Joe Smith Jr. was unquestionably beaten the last time he fought an undefeated light heavyweight champion from Russia.

The hard-hitting Smith hasn’t lost, though, since Dmitry Bivol beat him by unanimous decision in their 12-round fight for Bivol’s WBA 175-pound crown in March 2019. The confidence, experience and world title he has gained since his loss to Bivol has convinced Smith that he is much more prepared to knock off heavily favored Artur Beterbiev on Saturday night than he was when he boxed Bivol three years ago.

“I just believe with the experiences I’ve had since the Bivol fight, I’m an all-around better fighter,” Smith told “And I believe no matter who I’m in there with at this point, there’s a big possibility I’m gonna beat him.”

Oddsmakers disagree with Smith’s assessment. FanDuel sportsbook listed Russia’s Beterbiev, a rugged knockout artist who has stopped each of his 17 professional opponents inside the distance, as an 11-1 favorite at one point this week.

Those wide odds aside, Smith seems more equipped to beat Beterbiev, an assertive puncher who presses the action, than Bivol, who is more of a technically proficient counterpuncher. Russia’s Bivol won 11 rounds against Smith on two scorecards (119-109, 119-109) and 10 rounds on the other card (118-110) in a main event DAZN streamed from Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York.

Smith wobbled Bivol with a right hand that landed at the bell to signal the end of the 10th round. The challenger couldn’t capitalize on that brief moment of momentum because Bivol recovered by the start of the 11th round.

Bivol (20-0, 11 KOs), who upset pound-for-pound king Canelo Alvarez (57-2-2, 39 KOs) by unanimous decision May 7 in Las Vegas, was a 20-1 favorite when he entered the ring to square off with Smith.

Bivol was 28, in the heart of his physical prime, the night he out-classed Smith. Beterbiev is 37, thus the 32-year-old Smith, of Mastic, New York, has youth on his side entering their 12-round, 175-pound title unification fight for Beterbiev’s IBF and WBC light heavyweight championships and Smith’s WBO belt.

“They’re two different fighters,” Smith said. “Beterbiev’s more of an aggressive, coming-forward, you know, just strong guy, where Bivol’s more of a counterpuncher, boxer. It’s a completely different fight, but it’s at the same level. So, it’s gonna make for a great fight, though. It sure is. He has a lot of experience. I’m well aware of that. I know he has a huge amateur background, so I know he can box. I’m expecting him to be at his best. So, I’m gonna give it my best and hope to get it.”

Beterbiev and Smith will go at it in the main event of a two-bout broadcast ESPN will air from Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater. The network’s telecast is scheduled to begin at 10 p.m. ET with a 10-round featherweight fight in which Abraham Nova (21-0, 15 KOs), of Albany, New York, will box Robeisy Ramirez (9-1, 5 KOs), a two-time Olympic gold medalist from Cienfuegos, Cuba.

Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.