Artur Beterbiev vs Joe Smith Jr free betting picks and prediction: Fireworks guaranteed with three light heavyweight world titles on the line

Joe Smith Jr. in the has his arm raised after defeating Bernard Hopkins

Joe Smith Jr. in the has his arm raised after defeating Bernard Hopkins (not pictured) in their light heavyweight fight. Pic Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

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Tom Craze

Expert boxing handicapper and betting show host

Boxing expert and handicapper. Host of The Boxing Betting Show and contributor to the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. Full bio here.

This weekend’s ESPN+ main event sees Artur Beterbiev and Joe Smith Jr put their world titles on the line in a potentially explosive unification at light-heavyweight.

Beterbiev (17-0, 17 KOs), born in Russia but holding a Canadian passport from his long-term residence in Montreal, Quebec, is one of the sport’s most feared punchers. Although plagued by injury and inactivity throughout his nine-year professional career, the fact remains that Beterbiev has stopped every single man he’s fought, and a combined total of just 81 rounds in 17 bouts - or an average of less than 5 rounds per contest - clearly illustrates his predilection for violence.

A world champion for the best part of five years, Beterbiev first collected the then-vacant IBF belt in late 2017, dispatching Enrico Koelling in the 12th and final round, before going onto later unify with the WBC strap against the outstanding Oleksandr Gvozdyk in 2019, who was seen off in 10. Two straightforward outings in 2021 (Adam Deines, TKO9; Marcus Browne, KO9), followed a year out of the ring in 2020 but now, at the age of 37, there is a feeling that Beterbiev may have let his prime years slip by, despite all that he has achieved to date. Nonetheless, he remains the man to beat at 175lb, and it appears that Father Time - along with Dmitry Bivol and this Saturday’s opponent - will be the most likely threat to that mantle.

Artur Beterbiev vs. Joe Smith JrPreview
WhereMadison Square Garden Theater, New York
WhenSaturday, June 18
Beterbiev odds-700
Smith Jr odds+600

For Smith Jr (28-3, 21 KOs), contesting a three-belt unification, as he is here, marks the apex of an unlikely career. Having burst onto the scene in 2016 with an enormous upset against Andrzej Fonfara as a +1200 underdog, the gritty New Yorker - nicknamed ‘The Common Man’ - has, at the age of 32, carved out a largely successful stay in the upper echelons of a competitive light-heavyweight scene. Wins over Bernard Hopkins, Eleider Alvarez, and Jesse Hart marked Smith Jr as a serious contender and a vacant WBO title followed - albeit in controversial fashion - with a razor-tight majority decision over Maxim Vlasov last April, in a fight many felt Smith Jr lost. The Long Island native has suffered setbacks along the way - losses to Dmitry Bivol and Sullivan Barrera demonstrate that Smith Jr has particular difficulty with slicker boxers - but this weekend signifies a well-earned opportunity.

Inevitably, however, it is Beterbiev who is the clear betting favorite. At a best available price of -700, he has been tabbed with an 88% implied probability, but quotes of -800 and even as high as -1200 can be easily found across the industry — the latter suggesting the Russian has an overwhelming 92% win chance. Smith Jr - a man no stranger to the underdog role - can be widely found at +600 top price, giving him a 14% chance of victory. A draw is deemed particularly unlikely here, and in a fight where most expect matters to be settled well before the final bell, can be backed at a lofty +3300 (3%).

That Beterbiev has never once even heard the final bell makes calling on the available evidence for his decision victories an impossible task, with no single bout of his decided by the judges since his amateur days. The layers make it a +400 chance that Beterbiev prevails on the scorecards here, and a +300 shot that the fight goes the distance with a win for either - or indeed a draw - to be the end result. The -275 that the fight ends inside 12 rounds may have some appeal for odds-on bettors given Beterbiev’s perfect KO record and Smith’s impressive 79% KO-to-win ledger.

Artur Beterbiev (red trunks) knocks down Rayco Saunders (black trunks) during their light-heavyweight bout at the Bell Centre

Artur Beterbiev knocks down Rayco Saunders during their light-heavyweight bout at the Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Stylistically, this match-up promises much. Beterbiev is a brutal, mauling type of operator, with power in both hands but, at 37, may be now increasingly vulnerable to those with comparable firepower, as Callum Johnson found out in 2018, when he dropped the Russian early on. Smith Jr fits the mold of a fighter who could take advantage, and certainly Beterbiev is a world away from the more cautious Bivol and Barrera who gave him so much trouble. A stoppage win for Smith Jr is available at +900 (10%) and looks to be the most likely route to victory for the Long Islander, with a decision win available at +1300 (7%).

All of that said, it is difficult to pick against Beterbiev here. Although he is a front-foot, aggressive fighter, he is technically excellent. Smith Jr will have opportunities, but they will likely be limited in number, and the outcome here is dependent on whether the A-side’s punch resistance has faded at all. Not since May 2019, with a 5th round TKO of Radivoje Kalajdzic, has Beterbiev closed the show in the first half, and the duration of his last three bouts (10, 10, 9) indicates a willingness to take his time over what is usually a gradual dismantling of his opponent. Taking the +110 (an implied 48% chance) that Beterbiev wins anywhere between rounds 7 and 12 would have landed in each of his last three, and in four of his six involvements in world title bouts.

Beterbiev vs Smith Jr free betting pick:

  • Artur Beterbiev in rounds 7-12 (+110)

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