There was no fairytale ending in the Canadian snow for Callum Smith on Saturday night in Quebec City.
The fight had followed a painful pattern for Smith from the first bell until the final punches dropped him against the ropes; Smith had beaten the count, but Buddy McGirt, his cornerman, had entered the ring to rescue him. There was no need to take any more punches.
Beterbiev retained his WBC, WBO and IBF light heavyweight titles, won for the 20th time in 20 fights and he has stopped or knocked out every one of his victims. Beterbiev is 39 next week, but he remains one of boxing’s true beasts and his record is amazing.
McGirt had told Smith, in the corner between rounds, to go for the body and to not go back to the ropes; both commands are easier said than done. Beterbiev, like all great fighters, makes you do what he wants you to do. It was hard watching Smith get slowly, methodically and painfully broken down by Beterbiev.
Smith’s one previous loss in 30 fights had been over 12 rounds against Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in 2020, and he has never been pushed around and handled so easily by anybody – that could also include a lifetime of sparring sessions. It was arguably Beterbiev’s most brilliant and precise performance. Smith looked one-dimensional, slow and vulnerable because Beterbiev was just so good. Smith also had that look on his face at the end, a look of utter shock. He had no idea what had just happened to him.
Beterbiev was punch-perfect, landing under and over Smith’s punches and blocking just about every single headshot. Smith tried looping a left to the body, missed too often and Beterbiev was there to counter. The knockdowns in round seven were the result of an accumulation of punches and Smith went down slowly, not heavily. However, he was hurting at that point. The stoppage was right.
“The better man won tonight,” Smith said in the dressing room, speaking to Andy Scott from Sky. “He’s good at stopping you working and breaking your rhythm. It hurts to take it, but the better man won.”
Smith is 33, a pro since 2012 and he has made life-changing money in his world-title wins and losses during the last six years. “It’s time to assess the future and see if I have any goals that motivate me,” he added. That means he will walk away unless there are some big, big cash offers. And that, by the way, is how the business works.
Beterbiev wants to fight the unbeaten Dmitry Bivol, the holder of the WBA light heavyweight belt. The fight has been on the agenda as part of the Saudi Arabian schedule and that means it will get made this summer. Cash has always been boxing’s greatest motivator.
It has been a very tough few weeks for British fighters in world title fights; in December Sunny Edwards lost his world title and was stopped in Phoenix, in the first weekend of January, Ohara Davies was knocked out after a round in Las Vegas, and now Smith. It is a hard and heartless business, not one for the squeamish, and not a sport that can be played for fun.