If Artur Beterbiev truly wants to fight Joe Smith Jr. next, he had better act fast.

That’s the message Joe DeGuardia, Smith’s co-promoter, delivered after Smith stopped Steve Geffrard early in the ninth round Saturday night at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York. From DeGuardia’s vantagepoint, Smith has wasted too much time already waiting for Beterbiev to agree to fight Smith, thus they will explore other options if Beterbiev doesn’t quickly express genuine interest in meeting Smith next.

Matching Smith (28-3, 22 KOs), the WBO light heavyweight champion, against Beterbiev (17-0, 17 KOs), the IBF/WBC champ, in a 175-pound title unification fight should be relatively easy because both boxers are co-promoted by Bob Arum’s Top Rank Inc. DeGuardia made it clear in a post-fight interview with BoxingScene.com that the Beterbiev bout is the fight Smith most wants next.

“Look, I mean, obviously it’s a fight we want,” DeGuardia said. “It’s a fight we’ve wanted for, you know, now what, three years? We’ve been trying to make that fight. We tried to make that fight before the [Dmitry] Bivol fight [in March 2019] and, you know, Beterbiev didn’t wanna take it after they told us he was gonna fight. So ultimately, if Beterbiev wants the fight and if ESPN wants the fight, we can make that fight happen. When you’ve got fighters that wanna fight, we’re gonna be able to make that fight happen. But frankly, I’m not gonna sit around and wait for Beterbiev because I want Joe to be back in the ring. We’ve been out for nine months here. You know, you’ve got a world that’s surrounded by delays with COVID and everything else.

“So, when you have those kind of situations and those issues, you know, you don’t wanna be sittin’ around, waitin’. So, you know, if we can make a deal with Beterbiev, then, you know, let’s make the deal. Let’s get together, let’s do something quickly and let’s make a deal. And if not, we’re gonna look for somebody else because I want Joe back in the ring. He should be back in the ring. He shouldn’t be waitin’ around. There’s too many things that can happen in this COVID world anyway. So, I’d like to get him back in the ring.”

The 32-year-old Smith claimed during an interview with BoxingScene.com before he defeated Geffrard (18-3, 12 KOs) that Beterbiev doesn’t want to fight him (https://www.boxingscene.com/joe-smith-i-believe-beterbiev-wants-fight-me-ive-signed-multiple-contracts--163271).

Russia’s Beterbiev, who will turn 37 on Friday, probably will need more time than Smith to recover from his most recent fight because Beterbiev suffered a nasty gash across his forehead while he beat Marcus Browne by ninth-round knockout December 17 at Bell Centre in Montreal. His gruesome wound required extensive plastic surgery and could cause a lengthy layoff.

“I’m not gonna keep Joe on the shelf, waitin’ for Beterbiev, or make a deal with Beterbiev and then he pulls out,” DeGuardia said. “So, those are all factors in what we’re going to do next. But if Beterbiev really wants the fight and if ESPN wants this fight to be made, then let’s sit down, get this thing done and put it together. That’s really what it comes down to.”

Smith’s victory over Geffrard, a late replacement for England’s Callum Johnson (20-1, 14 KOs) once Johnson contracted COVID-19, was the Mastic, New York, native’s first fight since he edged Russia’s Maxim Vlasov (46-4, 26 KOs) by majority decision to win his then-vacant WBO title April 10 at Osage Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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