Light heavyweight world titleholder Artur Beterbiev has had a change of heart and won’t defend his belt against Joe Smith on Dec. 15, which could open the door for junior lightweight titlist Tevin Farmer to get a fight instead.

The Beterbiev-Smith fight was slated to take place at Madison Square Garden in New York on the undercard of unified middleweight world champion Canelo Alvarez’s rise in weight to challenge secondary super middleweight titlist Rocky Fielding. It is the first fight of Alvarez’s record five-year, 11-fight, $365 million deal with new sports streaming service DAZN.

However, Beterbiev (13-0, 13 KOs), 33, a Russia native fighting out of Montreal, fought on Oct. 6 in Chicago, where he made his first title defense. Although he knocked out England’s then-undefeated Callum Johnson, the mandatory challenger, in the fourth round, Beterbiev survived getting knocked down in the second round of what was a very gruelling shootout.

In the end, he didn’t feel like he could be prepared for another fight, especially against a formidable puncher such as Smith, with such a short turnaround, according to co-promoter Yvon Michel.

“The week after the Johnson fight, we were told by Beterbiev’s management that he would be ready to fight Joe Smith Jr. after mid-December,” Michel, who co-promotes Beterbiev with Matchroom Boxing’s Eddie Hearn, told ESPN on Thursday. “When we confirmed Dec. 15th last week, Artur realized, after being back to the gymnasium, the short delay between the two fights was a concern of not having the optimized conditions to perform at his best. Even if the Johnson fight was short, it was intense, and Artur was floored in the second round. Smith Jr. is also a good puncher and a strong fighter you can’t take lightly.

“Taking everything into consideration, his health and his intention to be champion for long time, he took the decision not to get in the ring Dec. 15. We were very comfortable with his decision. We are looking for a February date for his next title defense.”

Beterbiev’s decision was a big disappointment for Smith (24-2, 20 KOs), 29, from New York’s Long Island, who turned down a shot to challenge Dmitry Bivol for his version of the light heavyweight world title on HBO on Nov. 24 to instead face Beterbiev for more money.

“It’s a fight we wanted because we want Joe to fight for a world championship,” said Star Boxing promoter Joe DeGuardia, Smith’s longtime promoter, who made a co-promotional deal with Hearn for them to work together for at least the next three Smith fights on DAZN, where Hearn has an eight-year deal to provide fights. “If you want to increase your stature in the game, which is what Beterbiev has been saying he wants, what better card is there to be on than on a Canelo card in New York at Madison Square Garden?

“You have the opportunity to do that against Joe Smith. To me, you jump on that. But this tells me they’re concerned about Joe as an opponent. It tells me a lot about Joe’s reputation out there. Beterbiev is a good fighter, a skilled fighter and he can fight, so this is disappointing.”

DeGuardia said he would huddle with Hearn to determine the next step for Smith, which could still be a fight with Beterbiev when he’s ready to return in February. But DeGuardia also said they would look to see what happens in the two light heavyweight title fights that are coming up: Bivol’s defense against former world champion Jean Pascal on Nov. 24, and world champion Adonis Stevenson’s defense against Oleksandr Gvozdyk on Dec. 1.

“We want a championship fight for Joe Smith and Beterbiev has one of those titles and we like the fight, but a lot of things can happen before February,” DeGuardia said.

With Beterbiev off the Dec. 15 card, Farmer hopes to replace him on the Golden Boy Promotions card. Hearn promotes Fielding and got two undercard slots on the show as part of the deal with Golden Boy.

“Tevin has made it very clear to Eddie and me that he really wants to fight on that card,” Lou DiBella, who recently made a co-promotional deal with Hearn on Farmer, said. “It would be a third title fight for him in five months and he really wants to do that. He wants to be an active champion. His attitude is very simple – money adds up when you’re active and three fights in five months for a world champion is unheard of. We’re talking to Eddie and we should know something soon, but Tevin is all jacked up to do it. He doesn’t know how to not be in the gym.”

Farmer (27-4-1, 6 KOs), 28, of Philadelphia, traveled to Australia and easily outpointed Australia’s Billy Dib to win a vacant 130-pound world title on Aug. 3. Soon after the co-promotional deal with Hearn was made and Farmer returned on his card Oct. 20 in Boston, where he savaged James Tennyson with body shots and knocked him out in the fifth round to retain his title.

“One of my pet peeves is that champions are not active enough,” DiBella said. “So to win your title and then defend it twice in five months would be big for Tevin. He wants to do it.”



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