Under normal circumstances, Artur Beterbiev would not be scheduled to defend his IBF and WBC light heavyweight titles against a gargantuan underdog Saturday night in Moscow.
Beterbiev’s mandated mismatch against Adam Deines is the result of a highly unusual situation. It’ll occur because the Russian knockout artist’s original opponent, Meng Fanlong, was unable to secure a visa to travel to Beterbiev’s homeland for their rescheduled 12-round, 175-pound title fight.
China’s Fanlong (16-0, 10 KOs) became the IBF’s mandatory challenger for Beterbiev’s belt when he defeated Deines by unanimous decision in a 12-round elimination match in June 2019 in Macau, China. According to the IBF, the fifth-ranked Deines (19-1-1, 10 KOs) was the leading available contender to battle Beterbiev once it became clear Fanlong couldn’t travel to Russia.
Beterbiev and Fanlong, who remains the IBF’s number one contender, were scheduled to fight last March 28 at Videotron Centre in Quebec City, Canada. That card was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Coronavirus restrictions in Canada made it impossible to reschedule the Beterbiev-Fanlong fight there later last year. Investors in Russia offered to bring Beterbiev’s next fight to his home country, which led to a site switch and a change of opponents.
Bob Arum’s Top Rank Inc., Beterbiev’s co-promoter, has been led to believe by the IBF that the Deines fight will satisfy Beterbiev’s mandatory obligation with the New Jersey-based sanctioning organization. Though Fanlong’s predicament caused Germany’s Deines to replace him, Beterbiev-Deines is a continuation of overmatched mandatory challengers getting chances to fight for IBF belts.
The IBF abides by its rules, but it too often elevates unproven boxers into high positions in its rankings, above more credible contenders.
Beterbiev versus Deines is the fifth mandated mismatch sanctioned by the IBF within the past six months. Though Beterbiev-Deines has been backed financially by Patriot Boxing Promotions, a deep-pocketed company based in Russia, Arum has taken issue with the IBF’s string of undeserving mandatory challengers.
“A mandatory which is a really good, competitive fight, that’s OK,” Arum told BoxingScene.com, “because the mandatories were designed to prevent the champions from ducking forever a legitimate top contender. It was never intended to put tomato cans in the number one position and let [the champions] feast off them being a mandatory. There are certain mandatories that are legitimate mandatories. But in most cases now, you don’t get that.”
Oddsmakers have consistently listed Beterbiev as at least a 33-1 favorite to defeat Deines.
The IBF’s troubling trend began September 26, when unbeaten IBF junior welterweight champ Josh Taylor was forced to fight Thailand’s Apinun Khongsong, whose mandatory status was especially perplexing. Scotland’s Taylor (17-0, 13 KOs), who was listed as at least a 35-1 favorite, stopped Khongsong (16-1, 13 KOs) with a single body shot in the first round of their fight in London.
On December 12, IBF heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua battered Kubrat Pulev until he knocked out the Bulgarian contender in the ninth round in London. Handicappers made Joshua (24-1, 22 KOs) a 10-1 favorite to topple Pulev (28-2, 14 KOs), another big underdog that the IBF made its mandatory challenger.
Six days later, Gennadiy Golovkin demolished Kamil Szeremeta, the overmatched mandatory challenger for Golovkin’s IBF middleweight title. Kazakhstan’s Golovkin (41-1-1, 36 KOs), who went off as a 25-1 favorite, dropped Poland’s Szeremeta (21-1, 5 KOs) once apiece in the first, second, fourth and seventh rounds before their scheduled 12-rounder was stopped following the seventh round December 18 in Hollywood, Florida.
A month later, Caleb Plant dominated Caleb Truax in their 12-round fight for Plant’s IBF super middleweight title January 30 in Los Angeles. That easy victory counted as Plant’s mandatory defense, despite that Truax never participated in the IBF eliminator in which he was supposed to partake.
Truax (31-5-2, 19 KOs, 1 NC) is a former IBF 168-pound champion, but he withdrew two days before a scheduled elimination match against Alfredo Angulo five months earlier due to an illness.
Plant (21-0, 12 KOs) was at least a 50-1 favorite over the 37-year-old Truax, and their fight unfolded accordingly. The Ashland City, Tennessee, native recorded a shutout against Truax on all three scorecards (120-108, 120-108, 120-108).
Arum also has been critical of the IBF making unbeaten Australian George Kambosos Jr. the mandatory challenger for Teofimo Lopez’s lightweight title.
“The IBF is just crazy,” Arum said. “Look at this Kambosos. I mean, they put him in with [Lee] Selby, who’s not even a lightweight, who [Kambosos] beat in an eliminator, and that made him the mandatory. Well, whatever Triller bid, that is not a marquee fight. So, you can’t go to a network and say, ‘Look, I need extra money because there may be other people who might bid on the fight.’ And they say, ‘Well, is it a good fight?’ And you say, ‘Well, I can’t guarantee it.’ ”
Triller won an IBF purse bid February 25 by offering $6,018,000 for the right to promote Lopez-Kambosos. The company out-bid Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing ($3,506,000) and Top Rank ($2,315,000), which has drawn the ire of Lopez for criticizing the quality of the Kambosos bout.
At least Kambosos (19-0, 10 KOs) traveled overseas and defeated Wales’ Selby (28-3, 9 KOs), a former IBF featherweight champ, by split decision October 31 in London in an IBF elimination match. Deines lost his eliminator to Fanlong, hasn’t beaten a legitimate light heavyweight contender and still will battle Beterbiev in a fight ESPN and ESPN Deportes will televise Saturday from Megasport Sport Palace (3 p.m. ET; noon PT).
Japanese superstar Naoya Inoue (20-0, 17 KOs), another champion Arum’s company co-promotes, also has an IBF mandatory due against Michael Dasmarinas. The Philippines’ Dasmarinas (30-2-1, 20 KOs) will be a huge underdog against Inoue.
Top Rank parted ways earlier this year with another IBF champion it used to promote, Jerwin Ancajas, in part because it didn’t want to televise Ancajas’ mandated defense of his junior bantamweight championship against unproven Mexican contender Jonathan Rodriguez. Showtime will air the 12-round, 115-pound title bout between the Philippines’ Ancajas (32-1-2, 22 KOs) and Rodriguez (22-1, 16 KOs) on April 10 from Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.
“If we’re saddled with these crazy mandatories, we cannot say that we’re giving the public good, competitive fights,” Arum said. “It costs a lot of money to put on fights that are not pleasing and not competitive, and it hurts the promoter who has to program for a network, whether it’s FOX or Showtime or ESPN. You’re giving them second-class stuff because it’s forced upon you by a mandatory. And that’s not good for the business, and it’s not good for the sport of boxing.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.