Exclusive: Artur Beterbiev opens up on father's death, financial troubles and the future

Credit: Team Beterbiev
Typography

A Russian light-heavyweight is currently sitting outside of his home of Montreal, Canada with an ice cold glass of water.

The early evening sunshine is here and the tree leaves are brushing through the mild wind. Meanwhile, his wife is inside making sure his children are preparing to do their school work and have eaten their dinner. He is patiently waiting here, fiddling with his thumbs waiting for his next fight date. That's been the main issue of his professional career today, he's only been a professional for over three years, June 8th 2013 to be exact. If you try and find a line-up of fighters willing to step up to get in the ring with him, you won't find many, if any at all.

It's been a difficult few years for Artur Beterbiev, after dispatching of Alexander Johnson in June 2015 he was in line for a final eliminator bout for Sergey Kovalev's IBF championship. For weeks they went down the list of contenders searching for someone to step in the ring with him, many turned a blind eye, and he was set back further when he suffered a shoulder injury which required surgery.

He had an operation in late October that year and didn't start training again until December, the injury ruled him out for a period of four to five months.

As he stands up and puts on his flip flops he heads back into the house. As he approaches the dining area, he sits down where his son is sitting with a large collection of pens and books ready to begin his school homework. Beterbiev settles down to help him, numerous photos of him as a child and memories in frames of him as an amateur showcase on a large cabinet top which brings out the long path he had been on for the last two decades. Photographs of him in his young fresh eyed days as a budding student of the game, yearning, arms hoisted above his slim frame and up in triumph. Surrounded by the entourage of people he took along the road.

One particular photo he is wearing a pair of flip flops that are very similar to the ones he is currently wearing. Despite making a career in the sport of boxing, Beterbiev still enjoys the lifestyle and wonders he had growing up in a young life that had it's highs and plenty of lows. When the 10-ounce leather gloves are off his hands, family comes first for him. After a few hours of studies, he goes to settle his kids down for the night, his daughters are already down and his son is fast asleep and the work is complete for another day.

He returns back downstairs and sits back down in the seat and I begin to delve into his journey from the very beginning.

In boxing it's the fighters characters and stories that attract the dozens of fans globally. Horror stories from their infantry and youth in some respect are like a broken record when it comes to fighters. For Beterbiev a large portion of his young life involving sharing one room and one toilet with his four older brothers, financial troubles after the tragic loss of his father in a car accident in 2001 followed suit. At one stage, one of Beterbiev's brothers had to sell his car to finance his trip to one of the sports completions.

His mothers birthday is coming up and his relationship with her is unbreakable, a large bouquet of flowers as a gift are already at home on their kitchen side. She often comes to visit him at his home and spend time with his own daughters and son.

Beterbiev describes his mother as kind, understanding and wonderful. She has always been that way for their big family and she put so much on her shoulders.

''The person who took care of me very much was my mother, begun Beterbiev. ''When I started to do boxing she was paying close attention to every detail of my development.''

His mother insisted that he leave for Moscow to study at the Sports School of the Olympic Reserve which prepares young athletes for the sports of highest achievements. He obeyed her wishes and at the age of 16 he left his home.

''Was she educated in any aspect to boxing?'' I asked.

''My mom is a nurse, so she started reading special literature about nutrition. She made sure I consumed all the necessary vitamins, cooked only healthy food, and prepared all sorts of blends and shakes. I am very grateful to her.''

beterbiev1

Pictures by Team Beterbiev

The shocking loss of his father had a devastating impact for not just Beterbiev, but his whole family. It was hard life after the break-up of the Soviet Union. They were not rich, his father was bringing in the only income of money that kept the electricity on, put food and water on the table for him and his four brothers. He was a true man of the house so to speak and his father, who was a shuttle bus driver, did his best to support all of them. He was the only bread-winner at that time. Beterbiev remembers that when he was invited to the junior Russian national team at the age of 16 he was asked to buy the uniform. His father, who had some savings at around 200-300$ gave his last savings to buy the uniform for his son.

''Five days after I won the medal my father died,'' revealed Beterbiev. ''I was only 16 years old when my father died in a tragic accident. His death was a huge blow for me and my family.''

His father's presence always remains with him and that plays a huge role in him keeping a promise to become world champion. The alone fact that his father finally realised that what his son had set out to achieve, was a reality.

''He will always be with me,'' he said. ''I wanted to quit the boxing when my father died, but I decided to continue, because my father gave me approval just before his death.''

The sudden passing of his father came at a crucial time in the life and certainly the growth of his career. He longed for his fathers wishes to allow him to assemble a path in the sport. Initially, he wouldn't and that was because Beterbiev was a funny clever minded child, who had great success in his education. As soon as he finally got the approval from his father, tragedy hit him.

''How long until he did approve of your boxing?'' I asked.

''Until I won the bronze medal at the Junior World Championship. He was proud of me and for the first time approved of me practising the boxing.''

Currently, Beterbiev is unable to grasp the success that will flood hundreds of fans swarming him along the streets. It's been a tricky road up to this point, although he is seemingly finally on the verge of hitting the mountain top that he has working towards for over two decades. If you're an avid boxing fan who has a deep investment into the sport, then a knockout highlight real of his would have surfaced on some platform of social media. Nonetheless, he hasn't had the exposure he should have had.

''Unfortunately, this is harsh reality of boxing today,'' begun Beterbiev. ''When your opponent has an opportunity to avoid you in the ring. We have to deal with it and move forward. If my opponents avoid me, it means they follow their own way to achieve their goals,'' he said.

Just a few days ago, Beterbiev had signed a contract to make a deal official to fight in a final eliminator bout for the IBF title. It may have come a year or so later than expected, but he is already planting his mind into preparation mode. His opponent will be Enrico Kolling, a 27-year-old German who has only lost one of his 24 fights and like Beterbiev, has a well established amateur resume, the pair were alongside each other in the 2012 London Olympic games, Koelling was edged in the quarter finals and missed out on the chance of winning a bronze medal at a minimum, by Abdelhafid Benchabla.

''My training camp starts next week and it coincides with the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan.''

''I look forward to my next fight, he is a very good fighter. He has much experience in professional boxing, represented Germany in a World Championship in 2011 and Summer Olympics 2012,'' said Beterbiev.

''Where would you put him in regards to all the other fighters you have faced?'' I asked.

''He is a very good fighter,'' he answered. ''I respect him a lot, because he took up the challenge and decided to face me. On my part, I will maximize my resources in my preparation for the fight.''

beterbiev old

''I have always set the biggest goals for me. I want to be on the top,'' stated Beterbiev.

''Many people feel you should have been a world champion or at least competing for them by now, do you think this is the year you finally get a hold of one?'' I asked.

''Will 2017 finally be the year I win the world title? I would say that I am ready for this not only in 2017, but I was also ready for this in 2015 and 2016,'' claimed Beterbiev.

Artur Beterbiev was born and raised in Khasavyurt, Dagestan, Russia. Today he is residing in Montreal, he's based the future of his two daughters and son here, along with his wife. They moved here from Russia in 2013. Beterbiev always thinks about his home back in Russia, his family and friends, many do spend time with him in Canada. The journey for him in boxing started at the age of nine-years-old. As far as he remembers, when he was a child he looked up to those boxers in the gym who received awards from his coach. In Russia they have a unified sports classification system that was inherited from the Soviet times, so when older guys who were training with Beterbiev in the same gym were awarded with different degrees like third-class junior sportsman, second-class junior sportsman, first-class junior sportsman, master of sport. He had his mind on reaching bigger heights than he could imagine.

''I knew nothing about boxing except some street brawls,'' begun Beterbiev on how he found the sport.

''When I was around nine-years-old, I got my chance and my brother took me to the gym, and no sooner had we entered the gym than my brother decided to test me. He arranged a fight against one guy who had already practiced boxing. I remember we had a good fight, but my brother disliked something about me. So it took quite a long time before he brought me back to the gym.''

''So you wasn't the first from your family to box?'' I asked.

''All my elder brothers are boxers. Since my childhood I was full of energy and my oldest brother remarked this. So he used to promise me to take me to a gym with him next Monday, but endless Mondays passed and I was still at home,'' continued Beterbiev.

''How long did it take for you adapt to the sport at the beginning?'' I asked.

''I do remember what I was doing in my first week of training: we called it shuttle movements, I was training my feet during the whole entire week.''

''I was looking forward to achieving the same ranks. And, of course, my most cherished dream was to win the Olympic gold,'' said Beterbiev.

His first attempt at an Olympic gold medal was in 2008 in Beijing, he defeated Kennedy Katende, a Swedish native who was representing Uganada in the games. In the second round, he fell short to a highly disputed decision loss to eventual winner Zhang Xiaoping. After the defeat to Xiaoping and the biased judging in the Olympics in Beijing, his euphoria about boxing passed away. He imagined the Olympics as something different from what it really turned out when he faced the harsh reality. The defeat changed Beterbiev's mind and his attitude toward the sport of boxing.

For a young man who had so much hunger for triumph walking into the arena, he was walking out of it with his eyes welling up with tears and fighting them back, after he lost the in the Olympic games. The cries of “Robbed!” from ringside as he goes back to the dressing room.

He flew back home, wiping those same tears away with a circle of thoughts going around his mind as he looked out of the plane window through the thick clouds. When he took the same flight over to Beijing, the atmosphere was colourful, expectations were high, he was a Russian's hopeful, yet, on the flight home, it was all suddenly becoming very grey, his future in the sport was uncertain, and that was taken out of his hands, unjustly.

''I started to look at boxing as a mere job, and drew my motivation from other things. I started training harder and became more professional than amateur,'' he said.

Even through grafting a possible career as a professional fighter, Beterbiev continued to dedicate himself to an education in Russia. Although at this time he has never thought about how long he sees himself fighting or when retirement may come into play, he stated that the several university degrees he achieved, will play a part in him succeeding when the day comes.

''My oldest brother, who is an honorary coach of Russia, played a specific role in my guidance towards boxing. But he downplays his influence by saying, If you had not wanted to do boxing, you would have found million reasons to quit. My elder brothers have always served as an example for me,'' said Beterbiev.

beterbiev more old

beterbiev older

I asked Beterbiev if he had ever come across top professionals when he was developing as an amateur.

''In the amateurs I rarely came across professional boxers. However, the Russian national team, when I joined it, consisted of top athletes: Olympic, World and European champions. I would call it “a golden team” and it is a big honour for me that I was part of them,'' said Beterbiev.

In a few days time, June 3 to be exact, will mark the first anniversary of the death of one of Beterbiev's heroes growing up. The late great Muhammad Ali. The shuttle movement that he speaks of is no different to the flow of the Ali shuffle that the great one trademarked, he sadly passed away a year ago after a long battle of health woes.

''Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson, two great boxers I have admired since my childhood,'' said Beterbiev.

In some respect Beterbiev's style is a throwback type to that of Tyson's in his prime, blood-thirsty, a killer instinct, and doesn't allow an opponent off the hook once the first wound is inflicted. His biggest win of his career came surpringly in only his sixth fight, he faced off with former IBF light-heavyweight champion Tavoris Cloud. Cloud had only suffered two defeats prior to the meeting the year before, and that was losing his title to Bernard Hopkins in March and an attempt to capture the WBC title from Adonis Stevenson in September. Cloud took a year away from the sport heading into the return bout against Beterbiev, and he only lasted a matter of two rounds.

In the first round, Beterbiev pushed Cloud back to the ropes, Cloud threw a jab and Beterbiev came over the top with a right hand, before closing in the range and unleashing several thumping left hands that stunned Cloud and a right hand dropped him to the canvas. Cloud recovered back to his feet, but was bulldozed by Beterbiev and put down twice more in the round, the last being on the final bell, Beterbiev strutted over to his corner, and tapped his glove with Marc Ramsey, as it to say, job done.

Early in the second round, Beterbiev snapped Cloud's head back with a straight left hand, Cloud's eyes rolled back in his head and was met with a devastating array of left and rights that pummeled him down for the fourth time in the fight, and this time, the final blow.

Beterbiev says he wasn't at all surprised that the fight against Cloud ended so quickly, delighted with the outcome which also left a bitter taste in his mouth due to the hard training they put in for a longer fight considering the magnitude of their meeting.

Although Beterbiev looked up to Tyson and Ali, he shrugs off the comparisons towards Tyson ''My style is different from theirs,'' he said. ''I always look at some boxing elements of top fighters, but I never imitate anyone.''

Tommorow morning, Beterbiev's trainer Marc Ramsey is due to arrive as preparations begin for his next bout. Ramsey has been out in Las Vegas, he led former middleweight champion David Lemieux to a comfortable 10-round unanimous decision victory over Marco Reyes which was featured on the Canelo Alvarez vs. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr undercard. Ramsey, along with being a trainer, is the matchmaker for Montreal-based promoter GYM. He has a busy schedule ahead, not long back from Vegas, he is off down the road to the Bell Centre in Montreal on June 3rd, another one of his hot rising fighters Eleider Alvarez is due to be fighting a former long time student of Ramsey, in former light-heavyweight champion Jean Pascal.

''I have very warm relationship with Marc, he is a very good and promising coach,'' said Beterbiev.

Beterbiev Dave Nadkarni

Picture by Dave Nadkarni

Beterbiev is itching to get back in the ring, that's because it's coming up to half a year since his last fight. He crushed Isidro Ranoni Prieto inside one round. It took Beterbiev just thirty seconds to send Prieto crashing to the canvas with a counter right hand, although Prieto got back to his feet, he never fully recovered. As the last minute of the round approached, Beterbiev unleashed a devastating combination that drilled him to the canvas once more, despite Prieto getting his feet back under him, the referee waved the fight off.

That marked his eleventh professional win, to this day, not one single opponent has made it to the final bell. Beterbiev has been known for his concussive punching power, it didn't take long for him to transition it over to the professional game, with a style, perfectly suited to succeed.

''This is not frustrating for me. Everything happens at the appropriate moment,'' said Beterbiev on not fighting as much as he would like.

''If I start thinking about this and get frustrated, I will run out of energy and will not be able to train properly. So my logo here is less frustration and more training.''

The next morning, he is up before the sunshine dawns, he is preparing to head to the gym with a full bag. His coach Marc Ramsey is due for arrival today, along with his fitness coach Andre Kulesza. Beterbiev enters the gym and does some light work of his own whilst awaiting the presence of Ramsey, not too long ago, they enter the gym.

They discuss all the stages of his preparation for his upcoming fight with Enrico Kolling, and get ready to get back to work with Beterbiev before heading over to Montreal for Eleider Alvarez fight with Jean Pascal. Beterbiev straps up the Velcro across his black and red gloves, and begins light pad work, it isn't long before the power is generated in the combination work and the the thumping right hand begins to pick up pace and viciously smashes right through the pads and sends Ramsey's hand flying behind his shoulder.

The impact of his power sends off a large detonator like sound which ricochets off the gym ceiling.

''He is extremely strong and fast!'' said Ramsey.

I asked Ramsey what impressed him about Beterbiev early on in terms of skill and his attitude from their first meeting.

''To be honest, everything. he emphasizes on perfecting his technique every day. He is by far one of the most disciplined athlete I have met through my career as a trainer but the most important is that he is a very smart individual.''

After talking to Beterbiev about the situation of being unable to keep active and fighters not being eager to step between the ropes against him, it's like finding a needle in a hay stack or pulling teeth from your mouth. I asked Ramsey the same question I posted to him at the start.

''First of all, he only has eleven fights and in terms of recognition he is a high risk low reward. His record of eleven knockouts in eleven fights can scare some fighters. There is also the financial aspect.''

The pair have been together for five years now, Somewhere in 2012 an agent showed Ramsey a short list of five amateur boxer and asked him who he believed was the best one. He had seen Beterbiev through some amateur competitions, therefor he already knew who he was. He advised the agent that Artur was by far the best. A few months later with the help of a Montreal boxing manager, he met Beterbiev for the first time in a Montreal restaurant. After the meeting the Russian signed a contract with Montreal promotor GYM and started his professional career.

''He understands a boxer, does not force his vision,'' said Beterbiev. ''He is open to new things and listens to the needs of his boxers. I feel very comfortable working with this great coach.''

I turned to Marc Ramsey and asked if he could see him ever moving up in weight.

''No. Right now he is comfortable at light-heavyweight. Maybe in the future for a major challenge,'' he answered.

beterbiev old2

As Beterbiev undone and removed the gloves, his shirt drenched right through almost like he had jumped out of a swimming pool, he releases the t-shirt from his skin, a pool of sweat poured from his body to the gym floor, he walked outside to cool down. He wipes himself down with a towel, and takes a large swig of water from his bottle, he prepares his belongings after his training session. I tell him there has never been a light-heavyweight who has unified all four recognised world championships to be the undisputed champion.

''Has that ever crossed your mind?'' I asked.

''I do everything what depends on me to become a world champion. However, I cannot influence certain factors which are beyond my control. So, yes, if I have an opportunity to become an undisputed champion and hold all four world title belts, it will be a big honour for me,'' he said.

''You're in your physical prime now, if it's ever going to be your time, it is now'' I said.

''Mentally, physically and psychologically I am ready to become a world champion, and if I achieve this goal in 2017, it will be great and after reaching this point in my professional career, I am ready to move forward.''

When pushed for a message to his fans, he simply had one thing to say.

''From the bottom of my heart thank you to everyone who supports me, cared about me and my victories through my career .I feel I am ready for this and every day I do my best to achieve these goals I have set out.'

Cameron Gillon is a contributor to WBN. Follow on Twitter @CameronGillon_