Joe Smith Jr. obviously would welcome a high-profile fight against Artur Beterbiev or Canelo Alvarez later this year.
A long-discussed showdown with Beterbiev seems like the more realistic option, as both boxers are co-promoted by Bob Arum’s Top Rank Inc. A fight versus Alvarez would be tougher to put together because Alvarez’s purse demands are so high that Top Rank likely would shy away from a fight featuring Alvarez, who isn’t contractually tied to a promoter at the moment.
If the heavily favored Smith (27-3, 21 KOs) defeats late replacement Steve Geffrard (18-2, 12 KOs) on Saturday night, he also wants his handlers to explore a rematch with WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol. Russia’s Bivol beat Smith by unanimous decision in March 2019, but Smith has since won the WBO 175-pound crown and thus is once again a viable opponent for Bivol (19-0, 11 KOs).
Though Bivol beat him by large margins on all three scorecards, Smith sneaks peeks on occasion of a clip on his phone from when he hurt Bivol. Smith’s right hand to the side of Bivol’s head landed at almost precisely the same time as the bell sounded to end the 10th round.
If Smith had “five more seconds,” he believes he could’ve become a world champion two years earlier than he did. A buzzed Bivol stumbled as he started to walk back to his corner, but Smith couldn’t capitalize on the momentary momentum he’d built once the 11th round started.
“It’s like I was one punch away from becoming a world champion at that time,” Smith told BoxingScene.com. “But Bivol, he came back the next round even stronger. It showed that he was a classy world champion and a tough world champ. He came back and he won those last rounds after that, so in my eyes, he’s the best light heavyweight in the division right now.”
The 32-year-old Smith views Bivol as a more complete fighter than Russia’s Beterbiev, the IBF/WBC champion who has knocked out each of his 17 pro opponents.
“I feel he’s better than Beterbiev because he’s a really good boxer and he really beats people up in there,” Smith said. “You know, even though he’s not getting knockouts, he’s still dominating fights. Of course [Beterbiev gets attention] because of the knockouts, where Bivol is not finishing people when he can. Beterbiev definitely has more punching power and is stronger, but Bivol is an all-around good fighter.”
Each of the 31-year-old Bivol’s past six fights have gone the 12-round distance. His wide win over Smith was the third of those six WBA title defenses.
“My big goal is to redeem myself against Bivol at some point, and I would love to do that,” Smith said. “That’s a huge opportunity for me. It would mean a lot because, you know, I look at Bivol as my one true loss. My other two losses were due to injuries [fractures to his jaw in both instances], where I couldn’t even focus in there to pull out the win. You know, redeeming myself against him, a world champ, would be great.”
ESPN will air the bout between Smith, of Mastic, New York, and Geffrard, of Boca Raton, Florida, as the 12-round main event of a doubleheader from Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York (10 p.m. ET). Caesars Sportsbook lists Smith as a 12-1 favorite to beat Geffrard, who took their fight on eight days’ notice after England’s Callum Johnson (20-1, 14 KOs) contracted COVID-19 and withdrew from his shot at Smith’s title last week.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.