SPORTS

Beterbiev looks to join light heavyweight elite with win over ex-champ Cloud

09/24/2014 03:56 EDT | Updated 11/24/2014 05:59 EST
MONTREAL - Artur Beterbiev calls himself a "Canadian without a passport, yet," and hopes to be embraced by the crowd in his new country for the biggest fight of his budding career as a professional boxer.

The Russian light heavyweight, in only his sixth career bout, takes on former International Boxing Federation champion Tavoris Cloud on Saturday night at the Bell Centre.

The card was supposed to feature Cloud (24-2) against former WBC champion Jean Pascal, but the flashy Laval, Que., fighter was dropped from the event when he split with promoter Yvon Michel in July.

In stepped Beterbiev (5-0), a 29-year-old former amateur world champion now based in Montreal who is being fast-tracked toward title contention.

Beterbiev stopped all of his five opponents to date and brings only 11 rounds of pro experience against a veteran who has been in the ring with many of the world's best, including Glen Johnson, Bernard Hopkins and reigning WBC champ Adonis Stevenson of Montreal.

"I feel in my heart that I can do it," Beterbiev said through an interpreter. "I have a lot of experience as an amateur and I know I can do it."

He is the great unknown in Cloud's view. The 32-year-old Floridian took the fight just to stay active. He hasn't fought since he was stopped in seven rounds by Stevenson at the Bell Centre almost exactly a year ago.

Cloud was not impressed with Pascal, who also cancelled a scheduled fight in 2012 with a hand injury. He felt Pascal ducked him, and noted reports that he spent part of his convalescence clubbing in Miami.

Since opting to become his own promoter, Pascal has not yet lined up his next fight, although he has been badgering Stevenson on Twitter for a showdown.

"With Pascal, you never can get your hopes up for a fight," said Cloud. "I just feel he's not being professional right now.

"He needs to grow up and make up his mind what he wants to do, whether he wants to be a party animal or he wants to be a professional boxer. It's the second time he pulled this off. I'm really not thinking about Pascal. I'm focused on this fight. I'm just saying he's being disrespectful to the sport of boxing and the fans of Montreal because it's a fight they want to see."

The switch from Pascal to Beterbiev reduced the event from a big money bout on a U.S. specialty channel to one on local TV and pay-per-view, also picked up by networks in a few other countries like Russia and Britain. Only a 4,000-seat section of the Bell Centre will be used.

Cloud has seen video of Beterbiev, who beat current WBO champ Sergey Kovalev twice as an amateur, and said he won't take him lightly.

"I know this guy has skills," he said. "You don't make it to the Olympics two times by being a bum fighter. But going to the Olympics doesn't necessarily make you a good professional fighter, either."

Beterbiev signed on with Michel in early 2013. He brought his family with him, which includes a daughter born recently in Montreal.

A Chechen from the Dagestan region, he likes everything about his new home except the weather, which he compared to Moscow.

Michel said Beterbiev wants to stay.

"He said he was so happy to have his family in a safe environment," said Michel. "His goal is to become Canadian and give back to the country as much as he can.

"He finds it a bit difficult to learn French and English at the same time, but he's dedicated to learning both."

Beterbiev wanted to get into title contention as soon as possible. He hoped to emulate Vasyl Lomachenko of Ukraine, who had an extensive amateur background and won a featherweight title in only his third pro bout in June.

Quebec's boxing commission does not allow fights of more than six rounds in a fighter's first four bouts, so Beterbiev dispatched a string of low-level opponents to meet that requirement.

Now he wants to face the best in one of boxing's hottest divisions, which has Stevenson, the 49-year-old Hopkins, Kovalev, Pascal, Montreal-based Eleider Alvarez and Poland's Andrzej Fonfara as the main attractions. There is also former super-middleweight champion Lucian Bute of Montreal, who is trying to relaunch his career under guidance from star trainer Freddie Roach.

A win over a former champ like Cloud would put Beterbiev in that mix, although Michel said a loss would not be the end of the world.

"If he loses, we'll regroup and see what didn't work," he said.

Beterbiev and Pascal have the same manager, Marc Ramsey, and work out together, but there were no hard feelings between them about taking over his training partner's fight. Beterbiev joked that the main difference was that he looks better on the fight poster.

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