Disappointment has been rare in boxing this year — the sport is almost unrecognizable in that regard.

But there have been a handful of letdowns. And the postponement of what was to be this Saturday’s undisputed light heavyweight championship bout between Dmitry Bivol and Artur Beterbiev may be tops on that list.

There is, however, arguably one silver lining to the rupturing of Beterbiev’s meniscus, at least to one particular subset of the boxing writing community. For those tasked with maintaining pound-for-pound rankings, thanks to Bivol-Beterbiev falling out, an agonizing Sophie’s Choice between three extraordinary fighters is not at risk of becoming an even more torturous one between four extraordinary fighters.

Think back, if you can, to a simpler time: the first half of the month of May. It was a time when the P4P debate came down to splitting hairs between Terence Crawford and Naoya Inoue.

Then Oleksandr Usyk went ahead and defeated Tyson Fury to become undisputed heavyweight champion and made it a three-headed pound-for-pound monster. How exactly are we supposed to choose between three undefeated boxers who have each unified two weight classes and are all still in their primes and recording career-best wins? There just isn’t much separating Usyk from Crawford, Crawford from Inoue, or Inoue from Usyk.

And had Bivol faced and unambiguously beaten Beterbiev on June 1, to add to a resume that already included a clear-cut victory over then-P4P king Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, there wouldn’t have been much separating him from any among that trio either.

Certainly, Bivol’s place in the debate would have depended greatly on how he beat Beterbiev. As noted two sentences ago, it would have had to have been unambiguous. A controversial decision over Beterbiev, though a fine accomplishment in its own right given that nobody has ever even gone the distance with the Montreal-based Russian whose record stands at 20-0 with 20 knockouts, would not elevate Bivol beyond the No. 4 spot on many pound-for-pound lists.

But there is some distinction between a win like Usyk’s over Fury — fairly unambiguous despite the split scores, monumentally impressive but in no way dominant — and a win like Crawford’s over Errol Spence or Inoue’s over Stephen Fulton.

For all those readers questioning the notion of Bivol entering the conversation for the top spot with a win over Beterbiev, consider the possibility of him doing to Beterbiev as Crawford did to Spence. No, it wouldn’t have been the most likely scenario; Bivol has not shown himself to be an elite finisher (he was once 13-0 with 11 KOs and is now 22-0 with those same 11 KOs). But in a hypothetical world in which he’s putting on a boxing masterclass, and Beterbiev can’t get anything done, and a tiring Beterbiev walks into a heavy right hand and goes down and out, then there is absolutely a case for ranking Bivol ahead of Usyk, Crawford, and Inoue.

And frankly, if he does something akin to what Usyk did against Fury — overcomes difficulty, rallies, and earns a deserved decision over Beterbiev, who may himself be superior in a pound-for-pound sense to Fury or Spence or anyone Inoue has walloped — then there’s still a case for Bivol atop the P4P list. It just isn’t as strong a case.

But we won’t get to find out about any of that — at least not this weekend.

No matter what Bivol does against substitute opponent Malik Zinad, it will not elevate his pound-for-pound stock.

In fact, aside from the oversized paycheck Bivol is no doubt extracting from the Saudi sportswashing fire hose for this assignment, it is a no-win situation.

Bivol is listed at sportsbooks as between a -2500 and -3500 favorite. That means even taking the most bettor-friendly price, a gambler would have to risk $25 to win $1 on the Russian titlist. If he prevails in a fight priced and perceived that way, it simply won’t move the needle. And that’s especially true if it goes the distance, as the last six years of knockout-free Bivol history suggest it will.

And then there’s the risk factor. Zinad, flawed and unproven as he may be, is not without talent.

His record matches Bivol’s, 22-0, and his 16 KOs exceed Bivol’s 11, though quality of opposition may have a little something to do with that. 

Born in Libya, 30 years old and in his ninth year as a pro, Zinad is trained by Buddy McGirt and coming off a career-best win — and a potentially advantageous 38-day layoff. He will not have gotten out of shape after scoring an upset majority decision road win in Sydney, Australia, over New Zealand’s Jerome Pampellone as more than a 3-to-1 underdog.

It’s an old-school turnaround, going straight from one fight into training for the next, and while there are potential downsides to that, in a fight where you’re perceived as a no-hoper you welcome an X-factor or two.

Pampellone, however, was undoubtedly Zinad’s best opponent thus far — if you’ve heard of anyone else on his record, you’re spending way too much time watching boxing. Hell, if you’d heard of Pampellone prior to these last couple of paragraphs and aren’t from Australia or New Zealand, you’re watching too much boxing.

Zinad is listed as 6ft 1ins and can fight tall behind a long jab (like Bivol), but he tends toward aggression — at least against limited opponents; it’s quite possible he’ll be more cautious against Bivol. Still, he puts his combinations together impressively and may be more threatening to Bivol than the odds suggest. That said, he tends to stand flat-footed, holds his hands low, and has a sloppiness that leaps out even to the untrained eye.

If he can’t tighten up the technique a little against Bivol, he’s the “108” in a “120-108” waiting to happen.

But what if the unthinkable occurs? This is boxing. One punch can change lives. A loss for a heavily favored fighter in a bout like this would not be unprecedented.

The list of boxers who’ve been upended by late subs is lengthy. Among the most memorable: Anthony Joshua losing his perfect record against Andy Ruiz; Barry McGuigan dropping an all-time classic to Stevie Cruz; Lehlo Ledwaba finding out along with much of the rest of the boxing world how dangerous Manny Pacquiao was; Pacquiao in turn coming up well short against Yordenis Ugas; Tim Witherspoon’s second heavyweight alphabet title reign ending in a first-round three-knockdown splattering at the hands of James “Bonecrusher” Smith; Victor Ortiz getting his jaw broken by Josesito Lopez; and Carlos Cuadras inadvertently beginning the Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez championship run.

And that’s to say nothing of the countless close calls against late substitutes, such as Evander Holyfield narrowly surviving Bert Cooper and Lennox Lewis escaping on cuts in a war with Vitali Klitschko.

A similar but related category is the tuneup gone horribly wrong, with Zinad a seemingly perfunctory proposition standing between Bivol and a rescheduled Beterbiev showdown. Michael Bentt costing Tommy Morrison millions against Lennox will always be the go-to example of this, but Zab Judah losing to Carlos Baldomir in a stay-busy fight ahead of a showdown with Floyd Mayweather, and Erik Morales running into the wrong style in Zahir Raheem as an appetizer for a Pacquiao rematch would have been similarly disastrous if not for boxing’s power brokers ignoring those results and making the money fights anyway.

Bivol appears unlikely to suffer such a fate, not because Zinad is so incapable, but rather because Bivol is as steady and reliable as they come. Then again, just three years ago, he came only a round or two from losing to all-but-anonymous Craig Richards. So it’s not as though a letdown is impossible for even a cyborg like Bivol.

What is impossible is him gaining ground on the P4P top three on Saturday. The opportunity to crash that party, and further complicate that conundrum, and potentially cause a three-headed monster to grow a fourth head, will have to wait until Beterbiev’s knee is healed.

Eric Raskin is a veteran boxing journalist with more 25 years of experience covering the sport for such outlets as BoxingScene, ESPN, Grantland, Playboy, Ringside Seat, and The Ring (where he served as managing editor for seven years). He also co-hosted The HBO Boxing Podcast, Showtime Boxing with Raskin & Mulvaney, and Ring Theory and currently co-hosts The Interim Champion Boxing Podcast with Raskin & Mulvaney. He has won three first-place writing awards from the BWAA, for his work with The Ring, Grantland, and HBO. Outside boxing, he is the senior editor of CasinoReports and the author of 2014’s The Moneymaker Effect. He can be reached on X or LinkedIn, or via email at RaskinBoxing@yahoo.com.