PHILADELPHIA -- There had never been a light heavyweight world title unification fight between undefeated titleholders until Artur Beterbiev and Oleksandr Gvozdyk squared off on Friday night, and when it was over it was the powerful Beterbiev who had scored three knockdowns in the 10th round for the technical knockout victory.
It had been a close, competitive and exciting fight, but Beterbiev steadily broke Gvozdyk down to unify two 175-pound title belts and claim the lineal title in the main event of the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card before 3,283 at Temple University's Liacouras Center.
"I tried to just box and the knockout comes. I don't focus on a knockout," Beterbiev said. "One knockdown, second knockdown, third knockdown. I just continued until the referee stopped it. It's my most important fight. I had big work to prepare for this fight."
Coming into the fight it was a true toss-up, with few around the fight game having a true feeling for who would win, not to mention odds that made Beterbiev only a very slight favorite. But in the end, he scored a convincing victory.
The fight was a rematch of sorts, with Beterbiev beating Gvozdyk again. During their storied amateur careers, they met at a tournament in 2009 and Beterbiev, a two-time Russian Olympian who fights out of Montreal, stopped Gvozdyk, a 2012 Ukrainian Olympic bronze medalist fighting out of Oxnard, California, in the second round.
It took him longer to stop Gvozdyk (17-1, 14 KOs) this time, but there was no doubt as Beterbiev (15-0, 15 KOs) wore him out with a steady diet of hard right hands.
At the time of the stoppage, judge John McKaie had Gvozdyk ahead 87-84, Ron McNair had him up 86-85 and John Poturaj had Beterbiev leading 87-83. ESPN had Beterbiev ahead 86-85 at the time of the technical knockout.
"I'm not surprised," Beterbiev said. "I don't care about the judges."
It was mostly a back-and-forth battle, with several close rounds.
"I thought it was a terrific fight. Gvozdyk was outboxing him early and the 'Beast' just wore him down and finally took him out," Top Rank chairman Bob Arum said. "He's a really one of the strongest light heavyweights I've ever seen. He has tremendous energy and takes a great punch and stays in there and finally wears his opponent out. I thought Gvozdyk was winning the fight, close but winning the fight but Beterbiev was coming on."
Gvozdyk was having a good opening round when he and Beterbiev got tangled up and Beterbiev pushed him to the mat with no punch landing. Referee Gary Rosato ruled it a knockdown, and Gvozdyk trainer Teddy Atlas climbed the steps to scream at him. After the round, Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission executive director Gregory Sirb looked at a video replay and overruled Rosato, negating the knockdown.
In the second round, Beterbiev landed a tremendous right hand that knocked Gvozdyk off balance. He just missed landing his best shot.
Gvozdyk asserted himself in the fourth round, forcing Beterbiev to the ropes and unleashing a combination. He backed him up during the round and landed several stiff jabs, although Gvozdyk got nailed with a right hand at the final bell.
The sixth round was another one with good two-way action. Gvozdyk landed some good body shots, and they finished in an exciting exchange, with Beterbiev landing a right hand that stunned Gvozdyk, who was the big crowd favorite. Gvozdyk went to the mat near the end of the round but Rosato ruled it a slip.
After Gvozdyk landed several clean shots in the eighth round, Beterbiev tied him up and then threw a shot when Rosato was breaking them apart and was warned for the foul.
Beterbiev had a huge ninth round, landing several powerful right hands that had Gvozdyk in trouble, particularly late in the round. He nailed Gvozdyk with an uppercut and a right hand over the top that rocked him, and it looked like the end was near, but the bell sounded to end the round.
Beterbiev, 34, who was making his third title defense, continued to press the attack in the 10th round and finally finished Gvozdyk to keep his perfect knockout record intact.
Gvozdyk, 32, who was making his second title defense, went down early in the 10th round, but Rosato ruled that it was from a push on his head. Moments later, Beterbiev put him on the mat for real with a right hand, forcing him to take a knee. Beterbiev then unleashed a left and a right and Gvozdyk went down for the second time. He was hurt but tried to fight back until yet another right hand to the head dropped him to a knee again, and Rosato waved off the fight at 2 minutes, 49 seconds.
"I am very happy. I didn't know how I would feel when I got the second belt but now I am very happy to have it," Beterbiev said with a belt hanging over each shoulder. "He got tired. I feel it. He get tired but I am not tired."
Gvozdyk -- who was cheered on by close friends and Olympics teammates Vasiliy Lomachenko, the pound-for-pound king and lightweight world champion, and heavyweight contender Oleksandr Usyk, the undefeated former undisputed cruiserweight champion -- was not available for comment after the fight. Gvozdyk was sent to the hospital for precautionary reasons.
According to CompuBox, Beterbiev landed 161 of 515 punches (31%) and Gvozdyk connected with 118 of 614 blows (19%).
While Beterbiev, who like Gvozdyk earned $1.5 million, would like to further unify the division against either Dmitry Bivol or the winner of the Nov. 2 fight between titlist Sergey Kovalev and Canelo Alvarez, there is virtually no chance Beterbiev will face any of them in his next fight. Beterbiev has one of his mandatory defenses due, against China's Meng Fanlong (16-0, 10 KOs), who won a final eliminator in June.
"I want the mandatory then more unificiation," Beterbiev said. "It doesn't matter [who I fight next]. Anyone. I'm focused on titles, not on names."
Arum and Dino Duva of Roc Nation Sports, which represents Fanlong, have already been discussing the bout, possibly in China around Chinese New Year (Jan. 25).
"Beterbiev has an obligation that we made to the IBF. We got permission to do this unification and we have a big offer to go to an island off China," Arum said.
After that, Arum said he hopes to make a unification bout for Beterbiev.
"[Promoter] Eddie Hearn has said Bivol would be available to fight on ESPN. We'd take him up on that and we have to see what happens with Kovalev and Canelo," Arum said. "Gvozdyk fought very, very well. We have a lot of light heavyweight fights we'll be doing. Gvozdyk is there to fight maybe Gilberto Ramirez when he comes back. We have a lot of light heavyweights and we will match them all, because the truth is they make really good fights."
That was just the case Friday night.