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‘Common Man’ Joe Smith Jr. Aims for Another Uncommon Outcome vs. Dmitry Bivol

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Joe Smith

Joe Smith Jr. knows what much of the world thinks of him, in a boxing sense. He was dismissed as a “common” man by future Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins before they squared off on Dec. 17, 2016, which undoubtedly was as true then as it is now. Even Smith (a common name if ever there was one) acknowledged that, as a fighter, he was and is more blue-collar than blue-blood, a card-carrying union member of Local 66 on Long Island, N.Y., whose day job as a common laborer – which he still holds – involves such working man’s chores as pouring concrete, digging trenches, laying sheetrock, power-washing septic tanks and knocking down walls with a sledgehammer. He does that for eight to 10 hours a day before heading to the gym at 6 p.m. to train for an upcoming bout.

It’s an exhausting schedule, and one that Smith would just as soon whittle down when and if his personal circumstances allow. But supposedly common fighters, like all common men, must plan for the future while taking nothing for granted in the present.

“Hell, I’m human,” the 29-year-old Smith (24-2, 20 KOs), who will be in a familiar underdog role when he challenges WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol (15-0, 11 KOs) in the DAZN-streamed main event Saturday night at the Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, N.Y., said in a lengthy profile in The Ring a couple of years ago. “Every day I go to work I want to leave. I just push myself to stay as long as I can. I keep myself motivated to go past that pain. But no one can beat down a hard-hat guy who can take anything.

“There isn’t a day that goes by when I’m not asking myself, `What the hell am I doing here?’ since I have boxing. But I do see how my day job (which pays $38 an hour, with benefits) works well with my night job as a fighter. I don’t really think I would be able to do one without the other.”

Maybe, just maybe, if Smith again confounds the odds-makers – Bivol is a -2500 wagering choice, meaning you’d have to put up $2,500 to win $100, while Smith is +1000, which would yield a $1,000 return on a $100 bet – he can finally afford to tell his Local 66 bosses that he is turning in his sledgehammer to concentrate on boxing full-time. He almost certainly will receive a payday far in excess of his previous high of $400,000 for the Hopkins fight, although the Oneida Nation Gaming Commission is notoriously hesitant to release such figures unless or until it is absolutely necessary. In any case, taxes and fees paid to his promoters, manager, trainer and other support-crew members will reduce his end by about half, or maybe even a little bit more.

“For a second, I thought about leaving construction, but that’s not me and who I am,” Smith said after his first six-figure payday ($150,000), and first signature victory, a first-round knockout of the heavily favored Andrzej Fonfara on June 18, 2016, in Fonfara’s hometown of Chicago, a bout that was nationally televised by NBC. “Boxing is such a crazy game that you could go months and months without a fight. How will I pay my bills? How will I get the things that I want and do things for my family? I wasn’t about to change everything, because working construction and doing all of the things I did got me here. Why change something that isn’t broken?”

Smith knows about things than can and do break, like jaws, which might explain his hesitancy to take a leap of faith and bet big on himself as a fighter who everyone agrees is pretty good, and maybe even a bit better than that, but not necessarily elite.

Riding high after his surprise knockout of Hopkins – which, in retrospect, might not have been quite the shocker it appeared to be at first glance – there was talk of Smith snagging a big-money title shot if he got past Sullivan Barrera, no easy task but certainly viewed as doable in light of the way he had pounded Hopkins out of the ring, where he was counted out in the eighth round by referee Jack Reiss. This was not the way Hopkins, who had vowed that the bout with Smith would be the finale of his 28-year pro career, win, lose or draw, had imagined his sendoff would end. He was, after all, a legendary fighter who knew what it was like to lose, but had never lost inside the distance.

Against Barrera, Smith started strongly, flooring the Cuban in the first round and nearly closing the deal with a follow-up barrage. But Barrera recovered quickly and went on to win a unanimous, 10-round decision whose immediate effect was to reduce Smith from flavor of the month to, again, another Average Joe. Shortly thereafter it was revealed that Smith suffered a broken jaw in the second round and would need to undergo surgery. It marked the second time Smith had had his jaw broken during a bout, the first a fourth-round KO loss to Eddie Caminero in 2010.

Since his momentum-blunting setback to Barrera, Smith has fought just once, a first-round blowout of 39-year-old journeyman Melvin Russell on June 30 of last year. That gimme victory probably should not have been enough to boost him into a matchup with Bivol, who is arguably the best light heavyweight in the world at this juncture, but Smith does have those signature wins over Fonfara and Hopkins. It also didn’t hurt that the unification matchup of Bivol and IBF 175-pound champion Artur Beterbiev (13-0, 13 KOs), which seemed to be a done deal in January, fell apart when Bivol signed a co-promotional deal with Matchroom Boxing that puts his fights on DAZN while Beterbiev cast his lot with Top Rank and ESPN. Since Bivol needed to fight somebody on March 9, Smith, an available pinch-hitter, was offered his dream shot.

“Joe’s been waiting for a while for a world title fight,” said Smith’s longtime promoter, Joe DeGuardia of Star Boxing, who has entered into a co-promotional arrangement with Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn to advance the self-professed common man’s ring career. “Joe has made the most of his opportunities. He did it against Fonfara, he did it against Bernard Hopkins. I’m looking forward to him doing it against Dmitry Bivol.”

Some have compared Smith to other working-class heroes such as the “Cinderella Man,” James J. Braddock, who went from being a longshoreman during the Great Depression to scoring one of boxing’s most memorable upsets when he outpointed heavyweight champion Max Baer in 1935, and “Irish” Micky Ward, he of the three unforgettable encounters with Arturo Gatti. The stories of both Braddock and Ward were turned into well-received movies, in keeping with Hollywood’s fascination with supposed nobodies who rise up and, when it counts, become somebodies. Who knows, maybe Smith, should he take down Bivol, will get a similar big-screen treatment somewhere down the line.

Then again, maybe not. There are those who insist that Smith got Fonfara out of there with a lucky punch, and that he did to Hopkins what no one else had ever done mostly because Joe was 27, young and strong, while B-Hop was 29 days shy of his 52nd birthday, had not fought in 25 months and chose Smith as his goodbye present to himself as an active fighter only because he didn’t think he was all that good to begin with.

“He thought I was nobody dangerous,” Smith said of how he believes he was perceived by Hopkins. “But we watched videos of him and we just knew that he had nothing for me. We saw he didn’t have much power or anything; he was just slick. We knew we just had to keep the pressure on him and eventually he would fold.”

In retrospect, Hopkins sort of agrees. He acknowledged pushing the envelope a bit too far, the result of being overly confident that he was somehow exempt from the ravages of the aging process.

“All credit to Joe Smith, he did what he had to do, but it was also Father Time helping him,” Hopkins told me of a fight he now realizes he was perhaps unwise to have taken. “If you stay in this game, and it’s a hard game, time will defeat you every time. I have no regrets about how my career went, but I stayed in the game too long. I admit it.”

So, does Hopkins, now an executive with Golden Boy, believe Smith is capable of reaching down into his trick bag and pulling out another shocker?

“Joe Smith is fighting a really tough guy, a young guy (Bivol is 28) who has a lot of skills and can really fight,” Hopkins said. “Although Joe is not on his level, he does have a really good punch. If you have that, you always have a puncher’s chance. I do expect Joe Smith to be at his best that night, but I really don’t see him winning that fight unless it’s by a knockout.”

This is where Joe Smith Jr.’s day job and night job tend to coalesce. In daylight hours, he might be a lunch-pail-carrying, hard-hat-wearing Everyman, but there are occasions when he’s asked to whack away at walls or whatever with a destructive tool of his trade. This Saturday night, at the Turning Stone, he will carry a sledgehammer of sorts in each fist, with which he will do his best to tear down the Kyrgyzstan-born, Russia-based Bivol, against whom he really should have little chance of adding to his list of unlikely victims.

But power is the great equalizer in boxing, capable of turning certain defeat into late victory in a way that football and basketball teams, trailing by insurmountable margins with just minutes remaining, can’t. Joe Smith Jr. has been written off before. He doesn’t listen to the doubters and the naysayers because, well, why should he?

And if things don’t go as he hopes they will, there’s always Local 66 to provide a safety net of sorts to someone who never has been reluctant to put in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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Jake Paul vs Tommy Fury on Feb. 26 in a Potential Pay-Per-View Blockbuster

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It’s now official. The twice-postponed “grudge match” between Jake Paul and Tommy Fury will come to fruition on Sunday, Feb. 26, at Riyadh in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. An 8-rounder contested at a catch-weight of 185 pounds, the match and several supporting bouts will air in the U.S. on ESPN+ PPV at a cost of $49.99.

The hook for this promotion – a come-hither that will be hammered home incessantly in the coming weeks – is that Jake Paul will finally touch gloves with a legitimate professional boxer. Paul’s previous opponents were a fellow YouTube influencer (AnEsonGib), a retired NBA player (Nate Robinson), and three former MMA champions: Ben Askren, Tyron Woodley, and Anderson Silva. He fought Woodley twice.

Tommy Fury, the half-brother of reigning WBC world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, made his pro debut in December of 2018 in a four-round bout in his hometown of Manchester. He was two fights into his pro career when he became a contestant on the TV reality show “Love Island.” An enormously popular show in Great Britain, especially among the coveted 18-34 demographic, “Love Island” was in its fifth season.

Fury was paired with supermodel Molly-Mae Hague with whom he finished second. They developed a great chemistry, on and off the set, became engaged, and purportedly welcomed a baby girl this week.

What about Tommy Fury the boxer? How legitimate is he?

Fury’s record currently stands at 8-0 (4 KOs). His first opponent was a professional loser from Latvia whose current ledger reads 10-113-3. His next six opponents were a combined 4-73-2. Finally, in his last fight, which occurred in April of last year, he met an opponent with a good record, Poland’s Daniel Bocianski, who was 10-1. But look closer and one discovers that all but one of Bocianski’s 10 triumphs came against opponents with losing records. The exception was a 6-round decision over a fellow Pole whose record currently stands at 18-16-1 and who has been stopped 13 times.

Fury bloodied Bocianski and won a wide 6-round decision, but his performance was underwhelming. “Fury had the Hollywood teeth, tan, and diamante-colored shorts,” wrote Chasinga Malata of the London Sun, “leaving only his performance without sheen and sparkle.”

There is nothing in Tommy Fury’s background, aside from his biological pedigree, to suggest that he has the tools to become a world-class boxer. If he were a member of the Three Stooges, he would be Shemp.

Jake Paul, by contrast, may actually be legit. Those in the know that have watched him train have come away impressed. It says here that Paul isn’t moving up in class on Feb. 26; it’s the other way around.

In the co-feature, Ilunga Makabu (29-2, 25 KOs) will make the third defense of his WBC world cruiserweight title against Badou Jack (27-3-3, 16 KOs). A Congolese-South African, Makabu is the older brother of heavyweight contender Martin Bakole. Jack, four years older than Makabu at age 39, formerly held world titles at 168 and 175 pounds.

Although Badou Jack was born in Sweden and keeps a home in Las Vegas where he has long been affiliated with the Mayweather Boxing Club, he will have the home field advantage in Saudi Arabia where he has cultivated a loyal following. A devout Muslim, Jack will be making his fourth straight start in the Persian Gulf Region. In his last outing, he outpointed Richard “Popeye” Rivera at Jeddah, winning a 10-round split decision.

Badou Jack

Badou Jack

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 223: A Lively Weekend in SoCal with Three Fight Cards in Two Days

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 223: A Lively Weekend in SoCal with Three Fight Cards in Two Days

Big money prizefighting returns to the Los Angeles area with back-to-back shows. First, Serhii Bohachuk heads a 360 Promotions card on Friday and then Alexis Rocha is featured on Saturday in a Golden Boy Promotions production. And on the same day Riverside’s Saul Rodriguez fights in his hometown.

Bohachuk, Rocha, and Rodriguez are aggressive big hitters.

Ukraine’s Bohachuk seeks to regain footing in the super welterweight division. He was rapidly climbing up the ratings ladder when first he was defeated by Brandon Adams two years ago. And then the invasion of his home country Ukraine stalled him even more.

On Friday Jan. 27, at the Quiet Cannon in Montebello, Calif. Bohachuk (21-1, 21 KOs) meets Nathaniel Gallimore (22-6-1, 17 KOs) in the main event. UFC Fight Pass will stream the 360 Boxing Promotions card.

Few fighters are as well-liked outside of the prize ring as Bohachuk. Always amiable, he’s one of the handful of fighters that always smiles. Inside the ring, he’s a killer. No one leaves without someone getting knocked out.

Gallimore, 34, is no slouch. He has a knockout win over former world titlist Jeison Rosario and has battled almost all of the top super welterweights. He is a veteran and very crafty.

The Quiet Cannon venue is not very large, but it does have a patio and good food and drink. Most of the crowd ventures from all over Southern California to attend the fights at that venue. It gets packed.

Golden Boy in Inglewood

Welterweight contender Alexis Rocha headlines the Golden Boy Promotions card on Saturday, Jan. 28, at the brand new YouTube Theater in Inglewood, Calif. DAZN will stream the fight card.

Rocha (21-1, 13 KOs) faces George Ashie (33-5-1) in the main event set for 12 rounds. Finally, there is an opponent for the left-handed fighter from Santa Ana. It didn’t look like he was going to fight after opponent after opponent fell out for one reason or another.

“You have to be ready for anybody they put in front of you. If it’s you or George Ashie, I have to prepare for it. I have to focus on what I can do,” said Rocha.

Others on the card include super middleweight Bektemir Melikuziev (10-1) vs Ulises Sierra (17-2-2) set for 10 rounds. Also, good looking lightweight prospect Floyd Schofield (12-0, 10 KOs) meets Alberto Mercado (17-4-1).

Schofield fights out of Austin, Texas and looks like someone to watch.

Doors open at 3 p.m.

Neno Returns in San Bernardino        

Garcia Promotions stages a boxing card on Saturday Jan. 28, at the Club Event Center in San Bernardino. Garcia Promotions is associated with trainer Robert Garcia and family whose training compound is located in nearby Riverside.

A primarily local fight card featuring all fighters from Garcia’s gym will be performing.

Headlining is Saul “Neno” Rodriguez out of Riverside, California.

It’s been nearly three years since Rodriguez (24-1-1, 18 KOs) last fought and he faces Mexico’s Juan Meza Angulo (6-1, 3 KOs) in the co-main event.

At one time Rodriguez was a big fan favorite because of his fast work and knockout ability. Once he got to the top plateau he ran into another knockout puncher in Miguel Angel Gonzalez and lost by stoppage.

Prizefighting is a tricky road. One loss can mean difficulty in finding a big-time promoter or it can mean discovering what you need to do to re-establish your skills. A fighter can go the road of Kermit “The Killer” Cintron and find out other ways to win without a kill-or be-killed style. Or they can travel the road of Marco Antonio Barrera who was knocked out by Junior Jones but adapted a more boxer-puncher style that allowed him to defeat Erik Morales twice and Prince Naseem Hamed.

Rodriguez, 29, still has time to make a good run for a title bid. It all starts on Saturday.

Others on the Garcia Promotions card are fighters who are part of trainer Garcia’s stable including Gabriel Muratalla, Leonardo Ruiz, Jose Rodriguez and others.

Doors open at 4 p.m. with amateurs opening the boxing program.

Fights to Watch

Fri. UFC Fight Pass 7 p.m. Serhii Bohachuk (21-1) vs Nathaniel Gallimore (22-6-1).

Sat. ESPN+ 11:30 a.m. Artur Beterbiev (18-0) vs Anthony Yarde (23-2).

Sat. DAZN  5 p.m. Alexis Rocha (21-1) vs George Ashie (33-5-1).

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Artur Beterbiev: “I’d prefer to fight Bivol because he has the one thing I need”

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Russian Artur Beterbiev, triple champion of the 175-pound division, is the only current world champion who, thanks to the enormous power he wields in his fists, has won all his fights inside the distance.

Beterbiev has 18 victories by way of chloroform since he debuted as a professional fighter in June 2013 when he anesthetized retired American, Christian Cruz, in the tenth round at the Bell Center in Montreal where Beterbiev currently resides.

Beterbiev, who turned thirty-eight last Saturday, will defend his WBC, IBF, and WBO titles against Brit Anthony “The Beast from the East” Yarde (23-2, 22 KOs) on Saturday, January 28th at the OVO Arena in London.

Beterbiev obtained the WBO belt on June 18th this past year when he defeated American Joe Smith (28-4, 22 KOs) in the second round at Madison Square Garden. This was Smith’s second defense of the belt.

Earlier, in November 2017, Beterbiev won the vacant IBF belt after defeating German Enrico Koelling (28-5, 9 KOs) by knockout in the twelfth round in Fresno, California.

Two years later, Beterbiev seized the WBC belt from Ukrainian Oleksandr Gvozdyk (17-1, 14 KOs) in Philadelphia. Three knockdowns in the tenth round forced referee Gary Rosato to stop the lopsided bout with 11 seconds remaining in the round.  Beterbiev maintains that although his intention is to win each fight, in no way does he want to harm his rival and that his greatest wish is for both of them to leave the ring healthy.

Referring to his upcoming matchup, Beterbiev told BoxingScene that “after the fight, I just hope he (Yarde) is okay.”

He acknowledged that he does not know much about the British boxer, although he has watched several of his fights: “He’s a good fighter, has good experience as a professional and he’s a boxer. He’s dangerous so I have to prepare for this fight like I always do.”

Beterbiev said that his main motivation is to successfully defend the three belts he owns and that is why he will try to be one hundred percent ready and then it will be evident who is the better fighter.

Regarding his knockout streak, Beterbiev emphatically denied that he enjoys knocking out his opponents: “No. There’s no pleasure in it. I just hope everything is OK with them. I just want to do good boxing, not hit people.”

Beterbiev smiles enigmatically and stares at the horizon when they ask him to what he attributes the strength of his fists to. “I know for sure, 1000 percent, that the secret to my power is somewhere in my boxing gym but I don’t know exactly where,” he adds. “I don’t know which exercise or bag gave me this secret. I don’t know where it comes from. I wasn’t always like this either, it has come from working every day. But really my dream is to be a good boxer one day.”

Aside from the upcoming fight with Yarde, Beterbiev acknowledges in each interview that his goal is to be the undisputed champion of the division, which means facing (and defeating) the undefeated Russian Dmitry Bivol (21-0, 11 KOs), who holds the WBA light heavyweight super championship belt.

“I need Bivol,” Beterbiev admits. “I’d prefer to fight Bivol because he has the one thing I need. I hope I fight him in 2023 but the hold-up is not from my side, it’s from their side. In the last three years he always says he will fight me next but in this time we’ve done unification fights against Oleksandr Gvozdyk and Joe Smith. We’ve done that whereas he has just been talking about it.

Beterbiev recalled that he was with Bivol on the Russian national team where they were amateurs. “I knew him then, but he is younger than me. We haven’t talked for 10 years now. He was 75kg back then, too small for me. We were never friends.”

Article submitted by Jorge Juan Alvarez in Spanish.

 Please note any adjustments made were for clarification purposes and any errors in translation were unintentional.

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Jessica Nery Plata vs Kim Clavel with Yokasta Valle possibly on the Horizon

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