By Max Schramm: Joe Smith Jr. weighed in at 174.25 lbs on Friday at the weigh-in for the title defense of his WBO light heavyweight title against late substitute Steven Geffrard this Saturday night at the Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York. Geffrard (18-2, 12 KOs) weighed 173.5 lbs and looked good.
(Photo credit: Mikey Williams (Top Rank via Getty Images)
Smith Jr. vs. Geffrard will be shown live on ESPN, and ESPN Deports starting at10:00 p.m. ET/7:00 p.m. PT. This will be Smith’s first defense of his WBO 175-lb title that he won in his last fight against Maxim Vlasov last April.
The 32-year-old Smith Jr. (27-3, 21 KOs) had been initially scheduled to defend against #11 WBO Callum Johnson, but he had to pull out of the card after testing positive for COVID 19.
Fortunately for Smith, his promoters at Top Rank quickly found Geffrard as the replacement opponent. Not much is known about Geffrard, as his fights have mostly gone unnoticed.
Geffrard has wins over Denis Grachev and Dmitry Sukhotskiy, so he’s got some ability.
Joe Smith Jr. has had a tough road
To get to where Smith Jr. is today as the WBO 175-lb champion, he’s beaten some excellent fighters and shown that he’s able to bounce back after suffering losses.
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Smith’s losses have come against Dmitry Bivol, Sullivan Barrera, and Eddie Caminero. But Smith Jr. has beaten these excellent fighters:
- Bernard Hopkins
- Maxim Vlasov
- Eleider Alvarez
- Jesse Hart
- Andrzej Fonfara
“It’s been a bumpy road with a lot of obstacles, but I feel 100% confident and ready to go,” said Joe Smith Jr. to ESPN’s Max on Boxing.
“You’re coming off a majority decision win over Maxim Vlasov. You won a vacant world title belt,” said Kellerman to Smith Jr. on his recent win. “It was a tough, tough close fight. What did you learn?”
“I had some tough fights getting to that title shot,” said Smith Jr. “I faced numerous guys that were top contenders, and I got a lot of experience on that road to getting that belt.
“In that fight [with Maxim Vlasov], I was in there with one of the best guys in the world. He has an amazing record with a lot of experience, and I’m just getting better and better with each fight I have because I’m fighting the best,” said Joe Smith.
It would be interesting to see the current version of Smith Jr. take on the three fighters that have beaten him in the past. If it were possible, Smith would likely avenge his three defeats and look good in doing so.
Smith wants to show his improvements
“You are experienced. It’s been a long eventual road for you,” said Kellerman to Smith Jr. “I called your fight on HBO when you were an up-and-coming contender.
“You ended the great Bernard Hopkins’ career by knocking him out, clean put of the ring. Then you lose your next fight [to Sullivan Barrera], and your eventual title shot between stringing some good wins together and the one culminating over Vlasov.
“So you mentioned that it’s given you experience, but what’s that journey been like?”
“It’s been up and down, but everything that happened happened for a reason, and I feel that everything that’s happened has made me a better fighter today,” said Joe Smith.
“I’m motivated and looking forward to getting in that ring to show everybody the improvements I made. I believe you’re going to see a faster, sharper just all-around fighter when I’m in there this Saturday,” said Smith.
“Given the way you can punch, isn’t it about setting up the shot, figuring out how to get that shot home because what you hit you hurt?” said Kellerman.
Smith Jr. will need to go on the attack against Geffrard because he will be trying to outbox him the entire fight. If Smith starts slowly, he could find himself trailing badly in the second half of the contest.
Beterbiev fight possible for Smith Jr
“The two top 175-pounders in the world are fellow belt holders, Artur Beterbiev and Dmitry Bivol. Both are undefeated. You came up against Bivol, you alluded to it, but now your name has been linked to Beterbiev, and that would be bombs away. Your thoughts?” said Kellerman on Smith’s potential next fight.
“Yeah, I think that fights a big exciting fight that the fans would love to see,” said Smith Jr. on a unification clash at 175 between him and IBF/WBC champion Beterbiev.
“That’s one of the biggest fights in boxing to be made because it’s two huge punchers going at it, and that’s what people like to see. They like to see people punching hard and knocking somebody out,” said Smith Jr.
We’ll see if Top Rank wants to put Beterbeiv and Smith Jr. in with each other after this fight. However, it doesn’t make sense for them to agree to fight now because there’s a chance Canelo Alvarez will move up to 175 to challenge for the titles.
Smith not overlooking Geffrard
“Joe, you should know better than most. Boxing history is littered with guys that finally get to the top, and they can let their guard down a little bit like a trap fight against a late-minute sub,” said Kellerman.
“You’re in that position. As hard as you fought to get where you are, is there a danger here that this is a trap fight?” said Kellerman on a fight between Steven Geffrard and Smith Jr. “How are you guarding against that?”
It’s essential that Joe Smith Jr. not overlook the 31-year-old Geffrard because he does have an extensive amateur career. He’s been a pro for almost ten years, and he spars with the best.
“Yeah, there’s definitely a danger with this guy. I don’t know much about him. He came in at the last minute,” said Smith Jr. about his replacement opponent Geffrard.
“I do know he’s a well-experienced fighter, and he was a great amateur,” said Smith. “He spars with Beterbiev, Eleider Alvarez, and many more top contenders.
“So, I know this guy has a lot of experience in other ways, so I’m expecting a tough opponent in front of me,” said Smith on his fight with Geffrard on Saturday night.
Geffrard’s past sparring with the heavy-handed Beterbiev will likely prepare him for what’s in store for him on Saturday night against Smith Jr.
The power between Beterbiev and Smith is similar, and if Geffrard learned from the Russian fighter, he could use that to try and win.