In this corner with Russ Anber: Farewell to a memorable 2019...
Photos: @russanber Instagram
In his final column for 2019, boxing's master of all trades Russ Anber talks Beterbiev, Smith, Conlan, Lomachenko, Joshua and much more…
The closing weeks and months of 2019 have been very busy for me, and full of great experiences with some great fighters.
In October I worked with Artur Beterbiev for his light heavyweight showdown with Oleksandr Gvozdyk in Philadelphia.
Beterbiev is a seriously dangerous guy. It's going to take a special fighter to beat him. All credit to Gvozdyk, he came out intent and determined to put together the perfect fight – and for a while he did. He stayed away from Artur’s power shots, he moved around nicely, he was countering well, he was getting some shots off.
But Beterbiev exerts the kind of pressure that makes you work even when you don’t want to work – very similar to the pressure that Usyk and Lomachenko apply when they fight. It’s a unique trait to be able to apply that kind of relentless but subtle pressure – the layman doesn’t see it but, boy, do you feel it when you’re in the ring and up against it.
In Beterbiev’s corner we could see the momentum building, the gaps starting to narrow as the rounds went by and Gvozdyk felt the pressure build and build. Right to the end - give him his dues - Gvozdyk kept firing back, in desperation to hold on to his belt, but Beterbiev is so strong and powerful – he breaks you physically and he breaks you mentally, and he caught up with Gvozdyk in the end.
I hope this victory is a big breakthrough for Artur, who without doubt is now the man at light heavyweight.
In his team we've known how good he is all along. We've just been waiting to the right stage to emerge for him to get that wider recognition. When you think about it, it’s amazing how he slipped through the fingers of all the established promoters in the US and the UK and so on.
He slipped unnoticed into Montreal and within a limited amount of fights has become the top rated light heavyweight in the world. It says a lot about the scouting that went on and Marc Ramsay’s judgment in following him through the amateurs before going to watch him win the world amateur championship in Chicago.
I started working with Artur when Marc signed him and brought him to Montreal. I remember he said to me: ‘Russ I have a guy who you're gonna love! He’s exactly your style of fighter!’
He was 100 per cent right and I’ve been in his corner ever since!
Another big fight weekend for me was over in Liverpool in November working with Joe Gallagher and super middleweight champion Callum Smith for his defence against John Ryder.
The scorecards caused a lot of controversy, of course – people ripped the decision, ripped Matchroom, ripped British boxing and the judges and so on.
So here’s my take. It was a close fight but I thought Callum won it.
His performance was below his best. You never like to take an opponent lightly but sometimes when it's a mandatory you just don't feel that same sense of threat, and I think that was the case here for Callum in some respects.
Add to that there was such a difference in the physicality of the two guys when you put them side by side, plus the fact Callum had looked so good lately, and you can see why almost everybody outside of John Ryder’s camp felt this was gonna be another stoppage win for Callum.
To be honest going into the fight that’s sort of how I felt as well – I thought that the size, power and overall skill of Callum would reap its reward at some point in the fight and he would get the stoppage.
But it didn’t happen. John Ryder showed up and in impressive fashion too. He showed a great skill-set and some great defence. I’ve been in the boxing game for many, many years and don’t even have the vocabulary to express how impressed I was that Ryder was able to stand right in front of Callum and make him miss punches.
I mean, at times Ryder was making a guy miss who is a world-class precision puncher – a surgeon who take guys out with a single shot! World-class guys like George Groves and Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam couldn’t do that, couldn’t withstand those shots.
But Ryder was standing right there in the pocket against a guy with atomic bombs in his hands and was making him miss – that is old school throwback style boxing from Ryder! He was very effective.
So, yes, Ryder put up a great fight but I thought Callum found a way to win. He found a way to land shots, he tried different things, he tucked up on the inside, he speared punches in from the outside, He edged crucial rounds. So credit to Callum – it wasn’t his best performance, that was clear to him and to everyone else, but he was still able to win enough rounds to take the decision.
It wasn’t the performance we anticipated but maybe we had been spoiled a bit by the win against Groves and the crushing win against N’Dam. People have criticised Callum, but we have to remember that Ryder put in an excellent performance and contributed towards Callum not looking his best.
So where next fofr Callum? I don’t know yet, but from a business perspective, if he gets an opportunity to fight the big ticket guy, who is clearly Canelo Alvarez, he has to take that fight and take it wherever it is offered – whether is in the USA or the UK or wherever.
There is no fight that will make him more money - Canelo is the money pot.
That said, if Canelo is unavailable, I think the next best opponent for Callum – in terms of both money and development – would be GGG. I think that’s a great fight for Callum. Yes, it’s a dangerous fight, because Golovkin can punch, but the fact is everyone who Golovkin has fought has reached him and hit him. Callum is a big tall power-punching guy and style-wise Golovkin is a good fir for Callum.
Another fighter I work with from your side of the pond is Michael Conlan, whose corner I’ve been in three times this year, most recently for his fight with his old Olympic rival Vladimir Nikitin at Madison Square Garden last weekend.
Working with Mick; Jamie, his brother; John, his dad; Adam Booth, his trainer; Charlie 'Chuckie' Beatts and the whole team is great. It’s one of my favourite camps to be associated with. They are just downright good people and it’s an honour to be part of it.
I first hooked up with Mick after I sent him a message through Twitter after the Rio Olympic Games. I knew he was turning pro and sent him some gloves. He didn’t end up using them but he liked them and we continued to exchange messages.
Then a couple of years ago when he fought in Las Vegas against Nicola Cipolletta, Team Conlan needed a cutman. I was there, they asked me to work in his corner and I’ve been with them ever since. I‘ve worked with Mick in Manchester, in Belfast, at the small room in the Garden in New York and now the big arena too.
I was particularly happy to be part of the fight against Nikitin because it was nice to see a fight with a story behind it, with history behind it. Adam Booth said this, and I agree: Michael Conlan almost singlehandedly up-ended AIBA, the international boxing association with his finger protest after that fight in Rio.
So to see him get his redemption as he called it by beating Nikitin and getting the decision was brilliant - the perfect example of a fighter being able to exorcise his demons.
With that win he closes a chapter in his life and career – the Nikitin fight is something that’s been hanging over him since the Olympics. Now he can focus on getting on with his pro career and working towards his goal of becoming world champion.
I feel like an important member of Team Conlan and that’s a good feeling. Mick is a great guy – a happy guy, a fun guy and he likes to share ideas. But above all he listens – he’s a great listener. He absorbs information. The folks at the Garden love him, you know. They all great him so warmly – the backstage people, the security people and so on. They know him and love him. He’s a real figure in New York now.
Perhaps the biggest fight in the later part of this year was Anthony Joshua’s rematch victory against Andy Ruiz Jr. I wasn’t in Saudi Arabia but I was delighted to see Anthony use the Rival gloves my company made for him.
The pleasing thing for me was that AJ had a choice of all sorts of gloves and he chose ours. Anthony could buy my company with his pocket change if he wanted, so the fact he chooses my gloves so often is very rewarding. He’s worn Rival for every fight since he won the title for all his defences except against Povetkin and the first fight against Ruiz.
Looking back on the year as a whole there have been a lot of memorable nights for me, and the year isn’t over yet - I’m in Phoenix right now for Liam Beefy Smith’s fight on Friday night.
A lot of memories from year will stay with me: I loved being in Belfast with Mick Conlan; Beterbiev vs Gvozdyk was a great fight; working with Loma and Usyk is always a pleasure and very important to me.
Then, of course, there was the controversy surrounding the Dillian Whyte vs Oscar Rivas fight which I worked in the UK. That fight didn’t go our way but I'll remember that fight for a long time and use some of the circumstances surrounding it as an example of what is wrong with the sport.
A moment that will really stick with me was when I was at the Garden for Callum’s fight against N’Dam. I stood up on the ring apron with his brother Paul Smith, and I turned and said to him: ‘you know we’re stood on exactly the spot where Muhammad Ali and Angelo Dundee stood for the Fight of the Century in 1971?’ That was a special feeling.
Outside of the ring, I’ve also been able to continue my pool and snooker rivalry with my friend ‘Beefy’ Smith this year. We played two nights of pool in New York – winning a match apiece - and then renewed our snooker rivalry in Liverpool.
I played pretty well that night, but much to my chagrin the George Scott snooker club – which might be the most beautiful snooker club I’ve ever been to in my life – closes at 11.30pm every night. Sometimes I only start playing at 11.30!
Anyway, Beefy and I split a frame apiece and then in the third frame the light went out and we didn’t finish our match. Beefy was saved by the bell!
On the pool table Beefy argues he’s ahead on aggregate score although I’ve never heard of pool being scored like that! I think in snooker I’m up on him a bit. I think I’ve got a few frames on him. It’s always fun to play him – he’s a helluva competitor, I’ll give him that. As grumpy as he can be he’s a helluva competitor! His safety game in snooker is better than mine too.
It will be nice to be with Beefy again at the end of this week in Phoenix working a corner for the final time this year before I enjoy Christmas in Montreal.
Beefy’s fight will round off quite a year for me – a year where I’ve clocked up a lot of air miles! It’s been such a busy year that sometimes I lose track of my calendar. Sometimes I ask myself: what city am I in? Where am I going next?
As for next year there are a lot of great fights in prospect for the fighters I work with. Usyk may fight for a heavyweight title and Vasiliy Lomachenko looks set to face Teofimo Lopez, which I think without a doubt will be the biggest challenge of his career so far.
Lopez and his people said they were aiming to make statement last weekend against Richard Commey and they sure did that. The consensus before the fight was that it was 50-50 fight. Most people figured Lopez would have to get Commey early and if the fight went rounds it would swing in Commey’s favour.
So it shocked me that Commey - either through a mistake or over confidence -stepped in with his head in the air and tried to throw an overhand right. Against a puncher like Lopez that’s a real risk and – boom! - Lopez hit the jackpot.
I spoke to Loma before the fight and we both laughed about how huge Commey and Lopez looked. Lopez is a big fight for Loma. Lopez is a big puncher, an explosive guy, a blue chip prospect. It should be a great fight.
In fact, I can’t wait for 2020 to get started – I just hope the great nights keep comin’!
Russ Anber is on Twitter and Instagram @russanber.
Russ was speaking to Luke G. Williams