By Jake Donovan
Having spent the past three months waiting on a fight that will clearly never materialize is long enough for Joe Smith Jr. and his team to finally move on from Artur Beterbiev.
Two separate efforts to pair the light heavyweights have ultimately fallen by the wayside, the latest collapse killing preliminary plans for a targeted late February showdown. Smith’s team held out hope, as the intended location was Nassau Coliseum, less than an hour from Smith’s home in eastern Long Island, New York.
Instead, the outcome was the same as a targeted date last December at New York City’s Madison Square Garden—full of promise, but with Beterbiev declining outright.
“It’s clear that Beterbiev doesn’t want anything to do with Joe Smith,” Phil Capobianco, Smith’s manager told BoxingScene.com on Tuesday.
It’s now onto the next plan for Smith Jr. (24-2, 20KOs), one that was actually an available option late last year. Talks of a proposed March 9 showdown versus unbeaten light heavyweight titlist Dmitry Bivol (15-0, 11KOs) have surfaced, with RingTV’s Mike Coppinger the first to report the development.
Such a fight was on the table for last November, with Smith and Bivol due to headline the final ever edition of HBO’s “World Championship Boxing” series live from Atlantic City. Smith had a deal on the table to face the 28-year old from Russia but was lured away in favor of what was to be a more lucrative deal to instead face Beterbiev in December.
The latter bout carried the appeal of coming closer to home for Smith, along with appearing on a high-profile card marked by boxing superstar Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez’s first-ever appearance both at Madison Square Garden and on sports streaming platform DAZN USA.
While a deal was struck between Smith’s promoter, Joe DeGuardia and primary DAZN content provider Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing USA, Beterbiev (13-0, 13KOs) wasn’t as keen on the idea. The undefeated knockout artist from Canada by way of Russia was coming off of a 4th round knockout of previously unbeaten Callum Johnson, having climbed off the canvas to stop the Brit in their DAZN-streamed bout last October in Chicago, Ill.
A revised proposal was offered, but recent developments reveal that additional downtime had less to do with Beterbiev’s dismissive stance but rather a change in career course altogether. The 33-year old is looking to old business of his own, as he and his team are now in talks with Top Rank and ESPN.
Such plans were previously in place, only for Beterbiev—who appeared live on the platform in a Nov. ’17 12th round knockout of Enrico Koelling—to have to walk away due to an ongoing contractual dispute with promoter Yvon Michel.
Meanwhile, any such plans for Smith to now face Bivol are contingent on the unbeaten titlist—currently a network free agent in the wake of HBO’s exit from the sport last December—joining the DAZN family.
Smith has been out of the ring since a rust-shaking 1st round knockout of Melvin Russell on a club show last June at Mohegan Sun Casino in Mashantucket, Conn. The bout was his first piece of action since recovering from a broken jaw he fought through for much of his July ‘17 10-round loss to fellow contender Sullivan Barrera.
The working-class Long Islander came to prominence following a breakout 2016 campaign. He raised eyebrows in a shocking 1st round knockout of Andrzej Fonfara—a perennial Top-5 contender at the time of their June ’16 bout which ran live in primetime on free-to-air NBC.
Smith Jr. capitalized on the momentum, following up with the most notable feat of nine-year career to date. Bernard Hopkins’ retirement tour was bumrushed by Smith Jr. who scored a triumphant 8th round knockout of the future Hall of Famer.
The aforementioned loss to Barrera and injuries sustained in the bout slowed his cause of competing for a world title, but the day looks like it will finally come for the 29-year old.
“We’ve always been clear, Joe is willing to face all of the (light heavyweight) champions,” Capobianco insists.