Long Island union laborer Joe Smith Jr. calls himself “The Common Man,” but the result of his last fight was something special when he knocked the legendary Bernard Hopkins through the ropes and out of the ring for an eighth-round knockout last December. Never mind that Hopkins was one month short of his 52nd birthday.
“I believe the way that I beat him showed the world that I am a top contender and I deserve to be at the top and get a title shot eventually,” Smith said recently. “My confidence definitely has gone up. But I just focus on training very hard.”
Smith (23-1, 19 KOs) returns to the ring in a 12-round bout against Cuban light heavyweight contender Sullivan Barrera (19-1, 14 KOs) Saturday night at the Forum in Inglewood, California, in the first fight of an “HBO Boxing After Dark” card that airs at 9:50 p.m.
Barrera’s only loss came 16 months ago against Andre Ward, who is ranked by many as the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Barrera was knocked down once in that bout before losing a unanimous decision, but he came back to stop his next two opponents.
The matchup has the potential to be a slugfest, but Jerry Capobianco, who trains Smith, says his fighter is developing into a more well-rounded boxer.
“People are going to see Joe can box a little bit,” Capobianco said. “I think Joe is faster. His feet are going to be faster, his hands are going to be faster, and he’s definitely much stronger.
“Barrera is a boxer-puncher. He has a good jab and a great right hand. He has a lot of power. He may be second to Joe in power. He’s a tough fighter. It’s going to be a hard-fought fight.”
If Smith can get past Barrera, he should be in line for a shot against WBA, IBF and WBO titleholder Ward, WBC champion Adonis Stevenson or top contender Sergey Kovalev, who just lost to Ward in Capobianco’s view.
“Those are the three fights I really want,” Smith said. “I’m looking to fight for a world title, but any one of those fights would be great.”