Boxing’s run of big clashes and multi-belt unifications continues on Saturday with what promises to be an all-action clash between WBC and IBF light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev and WBO champion Joe Smith Jr. The bout goes down from Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater on Saturday night (10 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Beterbiev (17-0, 17 KO) is one of the most feared punchers in the sport, having knocked out every man he has stepped into the ring with as a professional. He won the vacant IBF title in November 2017 with a knockout win of Enrico Kolling. Kolling nearly became the first man to take Beterbiev to the scorecards, but the relentless pressure of Beterbiev eventually caught up as he scored the knockout with just 27 seconds left in the fight.
Three fights later, Beterbiev added the WBC belt to his collection with a stoppage of Oleksandr Gvozdyk in a highly-anticipated fight that saw Beterbiev methodically break down an elite light heavyweight. He has twice defended his unified titles since the stoppage win over Gvozdyk.
“This is a very important fight for me. With regard to the place, it’s not different for me. I’m more focused on the fight. I’m more focused on my opponent, not on the place. I always ask my boxing coach and my conditioning coach about how I’m doing. I ask them if it’s less than I was doing two years ago. They tell me that I’m doing better than two years ago,” Beterbiev said at the final press conference.
“If we compare it to the last one, this camp went very well. This camp was better. I want to thank my team, my conditioning coach, my boxing coach, all my team and all my sparring partners who helped me. We had a good camp.”
In Smith (28-3, 22 KO), Beterbiev faces a fellow hard-hitting brawler who tries to use his power and grit to eventually catch his opponent and finish the fight.
It’s been a long run to a world championship for Smith, who beat Maxim Vlasov by majority decision in April 2021 to win the WBO title. That was Smith’s 30th professional bout. Prior to that, Smith had received a shot at WBA champion Dmitry Bivol in March 2019. Bivol dominated Smith in the fight, taking a wide decision that saw Smith only win two rounds at most.
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“I believe this guy is in his prime right now. I don’t think age has anything to do with it. I know he’s here at 100 percent and ready to go. I know I’m here fighting one of the best, so I trained at 110%,” Smith said. “I made this camp a little longer. I made sure that I improved things that I wasn’t doing at my best. I stayed more consistent with my training, so I feel comfortable about this weekend.”
Bivol’s presence in the division looms large ahead of Beterbiev vs. Smith. After Bivol scored a big upset over Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, he has the most name value — and possibly the most skill — in the division. The winner of Saturday’s fight could be set up for a four-belt unification with Bivol to crown an undisputed champion at light heavyweight.
The co-feature bout on Saturday brings the return of a highly regarded prospect in Robeisy Ramirez. The Cuban native gets a tough test in veteran Abraham Nova. Ramirez is 9-1 since making his pro debut in 2019 in a losing effort. Since then, he’s beaten every man put in front of him with relative ease.
“My level increases with the quality of opponent that I have in front of me. So, I think my growth is due to me increasing the level of my opposition and because we’ve been increasing our work, both mentally and physically,” Ramirez said at the final press conference.
“We decided to take this fight because it would lead to a title shot. We all know who Abraham is. We all know the kind of record he has. So, a victory would put us one step away from fighting for a title. This was the step we wanted to take and the fight we were looking for. We weren’t looking to make a fight that wasn’t this one.”
Beterbiev vs. Smith card, odds
Odds via Caesars Sportsbook
Artur Beterbiev (c) -700
Joe Smith Jr. (c) +500
Unified light heavyweight championship
Robeisy Ramirez -450
Abraham Nova +350
Smith can punch and punch hard. Given he’s a talented fighter with serious power, he’s a very live underdog at +500. That said, Beterbiev is a fantastic fighter and a level above Smith. Smith needs to find some way to keep Beterbiev off of him and have space to let his rangy power punches go. That’s a big ask, however, as Beterbiev is outstanding at closing distance, getting inside and mauling with work to both the body and head.
That approach to fights is how Beterbiev has been so successful. He forces opponents to fight on the inside, where he has the edge, and he breaks them down until they simply don’t have anything left. Smith is tough enough to survive for a while but not for a full 12 rounds. Pick: Artur Beterbiev via TKO9
No. 1 recruit Williams commits to Mulkey, LSU
Mikaylah Williams, the top-ranked recruit in the Class of 2023, according to ESPN HoopGurlz, has committed to Kim Mulkey’s LSU program, she announced Friday.
Williams, a 6-foot-1 guard from Bossier City, Louisiana, chose LSU over Ole Miss, Baylor, Duke and Texas A&M.
“In order to take my game to the next level and to continue to learn and grow as a young woman, there’s only one place where I’ve wanted to be. Home,” Williams said in her video announcement. “I’ve decided I’ll be attending the Louisiana State University.”
Grateful for the process and excited to announce where I will be playing college basketball! @playerstribune pic.twitter.com/eWRqa6R7YU
— Mikaylah Williams (@mkwill12_) June 24, 2022
Williams won gold with Team USA in the 2021 FIBA 3×3 U18 World Cup, where she was MVP, and recently earned a spot on the U.S. team for the FIBA U17 World Cup, which will compete July 9-17 in Hungary.
She was named the Gatorade Louisiana Girls Basketball Player of the Year in March after averaging 22.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.2 steals as a junior at Parkway High.
With Mulkey in her second season in Baton Rouge, the Tigers are looking to propel themselves back into the conversation as title contenders and to return to the Final Four for the first time since 2008. LSU fell to Ohio State in the second round of the NCAA tournament last season.
With a host of seniors departing the program, Mulkey was active in the transfer portal, bringing in Angel Reese from Maryland, LaDazhia Williams from Missouri, Kateri Poole from Ohio State, Jasmine Carson from West Virginia and top juco transfer Last-Tear Poa from Northwest Florida State College to join a 2022 recruiting class ranked No. 17 in the nation by ESPN.
Sources: Five-star Buzelis picks G League Ignite
11:04 AM ET
Adrian WojnarowskiSenior NBA Insider
- Host of The Woj Pod
- Joined ESPN in 2017
Five-star recruit Matas Buzelis — the No. 11 player in ESPN’s Top 100 for the Class of 2023 — has committed to the G League Ignite for the 2023-24 season, sources told ESPN on Friday.
Buzelis, a skilled 6-foot-10 forward, will bypass college basketball and sign into the NBA’s professional pathway program once he graduates from Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas next spring, sources said.
Buzelis, an Illinois native who starred for Brewster Academy in New Hampshire last season, had narrowed his college choices to Kentucky, North Carolina, Florida State and Wake Forest.
The G League Ignite program is based out of Northern California and constructed to prepare young players ahead of NBA draft eligibility. Former NBA guard Jason Hart is beginning his second season as the program’s coach, and several recent players, including the No. 8 pick Dyson Daniels (New Orleans) and No. 24 pick MarJon Beauchamp (Milwaukee) on Thursday, were first-round draft choices.
Buzelis participated in the Nike Hoop Summit in 2022, and a USA Basketball minicamp at the site of the Final Four in New Orleans. He led powerhouse Brewster Academy to a 31-8 record and a New England prep school championship.
Excel Sports represents Buzelis in name, image and likeness deals.
WNBA union decries overturning of Roe v. Wade
1:39 PM ET
ESPN News Services
The Women’s National Basketball Players Association reacted to the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion by focusing on voting rights and urging people to “vote like our lives depend on it. Because they do.”
In a statement, the WNBPA said, “This decision shows a branch of government that is so out of touch with the country and any sense of human dignity.”
“We must recognize that when we cast a ballot it is to elect officials and to connect the dots to policies and legislation that align with our values,” the WNBPA said.
The Supreme Court on Friday voted 5-4 to overturn Roe v. Wade, a decision expected to lead to abortion bans in roughly half the states. The ruling came more than a month after the leak of a draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito indicating the court was prepared to take this momentous step, and it was supported by the court’s conservative majority.
Alito, in the final opinion, wrote that the original 1973 decision on Roe and a 1992 decision reaffirming it (Planned Parenthood v. Casey) were “wrong the days they were decided and must be overturned.”
Alito wrote that the authority to regulate abortion rests with the political branches of government and not the courts. The decision leaves it up to the states.
“We therefore hold that the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion. Roe and Casey must be overruled, and the authority to regulate abortion must be returned to the people and their elected representatives,” Alito wrote.
Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett and Clarence Thomas joined the majority. Chief Justice John Roberts voted to uphold a Mississippi law that banned abortion after 15 weeks and prompted the case to get to the Supreme Court, but he didn’t vote to overturn Roe.
The ruling is expected to lead to abortion bans in about half of the states, some beginning immediately.
“It’s just incredibly disheartening. There are an infinite amount of reasons why a woman chooses to do what she does with her body or what they do with their body — none of which are anybody else’s business.”
USWNT star Megan Rapinoe
Three of the court’s liberal justices wrote in a joint dissent that the decision would bring “sorrow” for the many millions of American women who will be losing a “fundamental constitutional protection.” The WNBPA statement said an abortion ban “could lead to higher rates of maternal mortality while eviscerating rights to reproductive freedom for everyone.”
In September, a number of prominent women athletes, including soccer star Megan Rapinoe and basketball standouts Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird, joined 500 athletes and groups who signed a friend-of-the-court brief to the justices. The group included 26 Olympians, 73 professional athletes and various athlete associations. They argued that abortion rights have helped the growth of women’s sports and expressed concern that future athletes would suffer without those protections.
Rapinoe on Friday called it a “really sad, sad day” and said the ruling is “completely misguided and wildly out of touch with the desires of the country.”
“The right to freedom and the pursuit of happiness and liberty is being assaulted in this instance,” Rapinoe said. “And it’s just incredibly disheartening. There are an infinite amount of reasons why a woman chooses to do what she does with her body or what they do with their body — none of which are anybody else’s business.”
Rapinoe’s U.S. women’s national soccer teammate Lindsey Horan said, “I’m still a little bit shocked and trying to take it all in. But I do feel like this is taking a step backwards for our country.”
In a statement, the National Women’s Soccer League wrote that the ruling “denies individuals in this country the full liberty and equality that is the cornerstone of a just society.”
The statement added: “Reproductive rights are human rights. Until every individual has the same freedoms as their neighbor, our work is not done. We will continue to make our voices heard.”
Bird, who is engaged to Rapinoe, took to Twitter to react to the Supreme Court’s decision.
— Sue Bird (@S10Bird) June 24, 2022
Bird’s WNBA team, the Seattle Storm released a statement on Twitter that also referenced the Supreme Court’s Thursday ruling on gun rights.
Furious and ready to fight. pic.twitter.com/6fdEHUd4pM
— Seattle Storm (@seattlestorm) June 24, 2022
NBA commissioner Adam Silver and WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert issued a joint statement Friday afternoon.
“The NBA and WNBA believe that women should be able to make their own decisions concerning their health and future, and we believe that freedom should be protected,” the leagues said in the statement. “We will continue to advocate for gender and health equity, including ensuring our employees have access to reproductive health care, regardless of their location.”
The much-anticipated ruling, applauded by pro-life conservatives, was decried by a number of prominent athletes on social media.
Tennis legend Billie Jean King wrote: “This decision will not end abortion … it is a sad day in the United States.”
Wrote Portland Trail Blazers guard Josh Hart: “To the women in this country … I’m sorry.”
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.
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