Joe Smith Jr. is marketed as the common man. That’s a nod to his blue-collar background. But what Mastic’s Smith is trying to accomplish Saturday night is anything but common.
At a time when many of boxing’s weight classes claim as many as four world champions, Smith is taking a step toward unifying the light heavyweight division.
Smith is the WBO champion and will look to claim three of the four belts on Saturday when he meets WBC-IBF champion Artur Beterbiev at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden. The fight will be televised live on ESPN at 10 p.m.
If Smith is considered an “ordinary Joe,” his opponent is looked upon as boxing royalty. Beterbiev, whose nickname is “The King,” is 17-0 with 17 knockouts. He is a two-time Russian Olympian who has made five successful title defenses.
“Beterbiev is a great champion who has a tremendous boxing pedigree,” said Joe DeGuardia, Smith’s promoter. “Joe’s greatest victories have been when he has been the biggest underdog.”
Since 2016, when he scored back-to-back upsets over Andrezj Fonfara and Hall-of-Famer Bernard Hopkins, Smith has been a mainstay in the light heavyweight ratings.
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 has made one successful title defense.
A member of Laborers Local 66 on Long Island, Smith’s work ethic has endeared himself to his loyal fan base.
“A title fight at the Garden is something I’ve been dreaming about since I was a kid,” Smith said. “I am looking forward to fighting in front of my fans. It’s been a long road to get here.”
That road has taken Smith to Chicago, Tulsa, Inglewood, Calif., Atlantic City and Verona, New York. During the pandemic, he fought in the solitude of Top Rank’s “bubble” in Las Vegas. The last time Smith fought in the Garden was 2008 when he won the New York Golden Gloves.
“It’s definitely a great feeling to be defending my belt at home,” said Smith, who is 28-3 with 22 knockouts. “It’s been a long time coming. It is going to be a fight that fans remember forever, with two of the biggest punchers in boxing facing off.”
While Smith’s stoppages of Fonfara, Hopkins and Eleider Alvarez gave him a well-earned reputation as a puncher, he’s become more patient and poised in his attack. Trainer Jerry Capobianco has developed Smith into a complete fighter, who is now as comfortable boxing as he is brawling.
“He’s matured tremendously as a fighter, he’s coming into his own,” said DeGuardia, who credited Capobianco with Smith’s advancement. “He learned so much in the Bivol fight. Sometimes you need a fight like that. It laid the foundation for him and you could see how he progressed in his next few 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. That was not lost on Smith. But before he can look for a rematch against Bivol, he has to get past Beterbiev.
“My goal is to unify the division,” Smith said. “Beterbiev is a huge puncher and he’s 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 more ready for this.”
Ready to achieve something truly uncommon.