LIGHT-HEAVYWEIGHT is arguably the deepest division in boxing right now, with the current top 10 packed full of talent. This Friday (October 18), fans can look forward to two of the best fighters in the weight class going head to head in a mouthwatering unification matchup. The Liacouras Center in Philadelphia is the venue as unbeaten Top Rank stablemates Oleksandr Gvozdyk and Artur Beterbiev collide in the definition of a 50-50 fight.

These Beasts from the East share similarly striking statistics both as amateurs and pros. Ukrainian Gvozdyk won bronze at the 2012 Olympic Games and compiled a faultless 9-0 record in the World Series of Boxing. Russia’s Beterbiev, meanwhile, amassed a collection of major medals in the unpaid ranks (World gold and silver & European gold x2), as well as twice featuring at the Olympics.

Since turning over, both have gone on to become world champions. Gvozdyk claimed the WBC belt in December by defeating long-reigning titlist Adonis Stevenson on away turf in Canada. Behind on the scorecards in the 11th round, the challenger broke through to secure a knockout victory which unfortunately resulted in Stevenson having to undergo emergency brain surgery. He has since awoken from a medically induced coma and is thankfully recovering well. Gvozdyk defended his strap just under four months later against the unheralded Doudou Ngumbu, who had to pull out in the fifth frame due to a calf injury.

Beterbiev acquired his world crown 13 months prior to Gvozdyk and has notched two successful defences so far. All three of his IBF title bouts have ended in KO wins. The outgunned Enrico Koelling was beaten in the 12th for the vacant belt, before underdog Callum Johnson was vanquished in four in October last year, albeit after briefly causing a scare. The unorthodox Radivoje Kalajdzic failed to get past five rounds when challenging Beterbiev in May.

Oleksandr Gvozdyk vs Artur Beterbiev
Beterbiev, like Gvozdyk, is a serious puncher Mikey Williams/Top Rank

After a drawn-out contractual dispute with his former promoter (GYM) contributed to a lack of activity in 2017 and 2018, Beterbiev – who linked up with Top Rank in March – is delighted to be involved in such a highly significant contest.

“I wish to thank Top Rank and my opponent for making this unification bout possible and giving the fans around the world what they want,” Beterbiev said. “This will be a great fight between two champions who aspire to become the undisputed light-heavyweight champion. I’m looking forward to stepping into the ring.”

Like Beterbiev, Gvozdyk is convinced that those watching their clash will not be disappointed.

“This is going to be a spectacular fight – one that the fans will enjoy. The fans asked for this fight and we will deliver,” Gvozdyk declared. “My first goal was to win a light-heavyweight world title. Now, I want to unify the belts. That mission starts with Artur Beterbiev. One thing I know is that I will be the unified champion.”

As good as the two protagonists are, neither have shown themselves to be infallible. Each have been dropped in the past, while Gvozdyk had to withstand some punishment from Stevenson before turning the fight in his favour. Where both thrive is when they are on the attack.

Although both possess fearsome power, Beterbiev holds the advantage in this respect. All 14 of his previous adversaries have succumbed inside the distance, leading the Montreal-based destroyer to be considered as one of the hardest pound-for-pound punchers in the sport.

While Beterbiev is the heavier hitter, Gvozdyk, 17-0 (14), is generally seen as the slightly more technically refined and versatile of the two. The 6ft 2in Oxnard, California resident boasts a 75 1/2in reach, which he puts to effective use by thrusting out solid jabs and stabbing straights. Beterbiev gives up two-and-a-half inches in height and reach to Gvozdyk, yet his jabs and straights are no less impressive.

A smooth and intelligent mover, Gvozdyk, 32, puts sharp shots together with clinical precision, especially when detonating his potent right hand. Beterbiev is an equally accurate marksman who can cause carnage with destructive hooks from either fist. Patient and methodical, if at times a little mechanical, the strong 34-year-old consistently backs his rivals up.

When it comes to picking a winner in a boxing match, this is as difficult as it gets. A perfectly valid case can be made for either man finishing up with his hand raised, but the feeling here is that the more memorable punches and purposeful attacks will come from Beterbiev, steering him to a victory on the scorecards.

The 10-round chief support on this ESPN-televised event sees veteran Queens southpaw Luis Collazo, 39-7 (20), take on undefeated Uzbek Kudratillo Abdukakhorov, 16-0 (9), at welterweight. Collazo is an ex-WBA boss but that was way back in 2005/06. The comparatively fresh Abdukakhorov, who fights out of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, can triumph on points.

The Verdict Matchups don’t get much better than this.

IN 2009 at an amateur tournament in Turkey, Gvozdyk suffered a second-round defeat to Beterbiev. Gvozdyk, who was the less experienced of the two, has stated that he went into the fight with a broken nose.