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Kovalev v Beterbiev and amateur/pro rivalries

Sergey KovalevBy Gav Duthie: Before the year is out we are likely to see two rivalries rekindled from all the way back to the amateur days. Top ten pound for pound star Sergiy Kovalev 28-0-1 (25) has been cutting through his opposition with ease but climbing the ranks is former amateur rival Artur Beterbiev 9-0 (9) who claims to have ‘Krusher’ Kovalev’s number.

Beterbiev bested Kovalev twice as an amateur and is eager to repeat that success possibly on November 28th. Also in the UK Anthony Joshua 13-0 (13) can’t shake his past amateur defeat to Dillian Whyte 14-0 (11) where he was knocked down and outpointed. If he can get past Gary Cornish on Sept 12 he should face Whyte in November or December. This piece discusses some of the best former amateur to professional rivalries of the past.

The hype

There is something about an amateur/professional rivalry that captures the imagination of the fight fan. Its captivating to ask the question of whether or not the previous result can be duplicated, does he really have his number or was it a fluke. The boxers mental state is also fascinating regarding amateur losses. In the 90s boxing movie ‘The Great White Hype’ Samuel L. Jackson a ‘Don King type’ promoter builds and promotes an entire fight based on an amateur bout and although the film is exaggerated it shows there is importance attached.

Got your number – Vernon Forrest v Shane Mosley

When Sugar Shane Mosley won a split decision victory over Oscar De La Hoya he was immediately deemed the pound for pound king. His blend of hand speed, power and aggression made him a superstar. After the victory it made sense to put to bed a loss in the amateurs to fellow unbeaten pro the late Vernon ‘The Viper’ Forrest. Just as in the amateurs Shane couldn’t seem to figure out how a way to negate his long reach and jab. Furthermore Shane’s iron chin was shattered in the second round as he was knocked down twice. He recovered but lost a unanimous decision and lost the rematch also. Olympic gold medalist James DeGale also lost a majority decision to amateur rival George Groves. Groves won the amateur fight and repeated the feat in 2011 as a pro. DeGale is now a world champion and Groves could be soon so expect a rubber match in the next couple of years.

Who cares it was only amateur – Mike Tyson v Henry Tillman

Another interesting mix was the rivalry between outstanding gold medalist amateur Henry Tillman and Mike Tyson. To be fair Tyson’s style was not well suited to amateur boxing and he lost twice to Tillman once in the Olympic trials. Tillman was already failing as a professional before he faced Tyson again. He had lost 4 times and he really needed the Tyson win but Iron Mike steamrolled through him like he did everyone else at that time in the 1st round.

Not going back there again – Riddock Bowe v Lennox Lewis

It could have been one of the defining fights of the mid to late 1990s but Riddock Bowe didn’t fancy it. Lennox Lewis had stopped Bowe in round 2 winning an Olympic gold medal in Seoul 1988. During a media event Big Daddy Bowe famously dropped his belt in the bin on hearing Lewis was his mandatory challenger and he would have to fight him. Bowe has since said he regretted the stunt and he would have fought Lewis but had been advised not to. In fairness to Bowe another amateur rival Jose Luis Gonzalez dominated Bowe in ’87 scoring several knockdowns but Bowe knocked him out 8 years later in the professional ranks.

Possible future fights

Of 350 amateur bouts GGG Gennady Golovkin has only lost 5 of them. One of those losses was to current super middleweight contender Andre Dirrell. They both have one win a piece and Dirrell has said before he would be open to the fight. His loss to DeGale however was a setback and he would need to win a title before this fight could happen. Interestingly Artur Beterbiev calling out Kovalev due to his wins as amateurs is ironic as current Cruiserweight prospect Oleksander Usyk could do the same thing. He has beaten Beterbiev twice as an amateur with one of them on the way to becoming London Olympic gold medalist in the heavyweight division. If Beterbiev could beat Kovalev and move up in weight there could be a good battle between the Russian and Ukranian.

Other rivalries

Miguel Cotto v Mohamed Abduallev
– Abduallev won Olympic gold in 2000 beating Cotto in 1/4 final. Cotto dominated and knocked him out in pro 5 years later

Kelly Pavlik v Jermaine Taylor
– Taylor made the 2000 Olympic team beating Pavlik along the way. Pavlik waited 7 years for revenge when as a massive underdog he rallied to stop Taylor in round 7 and won a rematch.

Questions for discussion

Any other amateur/pro rivalries worth mentioning?

Who would have won between Bowe and Lewis?
Who wins between Kovalev v Beterbiev and Joshua v Whyte?


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