Joe Smith Jr. is introduced as the common man. It’s a nod to his blue-collar past. But what Mastic’s Smith is trying to accomplish on Saturday night is anything but ordinary.
At a time when many boxing weight classes claim up to four world champions, Smith takes a step toward unifying the light heavyweight division.
Smith is the WBO champion and will be looking to win three of the four belts on Saturday when he meets WBC-IBF champion Artur Beterbiev at the Hulu Theater in Madison Square Garden. The fight will be broadcast live on ESPN at 10 p.m.
If Smith is considered an “ordinary joe”, his opponent is considered a king of boxing. Beterbiev, whose nickname is “The King”, is 17-0 with 17 knockouts. He is a two-time Russian Olympian who has had five successful title defenses.
“Beterbiev is a great champion who has tremendous boxing pedigree,” said Joe DeGuardia, Smith’s promoter. “Joe’s biggest wins were when he was the biggest underdog.”
Since 2016, when he scored back-to-back losses to Andrezj Fonfara and Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins, Smith has been a mainstay in the light heavyweight rankings.
He lost a bid for the WBA title in 2019, dropping a decision to Dmitry Bivol. He finally won the WBO title in April 2021 and made a successful title defense.
A member of Laborers Local 66 on Long Island, Smith’s work ethic has endeared herself to her loyal fanbase.
“A title fight at the Garden is something I’ve dreamed of since I was a kid,” Smith said. “I can’t wait to fight in front of my fans. It’s been a long road to get here.”
This route took Smith to Chicago, Tulsa, Inglewood, California, Atlantic City, and Verona, New York. During the pandemic, he struggled in the solitude of the Top Rank “bubble” in Las Vegas. The last time Smith fought in the Garden was in 2008 when he won the New York Golden Gloves.
“It’s a really great feeling defending my belt at home,” said Smith, who is 28-3 with 22 knockouts. “It’s been a long time coming. This will be a fight fans will remember forever, with two of boxing’s biggest punchers going head-to-head.
While Smith’s saves from Fonfara, Hopkins and Eleider Alvarez gave him a well-deserved reputation as a puncher, he became more patient and balanced in his attack. Trainer Jerry Capobianco has made Smith a complete fighter, who is now equally at home in boxing as he is in brawling.
“He’s matured tremendously as a fighter, he comes into his own,” said DeGuardia, who credited Capobianco with Smith’s advancement. “He learned so much in the fight against Bivol. Sometimes you need a fight like that. It laid the foundation for him and you could see how he was progressing in his next fights. It all came together in the Alvarez fight.
In May, Bivol retained his WBA title with an upset win over Canelo Alvarez, one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport. This did not escape Smith. But before he can seek revenge against Bivol, he must overtake Beterbiev.
“My goal is to unify the division,” Smith said. “Beterbiev is a huge puncher and he is very aggressive. To beat a guy like that, you have to be in great shape and ready to go to war. I’ve never been so ready for this.
Ready to do something really unusual.