Long Island light heavyweight contender Joe Smith Jr. will be in the ring when boxing returns to renovated Nassau Coliseum for the first time in 31 years on July 15. The disconnect is that Smith will be across the country in Inglewood, Calif. facing tough Cuban contender Sullivan Barrera at The Forum that night instead of challenging WBC champion Adonis Stevenson at the Coliseum, as most expected back in April.
Coming off his spectacular eighth-round knockout of aging legend Bernard Hopkins in December, Smith was primed for a title shot, but promoter Joe DeGuardia couldn’t reach agreement with Stevenson’s handlers for an April date at the Coliseum, which opted for a welterweight bout between Omar Figueroa and Robert Guerrero, featuring another Long Island light heavyweight, Sean Monaghan, against Staten Island’s Marcus Browne on the undercard.
“I don’t really know exactly why I didn’t get the fight,” Smith said Tuesday in Manhattan. “We were willing to take it. I was hoping for it. I really wanted that shot at a title. But he chose to fight [Andrzej] Fonfara. That’s all I really know. I don’t understand why I didn’t get the shot.”
Jerry Capobianco, who trains Smith, agreed it was a disappointment the proposed Stevenson fight didn’t come together. “It hurt,” Capobianco said. “Especially in Nassau Coliseum. How many opportunities does somebody get to fight in their hometown for a world title? It would have been great, and he would have won.”
In one published report, Canadian promoter Yvon Michel, who handles Stevenson, blamed DeGuardia for making exorbitant demands. DeGuardia vehemently denied those charges Tuesday.
“They were given every single way a fight could take place, everything from ‘I’ll do it,’ to ‘You do it. Give me a number,’” DeGuardia said. “They wouldn’t even come up with a number. They weren’t interested in a deal . . . He wasn’t ever coming to the Coliseum. It was a game.”
Wherever the truth lies, Smith (23-1, 19 KOs) must defeat Barrera (19-1, 14 KOs) to maintain his title chances. “This is a huge risk,” Capobianco said. “Maybe if we sat around and just waited, maybe Joe would have gotten a [title] shot. But he wants to fight the best to be the best.”
Capobianco described Barrera as a boxer-puncher whose power is second only to Smith’s in the light heavyweight division. “I know he’s a great boxer with a lot of experience,” Smith said. “He’s a strong, big guy, and I’m just focused on working on my boxing. I want to prove that I can box, and I also want to continue to show the punching power that I have.”
If Smith wins, he should be well-positioned to face either Stevenson, WBO and IBF champion Andre Ward or possibly Sergey Kovalev, who recently lost to Ward. Long Island fans would like a matchup between Smith and Monaghan at the Coliseum, but Smith’s sights are on bigger things.
“I’d definitely like it to happen down the road, but I don’t want to fight anybody from New York right now,” Smith said. “I want to fight for the world title. Once I’m a world champion, then maybe we’ll make it happen.”