Artur Beterbiev and Joe Smith Jr. are closing in on a deal for a light heavyweight title unification this summer in New York, sources told ESPN.
At the moment, Smith is looking for a purse in the neighborhood of $1.8 million for the proposed ESPN main event; he was offered approximately $1.5 million by his promoter, Star Boxing, sources said.
The winner of the three-belt unification would be only one belt short of undisputed status at 175 pounds. Beterbiev, ESPN’s No. 1 light heavyweight, is the division’s lone unified champion; Smith and Dmitry Bivol hold the other belts.
“[Beterbiev] is what I want,” Smith, ESPN’s No. 4 light heavyweight, said weeks ago after he scored a ninth-round KO of late replacement Steven Gerrard. “I’m going to get better and better. I believe the next time you see me, I’ll be ready for anybody.”
Smith (28-3, 22 KOs) has indeed improved tremendously in recent years. Following decision defeats to Bivol and Sullivan Barrera in the span of three fights, Smith reeled off four wins. Most notably, he stopped former champion Eleider Alvarez in 2020 and won a vacant title in April with a majority decision win over Maxim Vlasov.
The 32-year-old from Long Island, New York, was slated to fight Umar Salamov in October, but Smith withdrew after he was hospitalized with COVID symptoms. A planned January bout against Callum Johnson was scrapped after Johnson tested positive for the virus.
Against Beterbiev, Smith would be installed as a clear underdog, but the matchup is still highly anticipated. Besides the stakes, both boxers are tremendous punchers with fan-friendly styles.
Beterbiev (17-0, 17 KOs) is boxing’s only active champion with a 100% KO ratio. The 37-year-old Russian scored a ninth-round KO of Marcus Browne in December, his fifth title defense.
Now, Beterbiev is gearing up for a likely showdown with Smith in the summer.