There is a sense of wonder and astonishment from those who guided Artur Beterbiev out of Chechyna and into becoming boxing’s scariest man, an awareness of his aura but from a safe distance.
But those who have thrown punches at him and felt Beterbiev’s force in return? They understand. They shake their heads in a way that you just don’t see boxers usually do.
Anyone out there brave enough to believe Beterbiev is merely flesh and bone like the rest of us? His trainer has a stark warning for you: “To watch the movie Jaws and to swim with a shark are two different things.”
Beterbiev has flattened all 15 of his opponents and holds the IBF and WBC light-heavyweight titles – he is the only reigning world champion with a 100 per cent KO ratio. His punches are of the thudding, accumulative variety but are delivered with skill and knowledge to ensure everybody on the receiving end will eventually go down.
The process of destruction begins in the days prior to battle, his trainer Marc Ramsay tells Sky Sports: “I can see opponents become intimidated in press conferences sometimes.
“When the first bell rings, it becomes intimidating.
“Emotions can go in any direction. An animal that is hurt wants to survive and its reaction can be different. You don’t necessarily have an advantage because you have intimidated someone – you still need to be careful.”
And that is where Beterbiev’s cold, calculating methodology kicks in. Ramsay says he suffers with the nerves and overexcitement that all boxers feel but has a “composure” during the fight.
His most recent conquest was Oleksandr Gvozdyk – it was a unification fight between two unbeaten champions, a proper coin-toss of a fight, Gvozdyk from the school that also brought us Vasiliy Lomachenko and Oleksandr Usyk. Beterbiev slowly broke him down in the 10th round and left Gvozdyk shaking his head with bewilderment. He retired without fighting again.
Britain’s Callum Johnson’s stock rose in a four-round loss to Beterbiev – he then admitted things that boxers very rarely say.
“His reputation got to me,” Johnson told Sky Sports. “He was pound-for-pound No 1 in the amateurs, that beast that nobody wanted to fight, and he took that into the pros.
“When the realisation sets in of where I was, and who I was up against, I let it get to me.
“I said to my brother-in-law on the day of the fight: ‘People don’t have a clue what I’m up against’.
“He’s a beast. I came second to the best that there is.
“He got me. That’s all there is to it.”
Johnson was on the floor in the first round but turned the fight into a wild brawl when, out of nowhere, he knocked Beterbiev down in round two. It wasn’t enough.
“The first-round knock-down I wasn’t looking,” Johnson said. “The ref said stop and I thought that I was safe but he knocked me into next week!
“When I [knocked him down] I was too cautious because of the first round.
“Nobody has made him look uncomfortable. He has always been in his comfort zone but I made him uncomfortable.
“He’s not just your normal, average world champion. He is a pound-for-pound fighter.”
Beterbiev was born in Dagestan, Russia, but of Chechen descent. He lost his father in a car crash when he was 16, shortly after he had started boxing.
He won 295 out of 300 amateur fights and featured at two Olympic Games – in 2008 he lost controversially to Zhang Xiaoping, China’s representative, and in 2012 he lost to Usyk. Usyk, currently, operates two weight divisions higher than Beterbiev.
“When I boxed in the Olympics it was my dream to win a gold medal. Not money,” he has said since.
His efforts didn’t go unnoticed. Canadian trainer Ramsay convinced local investors to finance a swoop for the Russian amateur, to relocate him to Montreal, and to turn him into a world-beating professional.
After one meeting in a restaurant where Ramsay pitched his case to become Beterbiev’s trainer (he has also turned Jean Pascal and Eleider Alvarez into light-heavyweight champions), a deal was struck.
“Beterbiev was winning as an amateur with a professional style which is not common,” Ramsay told Sky Sports. “I saw the transition would be easy for him. I saw not just a world champion but a superstar.”
The brute force of Beterbiev was apparent when Ramsay first held the pads for him: “It is something special. He is pound-for-pound a huge puncher.
“The thing with Beterbiev… every single punch hurts. The jab, a check left hook, just technical things but they still hurt. Everything he throws hurts.”
Is that power nature or nurture?
“Both. It is genetic. But I see how he trains. He brought exercises from Russia that I’ve never seen before. Young fighters see him in the gym and see that he is good. But I tell them: ‘Talent is one thing but pay attention to every, single thing that he does’. He does extra work. There is a reason he wins the way that he wins.”
Finding sparring partners for someone who knocks out all of his opponents is a thankless task that Ramsay describes as “horrible”. Beterbiev spars at full tilt to the extent where surviving as his sparring partner is a nightmare.
“We sent back home a lot of guys because they get hurt,” Ramsay sighs. “I can see some guys just won’t last.
“I ask them to do a maximum of four rounds with Beterbiev.
“I find a way to finish 12 rounds of sparring somehow.”
The production line of bodies that quickly become battered comes at some cost: “He willingly invested a lot of money into sparring.
“He has never been afraid to invest money into himself.
“Last camp we had six guys from America, Australia, Canada. We do what we need to do so he is ready, but it is very hard to find sparring partners.”
Last year, with 13 broken men left in Beterbiev’s wake, he signed to Top Rank who also oversee Tyson Fury in the US.
“We were aware of the legend of Beterbiev and his brutal nature of dismantling guys,” Top Rank president Todd DuBoef told Sky Sports.
“His ability to seek and destroy is so compelling. But we didn’t know the interest that everyone would have in him.”
The paradox of boxing’s scariest man is that, outside of the ring, he lives a quiet and religious life 5,000 miles from home. After years using Montreal as a training base Beterbiev has now relocated his wife, children and mother. They speak English but not yet French.
“It’s not similar to Russia but Artur likes society here, he feels at home, and wants to stay for the rest of his life,” said Ramsay.
Beterbiev described boxing for a living: “It is my job. If I work six days per week I don’t want to use my seventh day on boxing. I try to do my job in a good way.”
So what does he do on the seventh day? “I enjoy time with my family, I take them to the cinema. I try to be a good father.”
Ramsay adds: “He is a very private guy who likes he do his own stuff, very quietly.
“He is recognised in the street but he doesn’t have the celebrity of Jean Pascal, Lucian Bute or [UFC superstar] Georges St Pierre.
“He is very well-known in Russia. His social situation is above average. But Beterbiev is not boxing for money – he likes to challenge himself and realise his goals.”
He is a devout Muslim whose faith is at the forefront of everything he does, down to his final words inside the ring just before the punching begins when it is thought that he prays.
The length of his beard was complained about by opponent Radivoje Kalajdzic last year. The California commission described the legality of its length as a “fine line” but, two days after the fight, Ramadan was to begin and Muslim men are not supposed to shave during the holy month.
Beterbiev agreed to trim it, not shave it off, and duly pounded his complaining rival to a fifth-round demise.
Earlier this year Beterbiev threatened to withdraw from a fight against Meng Fanlong because it was due to be staged in China on account of the country’s ongoing conflict with Uyghur, a native population of Muslims.
The picture that is painted of this Russian champion with a law degree is of a wrecking ball inside the ropes but with so much more to offer away from boxing. He is said to be thoughtful, humanitarian and humble.
Beterbiev is aged 35 now, he only turned pro at 28. Although he is described as a genetic freak inside the gym and clean-living outside of it, perhaps age will be the rival to be wary of.
As for major future opponents? Beterbiev and Ramsay did not expect for a second that Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez would linger around at light-heavyweight. Canelo debuted in the division by beating WBO champion Sergey Kovalev last year, becoming a four-weight king, but vacated the belt and moved to a more comfortable division soon after.
“It won’t ever happen,” Ramsay says of Beterbiev vs Canelo. “I don’t believe he will fight my guy. Fighting Kovalev and fighting Beterbiev are two different stories.”
His Russian compatriots in the same division, WBA champion Dmitry Bivol and Kovalev, are the two most obvious dream match-ups for Beterbiev. There has always been an uneasiness with Kovalev that neither side describes too vividly, ever since Beterbiev beat him in the amateurs.
“When we got into a position to win a world title, there was never anything personal with Kovalev,” Ramsay insists. “It was a challenge because Kovalev was the world champion. Today he doesn’t speak about Kovalev or Bivol, he just wants the titles.”
A fight in the UK is a real possibility.
“Beterbiev would fight in the UK in two seconds and he wouldn’t see it as an obligation,” Top Rank president DuBoef told Sky Sports.
Ramsay agreed: “It is very possible when you look at how strong the division is in England. Anthony Yarde and Joshua Buatsi are promising challenges.
“I know the English fans would love Beterbiev’s offensive and spectacular style of boxing.”
DuBoef added: “He is a complete, absolute beast! Anything in front of him, he takes down.
“He disregards ‘who’ or ‘where’. If you’re in front of him, goodbye. That’s it.
“Like Vasiliy Lomachenko, Beterbiev wants to fight the best and has no issue with where a fight might be.”