LAS VEGAS – Joe Smith Jr. has a new date, a new site and even a new opponent for his next fight.
Bob Arum, Smith’s co-promoter, told BoxingScene.com on Wednesday that Smith will make a voluntary title defense against England’s Callum Johnson on January 15. Smith-Johnson, a 12-round fight for Smith’s WBO light heavyweight title, will be televised by ESPN as a main event from Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York.
Smith was supposed to make a mandatory defense of the WBO’s 175-pound championship against Russia’s Umar Salamov on October 30 at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater in New York. Their fight was postponed because Smith contracted COVID-19 in mid-September.
Attempts to reschedule that fight failed because Salamov was denied a visa to travel from Russia to the United States. The WBO therefore approved a bout between Smith (27-3, 21 KOs), of Mastic, New York, and Johnson (20-1, 14 KOs), who is ranked ninth among the WBO’s light heavyweight contenders.
ESPN.com’s Mike Coppinger first reported Wednesday through his Twitter account that the 32-year-old Smith would face Johnson on January 15.
The 36-year-old Johnson, of Boston, England, has won three straight fights since IBF/WBC light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev (15-0, 15 KOs) knocked him out in the fourth round of their October 2018 bout at Wintrust Arena in Chicago. The heavy-handed Johnson floored Russia’s Beterbiev in the second round, but Beterbiev got up, regained control of their fight and dropped and stopped Johnson late in the fourth round.
The winner of the Smith-Johnson fight will be obligated to defend the WBO light heavyweight title versus either Lyndon Arthur or Anthony Yarde in his subsequent bout.
Arthur (19-0, 13 KOs), the WBO’s number one contender, and Yarde (21-2, 20 KOs), who is ranked 10th by the WBO, will meet in a 12-round rematch December 4 at Copper Box Arena in London. Arthur edged his British rival by split decision in their 12-round fight last December 5 at Church House in London.
Salamov (26-1, 19 KOs) is ranked third by the WBO. It wasn’t clear at the time this story was posted when or if Salamov would get the title shot he was supposed to receive October 30.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.