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Russian Trio Dominating the Light Heavyweight Boxing Scene

Although there is certainly no shortage of boxing talent in all the main weight divisions at present, the Light Heavyweight division stands out as being particularly competitive. Three of the four main title belts are currently held individually by Russian boxers, with the serious possibility that over the next couple of years, unification bouts could be on the cards.

Unifying title belts is an extremely difficult feat to achieve, not only in a sporting sense, but also in terms of organization. Each of the four main governing bodies for international boxing, WBA, WBA, IBF and WBO, all have their own rankings and preferred challengers for each title belt. This makes any unification of two or more belts an extremely difficult proposition.

Nevertheless, let’s take a look at the three Russian fighters who will be aiming for unification glory in the Light Heavyweight division.

Sergey Kovalev

As the man who has already been there and done it all, Sergey Kovalev knows a thing or two about unifying title belts. In November of 2014, the Russian put his WBO title on the line in a unification bout with American boxing legend, Bernard Hopkins, who held the IBF and WBA Light Heavyweight titles. In what turned out to be a very one-sided fight, even though it went the distance, Kovalev won every single round on the judges’ scorecards.

Successfully defending his three titles on four occasions over the next two years, Kovalev became regarded as one of the most invincible men in boxing according to Box Nation. However, the Russian finally met his match against Andre Ward in November 2016, losing his bout against the American by unanimous decision. He also lost the rematch the following year, but after Ward relinquished the WBO belt, Kovalev beat Vyacheslav Shabranskyy for the vacant title.

Having both lost and regained the WBO title since then, against Eleider Alvarez of Colombia, 35-year-old Kovalev has been ordered to defend that belt against British challenger Anthony Yarde. The fight is scheduled to take place on June 29 this year at the Palace of Sporting Games in Yekaterinburg, which is fondly regarded as the capital of the Urals.

Artur Beterbiev

Known for his phenomenal punching power, 34-year-old Artur Beterbiev has yet to be beaten and boasts 14 career wins since turning professional in 2013, all of which have been from knockout or stoppage victories. Hailing originally from the southern Russian city of Khasavyurt in the Dagestan Republic, he moved to Montreal in Quebec after enjoying a very successful amateur boxing career.

Unfortunately, legal battles with promoters reported by Boxing Scene have been an unwelcome distraction for Beterbiev, although with that situation is thankfully now resolved. As the current holder of the IBF Light Heavyweight title belt, following a typical knockout victory against Enrico Kölling of Germany, he has successfully defended the title twice.

The first IBF title defense was against British boxer Callum Johnson in October 2018, and the second was against Radivoje Kalajdzic of Bosnia in May 2019, with both fights resulting in trademark knockout victories for Beterbiev. There’s no doubt that he’ll now be setting his sights on fighting for unification of the other title belts, currently held by his Russian compatriots.

One alternative that Beterbiev is also considering is stepping up a division to cruiserweight. Should he make that move, the Russian could face a number of potential rivals, including Mairis Briedis, who is, as of June 4, 6/5 favorite with Betway to win the Cruiserweight Super Series, as part of any challenge to win belts in the different weight.

Dmitry Bivol

The youngest of our trio of Russian title holders in the Light Heavyweight decision, Dmitry Bivol boasts an excellent trajectory of having won all 16 of his professional fights to date, with 11 of those coming via knockouts. Enjoying rising popularity and celebrity status in Russia, the 28-year-old was awarded the vacant WBA Light Heavyweight title in 2017.

Having earned that right thanks to a stellar fighting record, Bivol since has proven himself to be a more than worthy champion, successfully defending the WBA title on five separate occasions. The most recent defense was a grueling 12 rounds against American boxer, Joe Smith Junior, with a unanimous points decision awarded by the Judges.

Bivol is now hunting other title belts according to Forbes reports, with the prospect of an IBF and WBA title unification bout against Beterbiev, now looking more likely than ever. Both boxers would relish the opportunity and such a fight would generate huge interest if it was held in Russia. After that, the dream would pit the winner of that bout against Kovalev for a ‘winner takes all’ duel to unify the WBO, WBA and IBF Light Heavyweight boxing titles.

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