By Keith Idec
Wherever you feel Joe Smith Jr. fits into the light-heavyweight championship picture, it’s indisputable that he has accomplished things Adonis Stevenson and Sergey Kovalev did not against common opponents.
Long Island’s Smith now has knocked out Bernard Hopkins and Andrzej Fonfara, opponents Kovalev and Stevenson defeated by unanimous decision in their respective title fights against them.
“It’s a great feeling,” Smith said Saturday night during the post-fight press conference following his eighth-round technical knockout of Hopkins in Inglewood, California. “I know now that I am one of the hardest-hitting light heavyweights in the world today. And I proved it here [Saturday], and I proved it in my last fight. Stevenson couldn’t stop Fonfara and Kovalev couldn’t stop [Hopkins], and I did it.”
Those two TKO wins have helped establish the 27-year-old Smith (23-1, 19 KOs), of Mastic, New York, as a legitimate light heavyweight contender over the past six months.
The former New York Golden Gloves champion drilled Fonfara with a right hand in the first round that completely changed his career. He floored Fonfara twice before their televised fight was stopped 2:32 into it June 18 in Chicago.
It took longer for the heavy-handed Smith to hurt Hopkins badly.
Once Smith started hammering Hopkins against the ropes in the eighth round, though, he was able to connect with a left hook that knocked Hopkins out of the ring, onto The Forum floor. The 51-year-old Hopkins (55-8-2, 32 KOs, 2 NC) landed flat on his back, was unable to climb back in the ring by the time referee Jack Reiss counted to 20 and lost by knockout for the first time in the last fight of his heralded, Hall-of-Fame career, which began in October 1988.
Russia’s Kovalev (30-1-1, 26 KOs) dominated Hopkins in their November 2014 title fight in Atlantic City. Kovalev dropped Hopkins in the first round, but the cagey legend from Philadelphia was able to survive 12 rounds against one of boxing’s most powerful punchers.
In May 2014, Poland’s Fonfara (28-4, 16 KOs, 1 NC) dropped Canada’s Stevenson (28-1, 23 KOs) in the ninth round. Stevenson survived that trouble and won a unanimous decision to defend his WBC 175-pound championship (116-109, 115-110, 115-110).
When asked specifically after defeating Hopkins if he thinks he’s ready to fight Stevenson, Smith said, “I’m ready for whoever’s next. Whoever they wanna throw at me, I’ll be ready for him.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.