In case you’d not noticed already, Joe Smith isn’t your typical fighter.
Case in point, just two days after the most substantial win of his pro career, the rugged Long Island native isn’t headed to Disney World, the Caribbean or any other haunt typically sought by an athlete in full-on celebration mode.
Instead, the soon-to-be 31-year-old – his birthday is three weeks from Sunday – is off to a slightly less depraved form of post-fight revelry.
“I actually got home yesterday and went out to cut the grass,” he told Boxing Scene. “I’m thinking I might hit the water and get out on the Jet Ski tomorrow, and then Thursday I figured I’d be getting back into the gym getting ready for the next one.”
Given the impressiveness he showed this time, that next one could be a big one.
Ranked fourth by the WBO heading into the weekend, Smith took a quantum leap toward his long-standing championship goal with a dominant ninth-round KO of ex-titleholder and incumbent No. 3 contender Eleider Alvarez at the MGM Grand bubble in Las Vegas.
Smith beat his 36-year-old foe down with a typically high-output attack, but mixed in subtleties he’d not always shown in winning 25 of 28 fights since going pro more than a decade ago. He worked in left hooks off a powerful jab and eschewed hunting for a game-changing shot in favor of punching in flurries that came from myriad directions. Body work was also a priority as were uppercuts on the inside.
A straight right in the opening seconds of the ninth round kick-started the final sequence, which was punctuated by a hard left that sent the Canada-based Colombian to the floor along the ropes.
Alvarez couldn’t beat the count and lost for the second time in three fights since upsetting Sergey Kovalev for the WBO belt two years ago. He dropped a unanimous decision and the title in a rematch six months later and had fought once – stopping Michael Seals in seven – in the last 18 months.
Smith, meanwhile, has now beaten Jesse Hart (SD 10) and Alvarez in the 17 months since he dropped a unanimous decision to Dmitry Bivol in a failed try for the WBA’s title at 175 pounds in March 2019.
Saturday’s win presumably locks up a WBO title shot against either No. 1 contender Umar Salamov or No. 2 Maxim Vlasov, who’ll meet for the vacant belt at a date and site that’s not yet been determined.
Kovalev lost the belt to Canelo Alvarez last November, and the Mexican vacated it soon after.
The title remains the priority for Smith, but he’s OK for now with the boost Saturday’s win provided.
“I feel like it may have surprised some people,” said Smith, who’d been – and perhaps still is – best known for knocking a 51-year-old Bernard Hopkins from the ring to end their 2016 fight by KO. “I think I did some things differently than they were expecting. I’m happy that they know me for that fight, but I think this one really solidifies my resume and probably earns me some more respect.”
Unlike some fighters who fold in pressure situations, knowing the significance of the fight – or at least the opportunities it could provide if it went well – didn’t seem a bother for Smith, who landed 125 punches to Alvarez’s 51.
He said, in fact, the promise of bigger subsequent fights was a motivator, not a knee-knocker.
“Oh yeah,” Smith said. “I was aware of it and I feel like I thrived on it. I’m able to block all that other stuff and focus on the task, rather than letting it bother me. I know not every fighter does that.”
And as for life in the bubble, complete with its testing and quarantines and absence of fans, he said he loved it, too.
“I really did,” he said. “I felt like it allowed me to focus. I wasn’t distracted by anything and I hear my corner very well. Top Rank did a great job putting screens up and having noise, so it felt like a regular fight, even though I knew it wasn’t. And even though people weren’t there, I knew they were watching.”
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
Vacant IBO super welterweight title – Los Angeles, California
Erislandy Lara (No. 1 IBO/No. 5 IWBR) vs. Greg Vendetti (No. 62 IBO/No. 42 IWBR)
Lara (26-3-3, 15 KO): Tenth title fight (7-1-1); Tenth consecutive title fight (7-1-1, 3 KO)
Vendetti (22-3-1, 12 KO): First title fight; Eighteen wins in last 19 fights (18-1, 10 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Say what you will about the IBO and whether the titles it sanctions are worth the baubles on their belts. Doesn’t matter here. Lara is on a far higher level and will win big. Lara in 7 (99/1)
WBC/WBO super lightweight/junior middleweight titles – Las Vegas, Nevada
Jose Carlos Ramirez (WBC, WBO champ/No. 2 IWBR) vs. Viktor Postol (No. 1 WBC/No. 8 IWBR)
Ramirez (25-0, 17 KO): Fourth title defense; One KO/TKO win in four career title fights
Postol (31-2, 12 KO): Fourth title fight (1-2); Held WBC title at 140 pounds (2015-16, zero defenses)
Fitzbitz says: Postol has been highly regarded at 140 pounds for quite a while, but the reality is that he’s never thrived on the top level and never beaten a foe of Ramirez’s caliber. Ramirez by decision (90/10)
Last week's picks: 1-0 (WIN: Benavidez)
2020 picks record: 15-3 (83.3 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,131-368 (75.4 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.