FRESNO, Calif. -- Artur Beterbiev, with the kind of punching power that many believe might be the best in boxing pound for pound, not only preserved his knockout streak, he won a world title.
Beterbiev dominated an unwilling Enrico Koelling and knocked him out in the 12th round to win a vacant light heavyweight world title on the Top Rank ESPN card headlined by Jose Ramirez-Mike Reed on Saturday night at the Save Mart Center on the campus of Fresno State.
Beterbiev, who fights out of Montreal, won more than 300 fights as an amateur and twice represented Russia in the Olympics, so when he entered the pro ranks many believed he was a lock to win a world title. After 4½ years -- but having had to sit out a year recovering from shoulder surgery -- he fulfilled the promise, but in a fight that had the crowd booing often because of Koelling's refusal to engage.
"He only wanted to survive and I really wanted that KO at the end," Beterbiev said through a translator. "This is what I have dreamed of my whole life. I am so happy."
They got off to a slow start -- and it never picked up -- as they measured each other and showed respect, but Beterbiev was the aggressor. He marched forward, landing stiff jabs to the head and belly as he pushed Koelling into the ropes throughout the fight.
Koelling would not engage. He continually backed up, kept his hands very high and showed tremendous respect for Beterbiev's power. It made for a frustrating fight for the crowd, which jeered the lack of action at various stages.
Koelling continued to stay in survival mode, but Beterbiev continued to fire away with a potent jab and some body shots. Koelling's offensive consisted of the occasional jab, many of which missed the target.
In the 11th round, the crowd perked up when Beterbiev rocked Koelling with a right hand, but soon Koelling settled back into his groove of backing up, circling and doing whatever he could to avoid any serious contact.
Beterbiev (12-0, 12 KOs), 32, continued to go after Koelling in the final round and finally broke through. He dropped him to a knee from an accumulation of punishment and then charged at him when the fight resumed. When he floored him again with a heavy right hand, referee Lou Moret waved off the fight at 2 minutes, 33 seconds.
After the fight Beterbiev, who was coming off an 11-month layoff caused mainly by a dispute with promoter Yvon Michel that is in litigation, was asked what took so long for the knockout against an overmatched opponent.
"I wanted to see what it was like to go 12 rounds," Beterbiev said. "I wanted to give it a try. I just needed to remain patient."
Beterbiev had won all 11 completed rounds on all three scorecards -- 110-99 -- at the time of the stoppage. He also was far busier than Koelling. According to CompuBox statistics, he landed 322 of 1,111 punches (29 percent) while Koelling only landed 64 of a paltry 252 blows (25 percent).
Koelling (23-2, 6 KOs), 27, of Germany, saw a seven-fight winning streak since 2015 come to an end. He said Beterbiev's punching power is for real.
"I got hit very hard with a right hand to the body (in the 12th round) and it took everything out of me," Koelling said. "He's a monster. He's relentless. He keeps throwing punches and he finished me off. He's a guy nobody wants to fight, and I took the fight."
Beterbiev and Koelling were originally scheduled to fight in a world title elimination match to earn a mandatory shot at unified titleholder Andre Ward. But when Ward retired in September and gave up his three belts, Beterbiev-Koelling was upgraded to the vacant title fight.
Imam stops Garcia; title fight next
Junior welterweight contender Amir Imam dominated and stopped Johnny Garcia in the fourth round to clear the final hurdle to a world title fight.
The Don King-promoted Imam (21-1, 18 KOs), 27, of Albany, New York, won his third fight in a row since he was shockingly knocked out in the eighth round by Adrian Granados in a November 2015 fight that was supposed to be a tune-up for a world title shot. Garcia gave him no issues. Imam broke him down with a stiff jab and steady body attack.
In the fourth round, Imam nailed Garcia (19-6-1, 11 KOs), 35, of Holland, Michigan, with a right hand to the head that dropped him to one knee. Garcia was up at the count of eight and survived the rest of the round, but when it was over referee Marcos Rosales waved off the fight in the corner.
"I know I was risking my position again, but I worked hard [and] did what I had to do to get the win and now I am looking for the title fight in February," Imam said.
Imam is the mandatory challenger for one of the 140-pound world titles recently vacated by undisputed world champion Terence Crawford to move up in weight. Imam was ordered to face main-event fighter Jose Ramirez, so to keep them on the same schedule, Imam was added to his undercard against Garcia in a tune-up for the title fight that is supposed to take place in mid-February -- as long as Ramirez won the main event against Mike Reed. Should Reed win, he could get the shot at Imam, but it's not guaranteed.
Imam said he didn't care who gets the title fight, be it Ramirez, Reed or somebody else.
"As long as I fight for the WBC title, I don't care," he said. "It's been frustrating to wait, but I have a strong team and I stay in the gym. Now I am ready to fight for the title."
Trainer Stacey McKinley added, "We want Ramirez, right here in Fresno in February."
Garcia lost his fourth fight in a row (third by knockout in the stretch) and was selected as the opponent largely because Garcia had come to Fresno and in December 2015 and knocked Ramirez down for the only time in his career in a decision loss.
Junior welterweight Alex Saucedo (26-0, 16 KOs), 23, of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, suffered a bloody cut over his left eye from an accidental head butt in the second round but came back in the third round and blasted out Gustavo Vittori (20-3-1, 11 KOs), 28, of Argentina, with three knockdowns.
After the second round, Saucedo calmly listened to trainer Abel Sanchez as he worked on the cut and then hammered Vittori in the third round, dropping him three times with his left hook. The first knockdown sent him to a knee seconds into the round. Moments later, Vittori went down again to a knee. And when the fight resumed, Saucedo connected with yet another left hand to the head that dropped him hard and referee Rosales immediately waved it off at 1 minute, 16 seconds.
Cheered on at ringside by junior lightweight world titleholder and pal Vasyl Lomachenko, Russian junior welterweight prospect Maxim Dadashev (9-0, 8 KOs), 27, who fights out of Oxnard, California, stopped Clarence Booth in the fourth round of a fan-friendly fight. Dadashev, whose power advantage was obvious from the outset, eventually put a series of punches together in the fourth round that had Booth (15-4, 8 KOs), 30, of Auburndale, Florida, reeling until referee stepped in at 1 minute, 26 seconds.
Middleweight Even Torres (6-6, 5 KOs), 22, of El Paso, Texas, pulled the upset by winning a split decision over crowd favorite Quilisto Madera (7-1, 4 KOs), 25, of Stockton, California. It was a fierce fight in which Torres got nailed so hard with a low blow in the third round that he was knocked down and needed a few minutes to recover. In the end, two judges scored it 39-37 for Torres and one had it 39-37 for Madera.
Riverside, California, featherweight Fernando Fuentes (14-7-1, 4 KOs), 23, pulled the upset by dropping and outpointing Montreal-based Russian Vilslan Dalkhaev (9-1, 2 KOs), 29. Fuentes dropped Dalkhaev in the fifth round and scored a clear victory, 60-53, 59-54 and 58-55 on the judges' scorecards.
Lightweight Bryan Lua (2-0, 0 KOs), a 19-year-old from Madera, California, trained by Robert Garcia, won a shutout decision against Eric Rodriguez (0-1), 24, of Los Angeles, in an action-packed four-rounder. Lua, who won 40-35 on all three scorecards, finally got Rodriguez off his feet in the fourth round when he nailed him with a right hand that wobbled him, but as he held on, Lua slammed another right hand into his head to knock him down.