Joe Smith: The Fight To Unify Light Heavyweight Division

Mikey Williams/Top Rank

There was Bob Arum Thursday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. He took the microphone and the 90-year old Hall Of Fame promoter of Top Rank made a statement as light heavyweight champions Artur Beterbiev and Joe Smith Jr. sat and observed.

They listened to Arum talk about the history of boxing at the Garden. They heard Arum discuss his history of promoting light heavyweight greats Bob Foster, Matthew Saad Muhammad, John Conteh, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, and Marvin Johnson.

The light heavyweight division has given people who follow boxing, great thrills for as long as I’ve been promoting fights.” Arum said. “Now we have this fight, which will go into the annals like all the great light heavyweight fights of the past and may even be the one that is the greatest.”

And this one at the Garden Saturday night, televised on ESPN platforms, is in that classification as possibly going down as a classic with Beterbiev (17-0, 17 KOs) taking on Long Island’s Smith Jr. (28-3, 22 KOs) at the Hulu Theater.

Beterbiev, the WBC/IBF champion is in a class of his own as the only title holder with a 100 percent knockout ratio. Smith, the WBO champion, has a success story and his tendency of going to the chin has led him to become an elite fighter.

So Arum could be right because this has the makings of joining the others who made light heavyweight championship history, added also to the significance of another unification title fight. This fight also had pay-per-view interest, but Arum and Bronx born Star Boxing co-promoter Joe DeGuardia, agreed this was a fight for fans and ESPN was the platform to go.

Arum and DeGuardia got that right. In an era when boxing promoters are more concerned with pay-per-view revenue, an industry that has been on a decline, fans deserved better instead of digging in their pockets and paying another $74.00 that adds to their already rising cable or streaming services that televise boxing.

Enough of those logistics, though, it can be said the sport is inundated with pay-per-view fights and too many in a brief time span. So boxing fans are getting a deserved break and a good fight. Also this is the second consecutive weekend of boxing at the Hulu Theater for Top Rank, coming off Edgar Berlanga and his super middleweight unanimous decision win that drew a little over 4,500 fans.

You have to love hearing Arum talk. He and Don King, a 90-year old Hall of Fame counterpart are going nowhere, though King has slowed down and is coming off a heavyweight title fight promotion last weekend that saw his champion Trevor Bryan lose the WBA title to Daniel Dubois via knockout in the fourth round down in Miami.

And what can I say about Artur Beterbiev?” Arums asked. “He really epitomizes the ferocity that light heavyweights have been known for. Tremendous puncher, Big heart. A guy who refuses to lose. Nothing can be better than this, I predict this fight will be considered the Fight of the Year for 2022.”

Thing is, Arum is making a major statement here. Though if you know boxing and the words of Arum, yes, this indeed could be a fight of the year. It certainly could go the distance, though Smith Jr. who still works as a laborer on Long Island, is aware the opposing 37-year old champion from Canada has the experience.

I believe this guy is in his prime right now,” Smith Jr. said. “I don’t think age has anything to do with it. I know he’s at 100 percent and ready to go. I know I’m here fighting one of the best, so I trained at 110 percent. I made this camp a little longer. I made sure that I improved things that I wasn’t doing at my best. I stayed more consistent with my training. So I feel comfortable about this weekend.”

And the pressure of fighting near home will not get to him. It’s all about the focus and avoiding a lethal punch that Beterbiev has used to dispose opponents in a division that has some of the best power among the top five.

This is a very important fight for me,” Beterbiev said. “ With regards to the place (Madison Square Garden), it’s no different for me. I’m more focused on the fight. I’m more focused on my opponent, not on the place. I always ask my boxing coach and my conditioning coach about how I’m doing. I ask them if it’s less than I was doing two years ago.”

His coaches say Beterbiev is better than two years ago and very aware that his opponent has power, and percentages that focus on the knockout. Beterbiev has been knocked down twice in his career, bounced right back up, and got the wins.

So, as Arum says, this could be a fight of the year. And at Madison Square Garden, though at the adjacent Arena, it’s a fight made to be at the “Mecca” of boxing.

And a fight for sure that will unify most of the light heavyweight titles. A fight for Smith that will determine where he stands in boxing history and according to Bob Arum one for the fans.

Throwing The Punches: In the highly anticipated 10-round featherweight co-feature, two-time Cuban Olympic gold medalist Robeisy Ramirez (9-1, 5 KOs) steps up against the unbeaten Abraham “El Super” Nova (21-0, 15 KOs). Ramirez has won nine straight bouts since a shocking loss in his pro debut, while Nova has settled in at featherweight after spending the first five-plus years of his career campaigning at junior lightweight…

And featherweight Bruce Carrington (3-0, 2 KO), from Brownsville, Brooklyn, who made his pro debut on the Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder III undercard last October and signed with Top Rank with two wins this year, returns to the Hulu Theater after a thrilling knockout in March.

Rich Mancuso: Twitter@Ring786 Mancuso. Watch “Sports With Rich” live Tuesday evenings 10 PM ET. YouTube SLG Network with Robert Rizzo. Like, Comment, Subscribe Rich Mancuso YouTube

About the Author

Rich Mancuso

Rich Mancuso is a regular contributor at NY Sports Day, covering countless New York Mets, Yankees, and MLB teams along with some of the greatest boxing matches over the years. He is an award winning sports journalist and previously worked for The Associated Press, New York Daily News, Gannett, and, in a career that spans almost 40 years.

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