In 2020, Smith faced high-ranking contender Jesse Hart in a make-or-break match. He couldn’t afford to lose again. Another loss would end his days as a contender, and possibly a professional fighter.
When Joe Smith Jr. lost two of three fights a couple of years ago, many thought the hard-scrabble kid from Long Island, NY was done.
His dream of becoming a world champion appeared over. Smith’s upset knockout victories over 16-1 favorite, Andrezj Fonfara, and living legend, Bernard Hopkins, were seemingly forgotten.
Smith was 29. His career had stalled. The defeats were devastating. But Smith was no quitter.
A broken jaw suffered in his loss against Sullivan Barrera proved that.
“Somewhere during the second round I was injured and was in a lot of pain, but I did not want to let it show and I refused to quit,” Smith told fightsports.tv.
Smith took some time off, returned with an explosive KO victory, and 15 months later, faced WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol.
His success was limited to rocking Bivol a few times. The champion held on and punished Smith, winning the fight by wide-decision. In the last round, Smith was hurt, but stayed upright, banged up, but unbowed.
Now what? Smith went back to his day job as a union laborer. Soon after, he started a company with his father. They called it Team Smith Tree Service. Walking away from boxing was there if he wanted.
Not a chance.
“I know it definitely wasn’t my best performance that night,” Smith told Keith Idec of www.boxingscene.com last year. “I believe I could’ve done better. It motivates me to get back in there and prove that I can do better.”
In 2020, Smith faced high-ranking contender Jesse Hart in a make-or-break match. He couldn’t afford to lose again. Another loss would end his days as a contender, and possibly a professional fighter. Hart was heavily favored. The press focused on Hart’s ill father, former contender Eugene “Cyclone” Hart’s quest for a title in the 1970s. Son Jesse wanted to win a belt for his dad, but on fight night Smith was relentless. www.maxboxing.com/news/sub-lead/relentless-joe-smith-jr-knocks-jesse-hart-down-wins-fight-by-split-decision
He knocked Hart down – winning the fight by split decision.
Next up was the former champion, and number one contender, Eleider Alvarez. The Cuban had split two fights with Sergey Kovalev. He wanted another shot at the Russian. Some considered his fight with Smith a mere tune-up.
“Some” were not Smith. He imposed his will on Alvarez from the opening bell, pounding the older fighter with whipping right hands and left hooks. He also used his jab effectively, leaving Alvarez, who many figured would outbox Smith, searching for answers.
Smith was way ahead on all three judges’ scorecards heading into the ninth round. A heavy right stunned Alvarez followed by a power jab that knocked the former champ through the ropes. The fight was over. Smith had administered a decisive pounding.
His dream for shot at a world title seemed imminent, until COVID-19 knocked down the world. Smith kept working.
A title eliminator was postponed.
Finally, a few months ago, it was announced that Smith would indeed be fighting for a world title -until once again Covid reared it’s ugly head. Rescheduled for this Saturday night in Las Vegas, Smith faces Russian Maxim Vlasov for the vacant WBO world title.
“I have worked very hard to get a second opportunity at a world title,” said Smith, who’s knocked out 21 of his 26 opponents. “I feel I have improved, and on February thirteen, I am going to make my dream come true and become world champion.”
The dream lives.