NOTHING – not age, weight troubles, humdrum recent performances, or even, in the latest instance, a gory gash – was going to stop Artur Beterbiev from meting out his usually even-tempered yet frighteningly destructive form of pugilism. The feared Russian thumper overcame a slow start – and later, an inch-and-a-half-long jagged laceration on his forehead – to thrash New York’s Marcus Browne into submission 46 seconds into the ninth round (set for 12) at the Bell Centre in Montreal. The performance was every bit as clinical and brutish as observers have come to expect from the reigning world light-heavyweight champion.

“I don’t get bothered by blood,” said Beterbiev, who has never been taken the distance in any one of his 17 fights, postfight. “It’s a fight. Things happen. I always go for the knockout.”

The end came swiftly, early in the ninth, when Beterbiev landed one of his many ramrod left hooks, sending the southpaw Browne – the mandatory challenger – tailspinning into a corner. Beterbiev, whose fists seem to be as compact as the toughest cast-iron kettlebells, then drove a searing left to the liver followed by a left uppercut that forced Browne to drop to his knees. As referee Michael Griffin administered the count, a battered-up Browne stared solemnly at the official as he waited for the protocol to end. The look said it all: Browne had had enough.

The win gives Beterbiev his second straight successful title defence since he knocked out Oleksandr Gvozdyk in 2019, a performance that made him the cynosure of the light heavyweight ranks. But leading into Saturday’s fight, there were questions about whether Beterbiev was starting to show signs of decline. After all, the 36-year-old was inactive for more than a year-and-a-half and at one point came down with Covid-19. To compound matters, in his last bout, he turned in a somewhat tepid, if otherwise dominant, performance against the undistinguished Adam Deines. The rumours of Beterbiev’s diminishment reached a fever pitch earlier in the week at the weigh-in, where the boxer initially failed to meet the 175-pound mark; he cleared it a second time a few moments later. Still, for the tea-leave readers, this was another indication that Beterbiev could be ripe for the taking.

Early on, Browne had some success in making this forecast come true. He boxed intelligently, working off a busy southpaw jab and continually moved away from Beterbiev’s right hand. Browne also mixed in a few hard lead rights to the body. Meanwhile, the slower Beterbiev struggled to get off any meaningful punches. But this pattern would not persist for long.

Beterbiev started to warm up in the third round, managing to land a few stiff right hands here and there. But just as his momentum started to ratchet up, Beterbiev clashed heads with Browne, causing a grisly cut to open up on his forehead. Browne was also cut, but his was far less severe.

A bit of drama unfolded at the beginning of the fifth round, when a ring doctor examining Beterbiev’s wound was overheard saying, “One more round.” Had the doctor carried out his grave notice, the fight, at the end of the fifth round, would have ended in a majority decision for Browne. (Two of the judges had Browne up at that point). Luckily, for Beterbiev’s sake, the ring doctor would never play a factor again.

It was all Beterbiev in the second half of the fight. A booming right hand from the Russian, in the seventh, saw Browne suffer his first knockdown in the bout. From that point on, Browne was essentially reduced to a punching bag. Aside from a brief rally in the eighth round,  Browne resorted to covering up with his back leaning against the ropes. That only made him a sitting duck for Beterbiev’s short, chopping shots.

On the GYM-Top Rank promotions undercard, Quebecois native Marie Eve Dicaire notched two career milestones. She regained her junior middleweight title (which she lost to Claressa Shields) and scored her first stoppage with a seventh-round TKO over Mexico’s Cynthia Lozano.

The southpaw Dicare was pummeling Lozano, when her corner prompted referee Albert Padulo Jnr to stop the bout at 1-03 of the seventh.

Toronto native Steve Rolls had his way with Philadelphia’s Christopher Brooker, earning a stoppage in the ninth round of their scheduled 10-round super middleweight bout. Rolls, whose claim to fame was a knockout loss to Gennadiy Golovkin in 2019, landed three straight right hands that dropped Brooker to the canvas. Although Brooker managed to beat the count, referee Steve St. Germain decided to waive off the fight at 1-32.