off the fight at 2 minutes, 19 seconds.
“Joe’s a little bit open and more easy to me to get him,” Beterbiev said. “Two fighters both have good punch and both tried to get (there) first. This time I’m lucky; I get there first.”
According to CompuBox statistics, Beterbiev landed 48 of 102 punches (47 percent), including 34 landed power shots. Smith landed just 11 of 67 shots (16 percent).
“Beterbiev started timing Joe’s punches,” Smith co-promoter Joe DeGuardia said. “He did a good job closing the gap. His jab was very good. He’s precise with his punches. I’ve never seen Joe hurt like that.”
DeGuardia mildly complained that the final shot landed behind Smith’s head but he added, “Can’t take anything away from Beterbiev. He’s a great fighter.
“We knew going into the fight you’ve got two punchers and anything can happen quickly. Whoever is gonna hit first could set the whole fight and that’s really what happened. It’s a nuclear attack. The first guy that lands wins. His missiles got through.”
Smith (28-4, 22 KOs ), 32, from Mastic on New York’s Long Island, was making his second title defense and embraced unifying titles as did Beterbiev (18-0, 18 KOs), 37, a two-time Russian Olympian fighting out of Montreal, who was making his sixth overall title defense, third of his unified belts and came up big in the biggest fight of his career.
While both men said before the fight they wanted to next fight WBA titlist Dmitry Bivol (20-0, 11 KOs), 31, of Russia, for the undisputed title, that is unlikely.
Beterbiev is more likely headed to an October fight with WBO mandatory challenger Anthony Yarde (22-2, 21 KOs ), 30, of England, who was ringside.
Top Rank chairman Bob Arum said that fight will be in England. It will be Yarde’s second world title shot as he had a mandatory WBO title fight in 2019 but was stopped in the 11th round by then-titleholder Sergey Kovalev in a competitive fight in Russia.
Whether Yarde is indeed next or not, Beterbiev maintained that his goal is to collect the fourth organization belt missing from his collection.
“I have two unification fights. Unification fights are more interesting, more motivating,” said Beterbiev, who stopped Oleksandr Gvozdyk in the 10th round to unify the WBC and IBF belts in October 2019 in Philadelphia. “I prefer unification fight. I want to be undisputed.”