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

Bernard Fernandez

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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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Avila Perspective, Chap. 116: Three Days of the Condor

David A. Avila

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Every year it happens.

Some of the best fights are made at the end of the year.

Three consecutive days of high-level prizefighting begin in Los Angeles, move to London and return to Dallas, Texas. I tagged it Three Days of the Condor in honor of the great spy movie of the 70s starring Robert Redford.

Here’s what is coming:

New York welterweight prospect Brian Ceballo (11-0, 6 KOs) meets Utah’s Larry Gomez (10-1, 8 KOs) 10 rounds on Thursday Dec. 3, at the Wild Card Gym parking lot in Hollywood, California. NBC SN will televise the Ring City Fight card beginning at 6 p.m. Pacific Coast Time.

It was supposed to be Brandon Adams versus Serhii Bohachuk in a super welterweight clash that had fans salivating who are familiar with the two. But the Ukrainian fighter who trains in Southern California fell ill with the coronavirus. Now Adams fights late replacement Sanny Duversonne in an eight-round bout. Poor Bohachuk.

“It is with regret that I have to announce that I’ve contracted the COVID virus and have to withdraw from the fight on Dec. 3,” Bohachuck said. “I want to thank Ring City and NBC Sports for the opportunity, and I look forward to fighting Adams in the future. I’m feeling fine and look forward to resuming my training as soon as I’m cleared.”

Ceballo (pictured) and Gomez are now the true main event and both have not fought in over a year. That should make it even. This also makes the second boxing card for the Ring City fight group. Two weeks ago, Ring City opened with a doozy of a boxing card. This should equal their opener in terms of even matchups.

British Action

Early Friday morning a boxing card features WBO super middleweight titlist Billy Joe Saunders (29-0, 14 KOs) defending against veteran contender Martin Murray (39-5-1, 17 KOs) at London, England. DAZN will stream the Matchroom fight card beginning at 11 a.m. PT.

Saunders is a chatty sort who loves to discombobulate opponents in a variety of ways. Whether attacking their physical appearance or lack of skills, he is not shy about voicing his opinion.

But he does have respect for Murray.

“He’s challenged for the world title four times. He should have been world champion in two of those fights. I’ve promised him a chance,” said Saunders who is making his second defense of the WBO title and is a former middleweight world titlist.

The left-handed Saunders has long sought a match with Saul “Canelo” Alvarez who has held super welterweight, middleweight, super middleweight and light heavyweight world titles.

“The Canelo fight fell through in May,” said Saunders. “On Friday we’ll rock and roll.”

Murray is anxious for what could be his final world title shot.

“He’s not fought the opposition I’ve had,” said Murray who lost to Gennady Golovkin, Sergio Martinez and Felix Sturm. “If I’d had fought the people he’s fought, I’d have a world title. I’ve done it the hard way.”

PPV Welterweight Showdown

Errol Spence Jr. returns and the world will see if the championship caliber fighter still carries all of his weaponry.

He will be tested.

Spence (26-0, 21 K0s) returns to the prize ring after one year following a horrific automobile crash. He meets former two-division world champ Danny “Swift” Garcia (36-2, 21 KOs) on Saturday Dec. 5, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The PBC card will be televised on FOX pay-per-view.

Back in September 2019, the speedy Spence lit up the boxing ring at Los Angeles in an electrifying battle with Shawn Porter. He barely emerged victorious and then allegedly celebrated in Texas by going more than 100 mph in a Ferrari 488 Spyder and flipping the expensive car end over end. The horrific crash was captured on video and despite the ugliness of the accident, Spence did not suffer any broken bones. But there was internal damage.

Just how severe were his injuries?

This marks the first time back in the prize ring and Garcia is a very rugged test. All Philadelphia fighters are tough, and he just might be the toughest of them all.

Garcia has only two losses in his career and both were very close decision defeats: First, against Shawn Porter and second against Keith Thurman. The counter-puncher has never been stopped or dropped and packs a wallop.

“He’s not much of a volume puncher so it will be more tactical. It probably won’t be like the Shawn Porter fight, an all-out brawl/fight. I think this will be more tactical, and pinpoint type of fight between me and him,” Spence told Brian Custer on The Last Stand Podcast.

This will be a true test for Spence who has mentioned many times desiring a match with Manny Pacquiao and WBO titlist Terence Crawford.

One interesting bout on the same pay-per-view card pits Josesito Lopez (37-8) versus Francisco Santana (25-8-1) in a 10-round welterweight mash-up. This fight is not for the squeamish. Both these guys are bruisers and have fought the best. It’s amazing that the two California fighters have not faced each other before. They have fought everyone else. Now its Lopez against Santana.

It will be brutal while it lasts.

Macho film

Showtime debuts its sports documentary on “Macho: The Hector Camacho Story” on Friday night December 4, at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

If you love boxing don’t miss this important film on Camacho, one of the most scintillating boxers of the 1980s and 1990s. His presence in the boxing scene now seems to be overlooked by the great welterweights and Mike Tyson who dominated the boxing landscape.

Camacho was the lone prizefighter in the lower weight classes who could match their allure. The Puerto Rican fighter from Spanish Harlem fought and beat Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard. How many fighters can claim that?

It’s a very well-made documentary that delves into the flamboyant fighter’s life.

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Boxing Promoter Michelle “Raging Babe” Rosado Pulls No Punches

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Michelle Rosado, the founder and CEO of Raging Babe Promotions, made her promotional debut on Feb. 8, 2019 with a show at South Philly’s intimate 2300 Arena. The show drew an SRO crowd, a testament to Rosado’s tireless work ethic, but ended on a sour note when local fan favorite Christian Carto – potentially the next big thing on the Philadelphia boxing scene – stepped up in class and was brutally knocked out by Mexican veteran Victor Ruiz. A protégé of Hall of Fame boxing promoter J Russell Peltz (pictured on the left), Rosado recently appeared on the “Last Stand Podcast with Brian Custer” to share her thoughts on some of the major issues in boxing. Here are excerpts from that interview compliments of publicist Keisha Williams.

ROSADO ON WHY CLUB SHOWS ARE IMPORTANT TO THE SPORT

“Club shows are where you are building those prospects, that’s where you’re developing those fighters you see the top promoters are pulling these opponents from. We’re developing these guys from the ground up, we’re almost like a farm system. Most of these guys you see on TV fighting for millions of dollars, and becoming world champions, a lot of them started at the club level.”

ROSADO ON STATE OF WOMEN’S BOXING

“Women’s boxing needs a platform, there’s nowhere for these girls to fight, they deserve some fairness in our sport. I’m not trying to say they deserve to be paid the same as Canelo, but they shouldn’t be paid 5 thousand dollars to defend their titles either, so in 2021

I’m going to get more involved in women’s boxing and try and be a voice for them because they deserve better and a platform.”

ROSADO ON HOW DIFFICULT IT IS BEING IT IS BEING A FEMALE PROMOTER IN BOXING

“I’ve been called every racial slur you can think of, I’ve had tickets thrown in my face, I’ve had my house vandalized, I’ve had a brick thrown threw my back window of my car. I’ve been called every kind of groupie you can imagine. She’s slept with everybody in the business and every fighter. I’ve earned my stripes, I’ve worked hard, no handouts, it’s just been all hard work and I’ve had to learn to turn the cheek. Most people know nine years in that I’m a hustler. You’ll never find a fighter that says she stole from me, she didn’t pay me, she lied to me, you’ll never find a fighter that says that!”

RAGING BABE ON FEMALE BOXING PROMOTERS

“Yes we have a lot more women in boxing, yes it still a little more difficult for us, but we’re there you hear us roaring. Behind every big promoter, he’s got a woman either as his right hand man or running the operation. And I mean all of them!”

ROSADO ON HER ULTIMATE GOAL

“I want to continue to promote good fights, I want to make Philadelphia the legendary fight town that it once was, I want to develop those guys from the ground up, I want old school and new school boxing fans to come to my shows and fall in love with boxing again, and them become interested in the bigger boxing world again because we’re losing that old school boxing fan. I want to uphold the reputation of real fights, real fighters, real fans that’s my passion.”

ROSADO’S TOP 5 POUND FOR POUND LIST

  1. Terence Crawford
  2. Canelo Alvarez
  3. Errol Spence Jr.
  4. Naoya Inoue
  5. Teofimo Lopez

Rosado on who’s boxing next big star and the best fighter out of Philly right now

“Boxing’s next big star is Tank….We got a lot of really good fighters in Philly, but Jaron “Boots” Ennis is that dude!”

The full in-depth interview is now available on YouTube (Last Stand Podcast with Brian Custer) and all major podcast platforms (Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Spotify, etc.)

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HITS and MISSES: Post-Thanksgiving Weekend Edition

Kelsey McCarson

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It was another massive weekend in boxing. There were big fights on pay-per-view that maybe shouldn’t have been so big, and fights surrounded by lesser fanfare that will probably be looked back at as the more meaningful action by future historians.

Here are the biggest HITS and MISSES from another week on the boxing beat.

HIT: Mike Tyson, Roy Jones and the Unifying Power of Boxing

Whatever you think about the boxing exhibition bout between Mike Tyson and Roy Jones, Jr. on Saturday night, the most important aspect of the whole night (to this writer at least) was seeing how easily a big fight in boxing could still unify our culture.

No, it wasn’t a legitimate prizefight, but people still wanted to see the 54-year-old Tyson go a few rounds with the 51-year-old Jones, and that’s exactly what they got. It was a ride built mostly around the power of nostalgia, and it featured all sorts of present-day celebrities, too.

By the end of things, it seemed the general reaction to the event on social media was positive.

Tyson vs. Jones showed how big a reach boxing still has. Tyson retired over 15 years ago, but people from all over the planet were still willing to pay $50 to watch him climb inside the ropes for a sparring session.

Seeing that left me with two exciting questions.

What awesome power will boxing’s next superstar have?

More importantly, where is he (or she) anyway?

MISS: Ring Announcer’s Steve Harvey Moment 

In 2015, comedian Steve Harvey accidentally announced the wrong winner of the Miss Universe pageant. As humiliating as that event was for Harvey, just imagine how the two women felt after having their hearts filled and slashed by his error.

That same thing sort of happened on Friday night when Danny Jacobs beat Gabriel Rosado via split decision in a 168-pound stay-busy fight streamed by DAZN.

Ring announcer Jeremiah Gallegos accidentally said the winner hailed from Philadelphia (where Rosado is from) before quickly changing it back to Brooklyn (where Jacobs is from).

So momentarily, the hard-luck Rosado, who never has been the beneficiary of a close decision in any important fight, thought he had just pulled off the upset of the year.

Instead, Jacobs was corrected as the winner and that had to be an awful experience for both fighters, one that was completely avoidable.

HIT: Joe Joyce: An Actual Juggernaut?

Heavyweight prospect Joe Joyce is a popular fighter on the other side of the ocean because of his long and successful campaign as an amateur boxing star which culminated with Joyce winning the silver medal for Great Britain in the super heavyweight division at the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Still, as a professional prospect, there are lots of things not to like about Joyce. First, Joyce didn’t start boxing until he was 22. Late bloomers come around now and then, but they’re still a rarity in the sport. Second, Joyce is already 35, which means he’s already just outside the confines of his theoretical physical prime, something that ends around 33 years old and only gets worse. Finally, Joyce is just plain slow as molasses.

Regardless, Joyce stopped fellow Brit Daniel Dubois on Saturday in London.

Unlike Joyce, Dubois, 23, possesses plenty of attributes one looks for in a future world champion. But none of those things helped Dubois win the fight.

All this to say Joyce just keeps winning fights. Sure, he might appear to be a boulder tumbling slowly down a hill when he fights, but that rock is starting to gain some real momentum.

HIT: 54-1

Thailand’s Wanheng Menayothin finally lost a fight over the weekend, but it should be noted that at least the fighter finally knows his limits.

Menayothin (aka Chayaphon Moonsri) entered his fight against Petchmanee CP Freshmart (aka Panya Pradabsri) with a sterling record of 54-0. He left the contest 54-1 after judges rendered their verdict for the challenger.

Much was made of Menayothin’s glossy win streak last year when he surpassed retired boxing superstar Floyd Mayweather’s 50-0 mark. But a combat sports culture obsessed with suffering no blemishes on a record is only a relatively new phenomenon. Moreover, the very nature of that path through the sport never reveals the true limits of a fighter.

All this to say that Menayothin now gets a better sense of his limits, and the boxing world as a whole gets to know that same thing about him, too. That’s wildly better than the alternative.

MISS: Nate Robinson Challenge

If you missed the Tyson vs. Jones pay-per-view event on Triller over the weekend, you didn’t see social media star Jake Paul’s viral knockout of ex-NBA star Nate Robinson.

It was clear from the start of the fight that Paul and Robinson weren’t evenly matched. That kind of thing happens all the time in boxing, of course, but here was a case of a person (Robinson) who maybe had been so mismatched against Paul that it was too dangerous to have happened at all.

Regardless, Robinson did have the courage to train for the fight and step inside the ropes on fight night.

After he was knocked out, something called the “Nate Robinson Challenge” started trending on Twitter, and it was basically people from all over the world trolling the 3-time NBA dunking champ for getting knocked out in the fight.

Look, Robinson made his own bed by calling for the fight in the first place. But the Internet trolls that rag people for stepping outside their comfort zones probably would never dare to attempt that accomplishment themselves.

Robinson tried and failed. That’s the real challenge.

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