John Scully, a former fighter, current trainer and longtime boxing die-hard, answers a question about Artur Beterbiev, the unbeaten unified light heavyweight champion who has won all 18 of his bouts by knockout, by asking a question about heavyweights.
How would Beterbiev compare, Scully is asked, to some of the great light heavyweights in boxing history? The light heavyweight division has had some of the best fighters in the sport’s history, so it’s high praise to even be considered among the top 175-pounders ever.
“Go to someone who has watched boxing, and talk about the great ’70s heavyweights — [Muhammad] Ali, [Joe] Frazier, [Ron] Lyle, George Foreman, [Ken] Norton — and ask them to compare today’s heavyweights to those guys, you’re going to get a predictable answer,” Scully told Yahoo Sports. “They’ll go, ‘Oh, no, no, no. There’s no comparison.’ They’ll look at you like you’re crazy.
“But let’s be honest here: Are you telling me that [reigning lineal champion] Tyson Fury couldn’t beat Ken Norton? Right? So when people think of the ’70s light heavyweights, it’s almost like it’s off-limits. It’s like they won’t even allow you to compare someone from today to them. But as tough as Matthew Saad Muhammad was, are you telling me that he could take five, six or seven of Artur’s punches in a row [like he did from many of the stars of the ’70s]?”
The late 1970s and early 1980s were a great era for light heavyweight boxing, with fighters such as Saad Muhammad, Michael Spinks, Marvin Johnson, Dwight Muhammad Qawi, Mike Rossman, Victor Galindez and Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, among others, at or near the top of the division.
Scully, who will work Beterbiev’s corner as an assistant trainer beneath Marc Ramsey when Beterbiev defends his belts against Anthony Yarde on ESPN+ on Saturday in London, believes Beterbiev isn’t getting the respect he deserves.
“Artur is there with any of those guys,” Scully said. “Size-wise, certainly punching power-wise and technique-wise, I’d say he’s right in the top echelon as far as boxing skill and all of that type of thing. I think he fights right in there with any of those guys.”
The problem most modern fighters have when compared to fighters of the past is the urban legend. Boxing was bigger 40 years ago than it is now, and most divisions were deeper. But athletes and their training methods have improved so much over the years, and it’s unfair to ignore that.
Beterbiev, whose last loss came in the 2012 Olympics at heavyweight (201 pounds) to current unified heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk, doesn’t care much for attention or rankings. He doesn’t watch boxing in his spare time and doesn’t care much for what people have to say about him
He’ll never answer a question with five words if he believes two words will suffice.
He doesn’t inspire passion or excitement when interviewed. Asked about Yarde, he said, “He is strong with experience against many top professionals. I prepare 100 percent for every fight, and that’s what I have done for Anthony Yarde.”
OK, then. In order to want to watch him, you have to know about him already, and that’s the purview of the die-hard fan, of which there are far fewer than there were in, say, the 1970s or ’80s.
But boxing still has a good share of elite athletes, and Beterbiev is one of them. Yarde, of course, knows what he’s up against.
“If you look at what he’s accomplished so far, it’s amazing, and that’s what amps me up,” Yarde said.
Not much gets Beterbiev amped up until the bell rings. Scully said Beterbiev doesn’t care what fans or the media think about him, but he does have one goal that drives him: He wants to be the undisputed champion. He holds three of the four major belts, and if he can face Dmitry Bivol, who has the WBA belt, sometime this year, he’ll have the opportunity to win the undisputed championship.
Bivol is getting plenty of attention in boxing circles because he defeated Canelo Alvarez last year, and Alvarez is one of the big names in the sport. But Scully said it would be a mistake to underestimate Beterbiev. To beat Beterbiev, it’s going to take a special opponent, Scully believes.
“It’s hard to find a weakness in him,” Scully said. “He’s beaten the big, aggressive guys like Joe Smith, the slick, fast boxers like Marcus Browne and the technical boxers like [Oleksandr] Gvozdyk. He’s handled every style, pretty much, from what we’ve seen. I would think, just in general terms, you’re not going to outslug him. If there’s any chance to beat him, you’d have to be a guy he couldn’t hit. You’d have to be defensively really superior to beat Artur because you can’t be trading punches with him and not be affected by it.
“Andre Ward, I think, stylistically, would be tough for him. Really, Andre might be a bit out-sized by Artur because Artur is a really big light-heavy. He fought 201 as an amateur. His strength is like a heavyweight. His strength is off the charts. But Andre was smart and knew how to nullify certain things, so I think Andre would be stylistically a good match for Artur.”