Bob Arum always believed Joe Smith Jr. was capable of performing against a top opponent the way he defeated Eleider Alvarez last month.
Now that Smith has knocked out Alvarez, Arum “absolutely” has preliminary plans to match Smith against Artur Beterbiev in 2021. Long Island’s Smith (26-3, 21 KOs) and Russia’s Beterbiev (15-0, 15 KOs) must win another fight apiece to remain on that collision course, but Beterbiev-Smith has become one of the most intriguing matchups within the light heavyweight division.
“I thought Joe was tremendous,” Arum told BoxingScene.com of his ninth-round knockout of Alvarez. “I always believed that he was a real good fighter that could be at the top tier of the light heavyweights. But he wasn’t disciplined, and he never came in with a game plan. Well here, he had a game plan and he worked, and he was disciplined. And he’s just so strong, and he punches so well, I’d make him competitive with any light heavyweight, including Beterbiev.”
“I asked [Top Rank matchmaker] Brad Goodman, ‘Could he fight with Beterbiev?’ And Goodman said he’d beat Beterbiev. I didn’t know about that, but that’s what Goodman said. That would be a tremendous fight. I could see both of them going down.”
Arum’s company, Top Rank Inc., co-promotes Smith, 30, and Beterbiev, 35.
Smith secured his place in a WBO championship match and became the first opponent to knock out Alvarez (25-2, 13 KOs) in a main event ESPN+ streamed from MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas.
A right-left combination by Smith knocked Alvarez, a former WBO light heavyweight champ, through the ropes and onto the ring apron early in the ninth round. Alvarez got up and climbed through the ropes, but he failed to beat referee Tony Weeks’ count.
Beterbiev, the IBF/WBC 175-pound champion, is scheduled to make an optional defense of his IBF belt against Germany’s Adam Deines (19-1-1, 10 KOs) on a December date in Ekaterinburg, Russia. Beterbiev was supposed to make a mandatory defense of his IBF title against Meng Fanlong (16-0, 10 KOs), but COVID-19 and visa issues would’ve prevented the Chinese southpaw from leaving Russia if he traveled there to battle Beterbiev.
Smith, meanwhile, will face the winner of a WBO elimination match between Russian contenders Umar Salamov and Maksim Vlasov. Salamov (25-1, 19 KOs) and Vlasov (45-3, 26 KOs) will fight on the Beterbiev-Deines undercard for the right to meet Smith for the vacant WBO light heavyweight title.
If Beterbiev and Smith square off after winning their upcoming appearances, their fight would be contested for the IBF, WBC and WBO light heavyweight titles.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.