Russian boxing champ hopes he ‘won’t be judged’ for using Canadian flag
World light heavyweight boxing champion Artur Beterbiev has said he hopes he will "not be judged too harshly" in his Russian homeland after fighting under the Canadian flag in his recent demolition of Joe Smith Jr, and also spoke of a potential undisputed showdown with compatriot Dmitry Bivol.
Beterbiev maintained his 100% KO record with a brutal second-round win over Smith earlier this month at Madison Square Garden's Hulu Theater in New York, adding the American's WBO title to his WBC and IBF belts.
A Montreal resident for a decade, Beterbiev fought under the Canadian flag as opposed to performing under the neutral status that has allowed Russians to continue boxing despite many sporting federations banning them elsewhere as a response to their country's military operation in Ukraine.
Speaking to Match TV as he arrived to a hero's welcome in Moscow on Tuesday, however, the 18-0 warrior said that the development was a "forced" measure, considering the circumstances.
"It was forced. Once in my entire career I performed under the Canadian flag. How many years have I been in boxing... 28," said Beterbiev.
"Before that, I always competed under the Russian [flag] - I hope they won’t judge me harshly and will remember that I have always represented the Russian flag, I will continue to do so as soon as possible."
Showing Smith respect, the Dagestan-born Beterbiev refused to accept that the way he took the American apart showed that it is a bad idea to attempt to go toe-to-toe with him in the ring.
"You can't say that," Beterbiev insisted. "He did everything he could. If you say that, then all 18 fighters [I previously faced] showed how not to box with me."
Beterbiev's next foe is likely to be Brit Anthony Yarde, who is the mandatory challenger to his newly-acquired WBO strap.
Yet the fight everyone wants to see would pit Beterbiev against Bivol, after the latter handed Mexican great Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez only the second defeat of his career with a dominant unanimous decision win in Las Vegas in May that saw him retain his WBA light heavyweight belt.
Furthermore, the all-Russian showdown would crown history's first undisputed light-heavyweight champion of the four-belt era.
"They talk about a mandatory defense, they also talk about the unification fight," said Beterbiev.
"Of course, this is more interesting to me, and this is a priority," Beterbiev, 37, stressed regarding a meeting with Bivol instead of Yarde.