It was music to Joe Smith Jr’s ears when he learned that his ordered title eliminator would land as part of Top Rank’s summer boxing series.
After all, it’s a key part of his plan to run the tables at light heavyweight.
The veteran contender from the Mastic Beach section of Eastern Long Island, New York has waited months for a fight to materialize with former light heavyweight titlist Eleider Alvarez (25-1, 13KOs). The two became destined to collide shortly after posting back-to-back wins in January, eventually leading the World Boxing Organization (WBO) to call for a head-on collision as part of a four-man light heavyweight tournament.
Such plans were first stalled by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and then due to an injury suffered by Alvarez which erased their July 16 ESPN headliner. The two are now due to collide this weekend at MGM Grand Conference Center (“The Bubble”) in Las Vegas (Saturday, ESPN+, 10:00pm ET main card), with the winner to challenge for the vacant WBO title.
“It’s great, I just know I have to dig deep and do whatever it takes to win,” Smith (25-3, 20KOs) told BoxingScene.com of the opportunity. “After this, I’ll have a second shot at a world title and don’t plan to ruin it.”
Smith rose from obscurity to the top of the light heavyweight queue following knockout wins over Andrzej Fonfara and legendary Bernard Hopkins in a breakout 2016 campaign. The banner year soon became a Cinderlla story for the blue-collar worker, who suffered a broken jaw in a 10-round loss to Sullivan Barrera in July 2017, along with a one-sided decision defeat to unbeaten WBA 175-pound titlist Dmitry Bivol (17-0, 11KOs) last March in upstate New York.
Things turned around for the better following a 10-round win over Jesse Hart, who was on the verge of a third career title fight at the time of their ESPN-televised headliner this past January in Atlantic City. Philadelphia’s Hart first wanted to avenge the defeat of his local hero in Hopkins, only for the second-generation boxer to suffer a similar fate in getting bumped out of title contention.
The win for Smith came one week prior to Alvarez rebounding from a title-losing effort to Sergey Kovalev in their rematch last February to score a clean knockout of Michael Seals this past January. From there, came the order first for Alvarez to challenge former super middleweight titlist Gilberto Ramirez in a title eliminator, and then Smith after Ramirez bailed from such plans.
The winner will still have to wait out the other side of the WBO bracket, as Umar Salamov and Maksim Vlasov continue to await a fight date to determine who advances to the title stage. Smith remains confident that he will be the last man standing when the smoke clears and then will move on to bigger and better things—including the biggest and possibly the best light heavyweight of them all.
“I just want to keep this momentum going,” insists Smith. “Every time I step in the ring and win, it benefits me. It leads me closer to another big payday.
“As long as I keep winning, I plan to go after all the champions. I’ve always wanted a rematch with Bivol and I’d really love to face (lineal champion and unified WBC/IBF titlist) Artur Beterbiev. By this time next year, I see myself becoming a unified champion.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox