Steve Geffrard realized just how tough Joe Smith Jr. is when he sat ringside for Smith’s loss to Sullivan Barrera in July 2017.
Geffrard was Barrera’s sparring partner for that fight and traveled to The Forum in Inglewood, California, to support his friend. Barrera broke Smith’s jaw early in the second round that night, yet Smith still made it to the final bell in a bout he lost by unanimous decision.
Geffrard never thought that 4½ years later he would challenge Smith for the Long Island native’s WBO light heavyweight title. The 31-year-old Geffrard hasn’t fought anyone nearly as good and strong as Smith in a fight that counts, but the unknown underdog has sparred against many of the top light heavyweights of this era during his nine-year pro career.
In addition to Barrera, Geffrard has served as a sparring partner for unbeaten IBF/WBC champ Artur Beterbiev and former champions Eleider Alvarez, Chad Dawson, Glen Johnson and Sergey Kovalev.
“I’ve helped a lot of these guys,” Geffrard told BoxingScene.com. “Even though I wasn’t active, I’ve helped some of those guys prepare for their fights. So, that always kind of kept me sharp. Obviously, sparring and fight night is two different things. But at least the sparring gives you an idea, you know, of where you’re at. I know I have skills and all the attributes to hang with the top guys in the division. It was just a matter of getting the opportunity. And boom! I got it out of nowhere, so I’m just blessed to get this opportunity.”
Geffrard (18-2, 12 KOs), of Boca Raton, Florida, was Beterbiev’s primary sparring partner for the Russian knockout artist’s fifth-round knockout of Radivoje “Hot Rod” Kalajdzic (26-2, 18 KOs) in May 2019. The decorated amateur suspects that probably prepared him for facing Smith better than any of his other experiences.
“I know the toughest sparring and hardest situation I’ve ever been in with sparring and stuff is Artur Beterbiev,” Geffrard said. “That guy’s an animal. I went to Montreal. I was pretty much his main sparring partner for his whole camp when he fought ‘Hot Rod.’ We sparred three times a week. Yeah, man, that guy’s a beast.”
If he defeats Geffrard on Saturday night, the 32-year-old Smith (27-3, 21 KOs), of Mastic, New York, wants to box Beterbiev (17-0, 17 KOs) in a long-discussed title unification fight later this year. It seems surreal to Geffrard, but he would find himself in the unforeseen position of potentially opposing Beterbiev if he upsets Smith in a 12-round main event ESPN will televise from Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York (10 p.m. ET).
“I’d be in position to fight Beterbiev, [Dmitry] Bivol, all types of people,” Geffrard said. “But I’m just focused on Smith and taking advantage of this type of opportunity.”
Most online sportsbooks list Smith as a 12-1 favorite to beat Geffrard, who replaced Callum Johnson as Smith’s opponent on eight days’ notice. England’s Johnson (20-1, 14 KOs) contracted COVID-19 and withdrew last week from his fight with Smith.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.