Unbeaten slugger Beterbiev has sights set on 175-pound champ Kovalev

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Sergey Kovalev’s nickname might be “Krusher,” but Artur Beterbiev’s promoter refers to him as “The Target.”

Artur Beterbiev and Alexander Johnson

Artur Beterbiev pummels Alexander Johnson against the ropes during his TKO win last June. Beterbiev returns to the ring for the first time since defeating Johnson when he battles Ezequiel Maderna on Saturday. (Lucas Noonan/Premier Boxing Champions)

Beterbiev seemed to be on track toward getting a shot at “The Target” before a right shoulder injury suffered during a training session required surgery in November. The injury put the 175-pound Russian’s career on hold, which delayed a potential title shot against champion and fellow countryman Kovalev.

After nearly a year out of the ring, a fully healed Artur Beterbiev (9-0, 9 KOs) is finally ready to resume both his promising career and his march toward Kovalev when he faces Ezequiel Maderna (23-2, 15 KOs) on Saturday at the Bell Centre in Montreal (ESPN, 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. ET).

Yvon Michel, who promotes Beterbiev, says if all goes according to plan, the bout against Maderna will be the first of three for his fighter in 2016.

“We’ll go once more in September and then December,” Michel says. “Hopefully by then he will be the mandatory for one of the three titles held by Kovalev.”

Trained by Marc Ramsay in Montreal, Beterbiev says he defeated Kovalev on the way to winning a silver medal at the 2007 World Amateur Championships before taking gold at the same event two years later.

“It was in the 2007 Russian national championship,” said Beterbiev, 31. “I beat [Kovalev] in the semifinal. But to be honest, at that time, I didn’t know who he was.”

A 33-year-old training out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Kovalev (29-0-1, 26 KOs) is heavily favored to successfully defend his title for the eighth time July 11 against Isaac Chilemba (24-3-2, 10 KOs).

Also holding a 175-pound world title is Adonis Stevenson (27-1, 22 KOs), who is Beterbiev’s promotional stablemate. Stevenson has been idle since September, but is expected to return to action in July and make his seventh title defense against fellow southpaw Thomas Williams Jr. (20-1, 14 KOs).

“For the two champions [Kovalev and Stevenson], Artur is high-risk, low-reward because he only has nine fights,” Ramsay said. “I really believe that Artur is ready now to fight and defeat all world champions at light heavyweight. We want to put ourselves into a mandatory position.”

Michel is more specific: He wants to make a Kovalev-Beterbiev match.

“We believe Kovalev is the second-best light heavyweight champion after Adonis Stevenson, [whose] power and southpaw stance make him dangerous,” Michel said. “But Beterbiev is the real deal, so the goal is to send Beterbiev against Kovalev and to have all the titles under our promotion.”

In his last fight on June 12, Beterbiev—who had previously never gone beyond four rounds as a pro—earned a seventh-round TKO of southpaw Alexander Johnson in Chicago. Johnson entered that fight 18-2, with the only blemishes being unanimous decision losses to still-unbeaten fighters Luis Garcia in December 2011 and Eleider Alvarez in May 2014.

Two months prior to taking out Johnson, Beterbiev scored a fourth-round knockout of former champion Gabriel Campillo. It was Campillo’s second fight since handing Williams his first defeat by fifth-round stoppage in August 2014.

Williams has won three straight since falling to Campillo, including last month’s second-round knockout of Edwin Rodriguez, a victory that put him in line to challenge Stevenson. Despite his and Williams’ disparate results against Campillo, Beterbiev says he doesn’t begrudge the “Top Dog” getting a title opportunity first.

“Williams deserves his shot after his upset of Rodriguez,” Beterbiev said. “I will not worry. My time will come.”

Said Michel: “Without his injury, we believe Artur would have already qualified for his title shot against Kovalev. Artur is looking to pick up where he left off last June when he beat Johnson, and we’re looking for him to make a strong statement against Maderna.”

For full coverage of Beterbiev vs Maderna, hit up our fight page.

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