By Lem Satterfield
Long Island light heavyweight Joe Smith owns definitive first- and eighth-round stoppages of title challenger Andrzej Fonfara and two-division champion Bernard Hopkins from June and December 2016.
The 6-foot Smith (24-2, 20 KOs) is coming off June’s 95-second stoppage of Melvin Russell to rebound after flooring then-once beaten title challenger Sullivan Barrera in the first round of a 10-round unanimous decision loss in July 2017.
To marvel at Smith’s rags-to-riches KO of the legendary Hopkins before 6,513 at The Forum in Inglewood, California, one need only Google a Youtube video of “The Beast” landing a six-punch combination that launched the 51-year-old “Executioner/Alien” through the ropes, onto the floor and into retirement.
“I’ll always go down in the history books for that one,” said Smith. “I get recognized and get a lot of respect because everyone knows who Bernard Hopkins is.”
But as impressive as Smith’s been in victory, the 29-year-old may be more admirable in how he has bounced back from the agony of defeat.
Smith's initial mark of 6-0 was comprised of four first-round knockouts and two more in the second before suffering a fourth-round TKO loss to Eddie Caminero in August 2010.
And Smith’s 17-fight winning streak had included 13 knockouts and three consecutive stoppages entering his clash with Barrera, a unanimous decision winner on November 3 against another Long Islander, Seanie Monaghan.
Smith literally suffered jaw-breaking setbacks against Caminero and Barrera -- to both sets of mandibles in the former, and the right chops in the latter.
"I love the sport,” said Smith. “But I was injured two times, badly with broken jaws. I'm still in it because I know I have a shot to win a title."
It may be due in part to Smith’s durability, if not, his power-punching savagery that IBF 175-pound champion Artur Beterbiev (13-0, 13 KOs) was encouraged by trainer Marc Ramsay to postpone their clash from December 15 to sometime in February.
The adjustment allows Beterbiev -- a Russian-born, 33-year-old based in Canada -- more recovery time from last month’s fourth-round stoppage victory over previously unbeaten Callum Johnson (17-1, 12 KOs) in Chicago.
In that bout, Beterbiev dropped Johnson in the first- and final-rounds but was floored, himself, in the second. Beterbiev ended Johnson’s run of four straight knockouts, including three in the first round.
“I was really looking forward to that title shot. It’s something I’ve worked for my entire life,” said Smith. “I guess he’s being smart, knowing that he got knocked down by a guy who is not as big a puncher as I am. I’m a strong guy and he may not be ready for me yet.”
Beterbiev-Smith was to be part of a high-profile undercard to the main event at Madison Square Garden in New York featuring Rocky Fielding’s WBA “regular” super middleweight title defense against Canelo Alvaez (50-1-1, 34 KOs) of Mexico, who is after a third crown in as many divisions.
The 28-year-old to Alvarez still retains the WBC and “super” WBA middleweight championships he earned by split-decision over 36-year-old Gennady Golovkin (38-1-1, 34 KOs) in last month’s rematch of their draw from September 2017.
The 31-year-old Fielding (27-1, 15 KOs) of England dethroned Tony (23-1-1, 13 KOs) in July by fifth-round TKO, flooring the German in the final round.
“I really wanted to be on that card, but they’re saying that they’re going to push it back and reschedule it,” said Smith. “So I hope that’s what happens. But who knows if Beterbiev’s gonna to be ready to fight me when the times comes or if he’s maybe gonna back down once again?”
After falling to Caminero, Smith required “a 6-to-8-hour operation and his mouth was wired shut for months,” his promoter, Joe DeGuardia, once told USA Today.
"[Caminero] hit me with a good shot when my mouth was open, and it broke on both sides. I believe that happened in the third round, and the doctors checked it out.," said Smith. "It was bleeding, so [Caminero] knew it, would hold me in clinches, tapping my chin. So I just grabbed him, pushed him and walked out of the fight. That's how that it ended."
Smith said his second jaw injury surfaced during sparring “about three weeks” before fighting Barrera, and that X-rays failed to “reveal that my jaw was broken, only bruised.”
“I took a nasty shot in sparring the right side of my jaw. The inside of my mouth was all bruised up, and, from the first time, I had a feeling something was wrong with it,” said Smith.
“I went to the hospital and they really didn’t see anything on the X-rays that looked wrong. But after I felt the pain, I stopped sparring about two and a half to three weeks before the fight. I just did other types of training and waited until the fight date.”
Smith’s first-round left to the temple had knocked Barrera to his backside, but the Cuban boxer rose from the canvas. From there, Barrera inflicted enough painful damage to the wounded side of Smith’s face that “The Beast” was discouraged into relative timidity throughout the fight’s remainder.
“That first round I thought I was going to get him outta there quick like I did Andrzej Fonfara,” said Smith, who thrust both hands skyward in victory and walked to a neutral corner.
“But this time [Barrera] got up, and I guess early in the second round he hit me with something, and my jaw was just deadened from that point on. The [Caminero] fight was in the back of my mind, but I didn't wanna quit this time, so I pushed through and gutted it out."
There really is no shame in Smith’s blemish to Barrera, whose losses are by non-title unanimous decision to the now retired two-division champion Andre Ward (32-0, 16 KOs) in March 2016, and 12th-round TKO to WBA champion Dmitry Bivol (14-0, 11 KOs) last March.
Still, “The Beast” looks to pick up where Johnson left off against Beterbiev, perhaps finishing him off like he did "The Executioner/Alien" Bernard Hopkins.
“I’ve been training for this fight for quite a while, and I’m ready to go for it. Johnson punched with Beterbiev and kept him going backwards, and Beterbiev wasn’t used to that. I believe that I’m stronger than Johnson,” said Smith.
“There are a lot of people who give me credit for knocking Bernard Hopkins out of the ring. But that’s not enough. I wanna get this world title, and then I’ll be happy. If I land a punch like Johnson did against Beterbiev, I’m gonna finish him off."