Beterbiev-Smith unification bout set for June 18 at Hulu Theater at MSG

Three belts and light heavyweight supremacy will be at stake when WBC/IBF world champion Artur Beterbiev meets WBO champion Joe Smith Jr. in a highly anticipated unification showdown Saturday, June 18, at Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden.

Beterbiev, boxing’s only world champion with a 100 percent knockout rate, hopes to pick up another strap against “Cinderella Man” Smith, a Long Island native who grew up about 70 miles from Madison Square Garden.

In the 10-round featherweight co-feature, two-time Cuban Olympic gold medalist Robeisy “El Tren” Ramirez will battle the unbeaten Abraham “El Super” Nova. Beterbiev-Smith and Ramirez-Nova will be broadcast live on ESPN, ESPN Deportes and ESPN+ at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT.

Beterbiev (17-0, 17 KOs), a two-time Russian Olympian, has spent his nine-year pro career based in Montreal, Canada. He has been a world champion since knocking out Enrico Koelling for the IBF strap in November 2017. He’s won five title fights inside the distance since then, including an off-the-deck victory over Callum Johnson and a title unification classic versus Oleksandr Gvozdyk in 2019. Beterbiev went 2-0 in 2021, capping the year with December’s brutal ninth-round stoppage over longtime contender Marcus Browne.

“I look forward to the challenge ahead of me. Joe Smith Jr. is a worthy champion, but I am coming to Madison Square Garden to add another world title to my collection,” Beterbiev said. “This fight will get me one step closer to becoming undisputed champion.”

Smith (28-3, 22 KOs) earned mainstream recognition with his 2016 knockout of living legend Bernard Hopkins and scored standout wins over Jesse Hart and Eleider Alvarez in 2020. In his second world title attempt, he outlasted Maxim Vlasov in a 2021 Fight of the Year Contender. Smith successfully defend his world title in January with a ninth-round stoppage over late replacement Steve Geffrard.

Smith said, “I am extremely excited and focused on this task I have ahead. Facing Beterbiev is huge. It is going to be a fight that fans remember forever, with two of the biggest punches in boxing today facing off. This opportunity is a dream of mine to accomplish. Fighting with three titles on the line is one step closer to becoming undisputed.”

Ramirez (9-1, 5 KOs) has been on a sterling run since a shocking loss in his August 2019 professional debut. An Olympic champion in 2012 and 2016, Ramirez is coming off one-sided victories over the unbeaten Orlando Gonzalez and Irish veteran Eric Donovan. Nova (21-0, 15 KOs), who spent much of his career at junior lightweight, has been flawless since moving up to the featherweight ranks. Born in Puerto Rico and raised in Albany, New York, Nova knocked out William Encarnacion in eight rounds on the Smith-Geffrard undercard in January.

The undercard, which will stream live and exclusively on ESPN+, is scheduled to feature many of the sport’s rising superstars. In six-round bouts, Brooklyn-born featherweight puncher Bruce “Shu Shu” Carrington (3-0, 2 KOs) and Long Island welterweight Jahi Tucker (7-0, 4 KOs) hope to extend their unbeaten records. U.S. Olympian Troy Isley (5-0, 3 KOs), fresh off his knockout win on the Oscar Valdez-Shakur Stevenson undercard, returns in a six-round middleweight bout. Featherweight Kurt Walker (2-0, 1 KO) and junior middleweight Kieran Molloy (1-0, 1 KO), both of whom starred for the Irish national team as amateurs, will make their respective U.S. debuts.

Joe Smith Jr.: ‘If Canelo wants to come to 175 and fight me, I’m ready for him’

The Steve Geffrard story was something out of a Hollywood script. The South Florida native accepted a shot at the title on eight days’ notice, but he didn’t author the shocking upset. WBO light heavyweight world champion Joe Smith Jr. made the first successful defense of his crown, knocking out Geffrard in the ninth round Saturday at Turning Stone Resort Casino.

Smith (28-3, 22 KOs) was never threatened, as his activity (665 punches thrown) forced Geffrard (18-3, 12 KOs) on the back foot. Geffrard had minor pockets of success in the opening round, but it soon turned into a one-sided exhibition for the Long Island native. He stunned Geffrard with right hands in the fifth and turned up the heat in the ninth. With Geffrard pinned against his corner, Smith unloaded with a combination, and Geffrard went to a knee. Before referee Mark Nelson could finish the 10-count, trainer Kevin Cunningham threw in the towel to end the one-way traffic.

Smith has his sights set on the other division kingpin, IBF/WBC champion Artur Beterbiev. Or perhaps a date with Canelo Alvarez if the pound-for-pound king elects to move up from super middleweight.

Smith said, “He really brought it today. It was a great fight. As you can see, he’s a great boxer, a good survivor. I was trying to get him out of there early, but I realized he was very tough and I wasn’t going to be able to do that. I tried to wait until the later rounds and started throwing more combinations to pick him apart.
 
“{Beterbiev} is what I want. I want to get back in the gym, work on my craft, and like I say each and every time I get in the ring, I’m going to get better and better. I believe the next time you see me, I’ll be ready for anybody.
 
“If Canelo wants to come to 175 and fight me, I’m ready for him. That’s the fight I want. Everybody would love to see that fight. It would be a big deal.”

Nova TKOs Encarnacion in Co-Feature

Undefeated featherweight Abraham “El Super” Nova walked to the ring with a mascot and cheerleaders, but he soon found himself in a fight. Short-notice opponent William “El Gago” Encarnacion stunned Nova with an a chopping right in the first round, but Nova (21-0, 15 KOs) settled in and prevailed by eighth-round TKO.

Nova was world-ranked at junior lightweight before moving down to featherweight last year. He survived the early rough patch and plastered Encarnacion (19-2, 15 KOs) with body shots. Encarnacion’s corner saw enough and threw in the towel, much to the shock of those in attendance.

Nova said, “It feels good to fight close to home a day after my birthday. I had a tricky opponent in front of me, but I got the job done.

“I want {WBO world champion Emanuel Navarrete}, to be honest. Everybody thinks he’ll blow me out. Put him in there. Let’s see if he’ll do it. I know I’ll beat him. I know I have the punch output, I know I’ll knock him out, and I know I’ll be the next WBO champion.”

In other action:

Junior Welterweight: Puerto Rican prospect Omar Rosario (6-0, 2 KOs) learned another lesson in his young career, as he nearly finished off Brooklyn’s Raekwon Butler (4-2, 2 KOs) in the opening round before being forced the six-round distance and winning a unanimous decision (59-54 2x and 58-55). Rosario outlanded Butler 111-49.

Welterweight: Jahi Tucker (6-0, 4 KOs) is fighting beyond his years. The 18-year-old knocked down Akeem Black (6-5, 2 KOs) with an uppercut in the opening round and then finished things off with a flurry in the second. Tucker became only the second man to knock out Black and landed 47 out of 98 punches thrown.

Middleweight: U.S. Olympian Troy “Transformer” Isley (4-0, 2 KOs) threw everything, including the kitchen sink, but Harry Keenan Cruz-Cubano (6-3, 2 KOs) withstood a hellacious beating to survive the six-round distance. Isley tagged Cruz-Cubano with uppercuts in the early rounds and cruised to a decision by scores of 59-53 and 59-54 2x.

Cruiserweight: Lyubomyr Pinchuk (14-2-1, 8 KOs) lumbered to an eight-round unanimous decision over Jose Mario Flores (8-3-2, 4 KOs) by scores of 80-72 and 79-73 2x. 

Photo: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

Joe Smith Jr.-Callum Johnson set for January 15

Joe Smith Jr., Long Island’s working class hero, will make the long-awaited first defense of his WBO light heavyweight world title against British knockout artist Callum Johnson on Saturday, Jan. 15 at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, N.Y.

Smith-Johnson kicks off the Top Rank on ESPN 2022 schedule with a battle between two of the division’s biggest punchers. Smith was supposed to defend his title Oct. 30 in New York City, but a COVID-19 diagnosis delayed his return to 2022.

In the 10-round featherweight co-feature, the undefeated Abraham “El Super” Nova, who hails from Albany, N.Y., will face Mexican action star Jose Enrique Vivas. Smith-Johnson and Nova-Vivas will air live on ESPN and ESPN Deportes (simulcast on ESPN+) at 9:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. PT.

The undercard — streaming live and exclusively on ESPN+ — will see the long-awaited professional return of Cincinnati-born featherweight Duke Ragan (4-0, 1 KO), who captured a silver medal for the United States at the Tokyo Olympics. Long Island-born welterweight sensation Jahi Tucker (5-0, 2 KOs), Puerto Rican junior welterweight Omar Rosario (5-0, 2 KOs) and rising junior welterweight Kasir “Mazzi” Goldston (4-0, 1 KOs), are scheduled to appear in separate six-round bouts.

Promoted by Top Rank, in association with Joe DeGuardia’s Star Boxing and Frank Warren’s Queensberry Promotions, tickets priced from $49 to $89 go on sale Friday, December 3 at 10 a.m. ET and can be purchased at the Turning Stone Resort Box Office, charge by phone by calling 800.771.7711 or online at Ticketmaster.

“Joe Smith Jr. always delivers, and he is in against a tough customer in Callum Johnson. This is a can’t-miss main event to kick off our 2022 Top Rank on ESPN schedule,” said Top Rank chairman Bob Arum. “Vivas is the ultimate test for a young, undefeated contender like Nova. Like our main event, you’re going to witness a tremendous battle.”

Smith (27-3, 21 KOs) retired the legendary Bernard Hopkins with a storybook knockout in 2015, but it took him nearly six years to capture a world title. He fell short in his first attempt versus Dmitry Bivol in 2019, but in 2020, big-fight opportunities knocked. Smith battered Jesse Hart over 10 rounds in January and then knocked out former world champion Eleider Alvarez through the ropes in August. Nearly eight months after the Alvarez triumph, he edged Maxim Vlasov by majority decision to earn the vacant WBO world title. He became the fourth Long Island-born boxing world champion, joining Buddy McGirt, Chris Algieri, and former WBO junior lightweight world champion Jamel Herring. After a full recovery, Smith returned to training intent on staking his claim as the world’s preeminent 175-pounder.

Smith said, “I am glad to be getting back into the ring as quickly as I am to defend my WBO world championship after having COVID. It is not the fight the fans or I expected, but this will be an explosive fight between two huge punchers. I look forward to facing Johnson and defending my belt in front of my fans, as well as putting on a great show for the ones watching at home.”

“Joe Smith Jr. is always exciting to watch, but this fight could top them all. This is ‘must-see TV’ and a perfect fight to launch ESPN’s 2022 boxing season,” said Joe DeGuardia, President of Star Boxing. “We are looking forward to Joe defending his WBO world title against Callum Johnson. With two of the hardest punchers in boxing fighting each other, it doesn’t get more explosive than this. Don’t miss this fight, and don’t blink!”

Johnson (20-1, 14 KOs) is a former British and Commonwealth light heavyweight champion riding a three-fight winning streak since a 2018 knockout loss to current WBC/IBF unified champion Artur Beterbiev. Johnson knocked Beterbiev down in the second round, but Beterbiev rebounded and knocked out Johnson in the fourth. Johnson, from Boston, England, shared the same bill with Smith at Turning Stone Resort Casino in March 2019. Johnson knocked out Sean Monaghan in three rounds, while Smith lost a decision to Bivol in a bid for the WBA light heavyweight title.

Johnson said, “Joe is a good world champion, and we’re both big punchers. I’m looking forward to it as much as I’m sure he will be. I also would like to thank Frank Warren and the team at Queensberry, who said they would deliver me a world title shot. They’ve done their job, and now it’s time for me to do my job in the ring and become the new WBO light heavyweight champion.”

“I’m delighted to deliver this opportunity for Callum,” said Hall of Fame Promoter Frank Warren. “When he came with us, he said he wanted to get active again and become a world champion. Callum has his chance now to realize his dream, and if he fights like I know he can, there is no reason why Britain won’t crown a new world champion on January 15.”

Nova (20-0, 14 KOs), world-ranked at junior lightweight, is now campaigning at featherweight. In June 2020, he turned away Avery Sparrow by unanimous decision, but in training camp for his next fight, he suffered a torn Achilles tendon. Nova was out of action more than a year and returned in August with an eight-round decision over Filipino veteran Richard Pumicpic. Vivas (21-1, 11 KOs) is a classic Mexican pressure fighter, a 27-year-old native of Texcoco who has won four in a row since a decision defeat to Ruben Villa. In October 2020, he needed only 76 seconds to knock out John Vincent Moralde. He returned in May and rose from a pair of third-round knockdowns to edge Louie Coria by unanimous decision.

Smith Jr.: ‘I want the big fights out there’

Joe Smith Jr., the common man with the common name, finally reached boxing’s apex. Smith used a furious late rally to edge Maxim Vlasov by majority decision and win the vacant WBO light heavyweight world title Saturday evening at Osage Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The scorecards — 114-114, 115-113 and 115-112 — represented the nip-and-tuck nature of the bout.

Smith (27-3, 21 KOs), from Long Island, New York, swept the last two rounds on the cards to pull out the victory and joins promotional stablemate Jamel Herring as a Long Island-born world champion. He now sets his sights on the division’s other champions, including WBC/IBF king Artur Beterbiev. 

Vlasov (45-4, 26 KOs), from Samara Russia, saw his three-bout winning streak come to an end.

Smith said, “It’s a great feeling. It was definitely a close, tough fight. I give it to Vlasov. Great fighter. He really put on a great show tonight and toughed it out. I believe that round where I hurt him there… I believe he had his head down, and I should’ve got the knockout. I think I would’ve got the stoppage in {the 11th} round, but he pulled it off and made it out on his feet. I believe I got the victory tonight because they saw I landed the harder shots. He landed a lot of punches. It was a great fight.
 
“I want the other belts. I want the big fights out there. Now I gotta get back in the gym and keep working on my technique and stuff. I believe I’m going to start unifying belts.”

Vlasov disagrees with Smith’s assessment of the fight and believes the world title should be going home to Russia.

“This was a very hard-fought, competitive fight,” Vlasov said. “I thought I was winning rounds and was well ahead. Against the aggressive style of Joe Smith, I came forward the entire fight. I felt confident I was winning and was securing rounds in the bank with the judges. I never felt that I was behind at any stage of the fight. This was my opportunity to show the world I was a world champion, and I did that, and Joe Smith knows I did that.” 

Ajagba Obliterates Howard

Efe Ajagba (15-0, 12 KOs) just crashed the heavyweight contender parade. The 2016 Nigerian Olympian sent Brian Howard into another orbit with a crunching right hand. Howard twisted, fell face first, and the bout was immediately stopped. Ajagba had not fought since last September’s decision win over Jonathan Rice, but he re-established his place among the world’s top young heavyweights. At 26 years old, time is on his side.

Ajagba said, “I felt good. I tried to pick the punches, use the jab. This guy is very slick sometimes. I tried to do the job. He was shaky, so when I went back to the corner after the first round, my coach told me to take my time, start with the body, leave the head.
 
“I trained for this fight, took my time, started with my boxing foundation, and came back strong. This camp was the best one for me, the best camp ever in my boxing career.
 
 “It’s my time to shine, so I’m coming for the heavyweights.”

In undercard bouts:

Heavyweight: 
Jared Anderson (9-0, 9 KOs) KO 2 Jeremiah Karpency (16-3-1, 6 KOs), :34. Anderson, the 21-year-old prodigy from Toledo, added another speedy knockout to his highlight reel, this time using a body attack to end things early. He knocked down Karpency with a body blow at the end of the first round, then ended things with another right hand to the body early in the second round. 

Anderson said,  “I knew he was going to find a spot to fall. I respect him for getting in there and showing up today. It’s a man’s sport. I’m just grateful to be here, thankful for the opportunity.

“I {saw} the shot. His hands kept going up. I kept throwing my jab, looking for openings, feinting, moving around the ring, and it just came. It was a good shot, and he didn’t want to get back up.
 
“Everybody who says they’re the biggest and the baddest, come see ‘Big ‘Baby’ then.
 
“I want to thank Toledo, my city. A lot of them came out to Oklahoma, and I wanted to put on a show for them. I can’t wait for what is next.

Junior Lightweight: Albert Bell (18-0, 5 KOs) UD 8 Manuel Rey Rojas (20-5, 6 KOs). Scores: 78-74 3x. Toledo’s Bell used his length and reach to keep the shorter Rojas at bay and ultimately cruised to a one-sided decision. Bell, who outlanded Rojas 114-94, is ranked in the top 15 by two of the major sanctioning organizations.

Junior Lightweight: Robson Conceicao (16-0, 8 KOs) TKO 7 Jesus Antonio Ahumada (17-4 11 KOs), 1:20. 2016 Olympic gold medalist Conceicao, from Bahia, Brazil, put forth a workmanlike performance and beat down Mexican veteran Ahumada. After a knockdown in the seventh, referee Gary Ritter saw enough and saved Ahumada from further carnage. 

Heavyweight: Trey Lippe Morrison (17-0, 17 KOs) TKO 3 Jason Bergman (2-3, 2 KOs), 1:27. Lippe Morrison, son of the late heavyweight Tommy Morrison, returned from a nearly two-year layoff and stopped veteran Bergman in a crowd-pleasing slugfest. Bergman appeared to knock down Morrison in the first, but the referee missed the knockdown call. In the third, Bergman rolled his ankle and could continue, and Morrison was awarded the TKO victory.

Featherweight: Duke Ragan (4-0, 1 KO) UD 6  Charles Clark (3-7,-1 1 KO). Scores: 60-54 3x. In his first fight away from the confines of the MGM Grand Las Vegas Bubble, Cincinnati’s Ragan outboxed Clark and won every round on all three judges’ scorecards. Through four pro bouts, Ragan has yet to lose a round.

Heavyweight: Jeremiah Milton (3-0, 3 KOs) TKO 1 Jayvone Dafney (2-3, 2 KOs), 1:19. Tulsa native Milton had a successful homecoming, icing Dafney in the opening round with a right hand as Daffney was backed up against the ropes. A dazed Dafney could not respond, and the referee called the bout off.

Heavyweight: Sonny Conto (7-0, 6 KOs) KO 1 Waldo Cortes (6-4, 3 KO), 1:41. Welcome back, Sonny! In his first fight in 15 months, South Philadelphia native Conto put Cortes down for the 10-count with a sweeping right hand. Conto has now won three straight by first-round stoppage.

Photo Credit: Mikey Williams/Top Rank via Getty Images

Smith Jr.-Vlasov set for April 10

Joe “The Beast” Smith Jr. and Maxim Vlasov are headed to the Sooner State to fight for the vacant WBO light heavyweight world title Saturday, April 10 at Osage Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

They were originally scheduled to fight Feb. 13, but Vlasov tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the weigh-in, forcing a postponement.

In the 10-round co-feature, unbeaten heavyweight contender Efe Ajagba will take on Brian “MVP” Howard.

Promoted by Top Rank, in association with Joe DeGuardia’s Star Boxing and Tony Holden Productions, Smith-Vlasov and Ajagba-Howard will be broadcast live on ESPN and ESPN Deportes (simulcast on ESPN+) at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT. Undercard bouts will stream live and exclusively on ESPN+ at 5:30p.m. ET/2:30 p.m. PT, including a trio of big-punching heavyweights: Jared “The Real Big Baby” Anderson and Tulsa natives Trey Lippe Morrison (16-0, 16 KOs) and Jeremiah Milton (2-0, 2 KOs).

Smith (26-3, 21 KOs), the “Common Man” from Long Island, hopes his 2021 kicks off where 2020 concluded. Last August, he broke through inside the MGM Grand Las Vegas Bubble, knocking former world champion Eleider “Storm” Alvarez out and through the ropes. Smith has won three straight bouts since his first world title opportunity in March 2019, a unanimous decision loss to Dmitry Bivol. He became a household name in boxing in 2016 when he knocked living legend Bernard Hopkins through the ropes and into retirement.

“I am extremely motivated after all I have been though in my career,” Smith said. “I am proud of all I have accomplished, and I am confident I will bring the belt home on April 10 and move forward with my goal of unifying belts and proving I am the best light heavyweight in the world.”

Vlasov (45-3, 26 KOs), from Samara, Russia, is 3-0 at light heavyweight since moving down from cruiserweight, where he became a top contender and challenged for an interim world title. He had a banner 2019 at light heavyweight, knocking out the 14-1 Omar Garcia, avenging a previous defeat with a unanimous decision over Isaac Chilemba, and shutting out the 15-0 Emmanuel Martey over 10 rounds.

“I am ready to return to the ring and become the new WBO light heavyweight world champion,” Vlasov said. “The postponement was a minor setback, but it will be worth the wait when I have that belt around my waist.”

Ajagba (14-0, 11 KOs), a 2016 Nigerian Olympian, is one of world boxing’s most accomplished young heavyweights. At 26 years old, he’s already knocked out the likes of longtime contender Amir Mansour and former world title challenger Razvan Cojanu. He made his Top Rank debut last September and outlasted veteran Jonathan Rice via decision over 10 rounds. Howard (15-4, 12 KOs) is an 11-year pro who has split a pair of bouts since moving up to heavyweight. In August 2019, he knocked out 2008 Puerto Rican Olympian Carlos Negron in the first round.

Smith-Vlasov, Commey-Marinez set for February 13

 Light heavyweight contender Joe “The Beast” Smith Jr., the consummate everyman, spent more than a decade as a union laborer on Long Island. He now owns and operates a tree service business, chopping and trimming trees when he’s not training.

At 31 years old, this far-from-average Joe will battle Russian veteran Maxim Vlasov for the vacant WBO light heavyweight world title Saturday, Feb. 13. In the 10-round lightweight co-feature, former world champion Richard “RC” Commey will fight Dominican slickster Jackson Marinez.

Promoted by Top Rank, in association with Joe DeGuardia’s Star Boxing and Patriot Promotions, Smith-Vlasov and Commey-Marinez will be televised live on ESPN and ESPN Deportes at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT.

“This is Rocky IV come to life,” said Top Rank chairman Bob Arum. “Joe Smith Jr. is boxing’s blue-collar hero, a relentless fighter who chops down trees outside the ring and chops down opponents when the lights are bright. Maxim Vlasov is a tough Russian who is going to meet Joe punch for punch in the center of the ring. This will be an early contender for 2021 Fight of the Year.”

DeGuardia said, “I am very confident that Joe Smith Jr. will be the new WBO world champion, but I also know that Maxim Vlasov is a strong and seasoned fighter who also wants to become champion. It will make for a great night of boxing on ESPN. Kudos to the WBO for recognizing Joe’s talents and mandating this fight, and to Bob Arum and Top Rank for their continued excellence during this pandemic.”

Smith (26-3, 21 KOs) is best known for sending living legend Bernard Hopkins through the ropes and into retirement in 2016, but a world title has thus far proven elusive. He received a shot at the WBA light heavyweight world title in March 2019 and nearly knocked out Dmitry Bivol in the 10th round, but Bivol hung on to win a unanimous decision. Smith rampaged in 2020, dominating Jesse Hart over 10 rounds and knocking out former world champion Eleider Alvarez in an August title eliminator. Those victories propelled Smith to the WBO No. 1 ranking and a second crack at world title glory.

Smith said, “I have worked very hard to get a second opportunity at a world title. I feel I have improved, and on February 13, I am going to make my dream come true and become world champion.”

Vlasov (45-3, 26 KOs), a 15-year-pro, has been a world-level operator at super middleweight, light heavyweight and cruiserweight. He moved down to light heavyweight in early 2019 and soon joined the ranks of the top contenders. In a six-month span, Vlasov stopped Omar Garcia in four rounds, topped longtime contender Isaac Chilemba by unanimous decision to avenge a 2011 defeat, and shut out the previously undefeated Emmanuel Martey over 10 rounds.

“This is a great chance, and perhaps my last opportunity, to finally become a world champion,” Vlasov said. “Smith is a strong and relentless fighter, so I expect a very serious challenge.”

Commey (29-3, 26 KOs), from Accra, Ghana, has been a lightweight since turning pro in his home nation in February 2011. He fell just short in his first attempt at a world title, dropping a split decision to Robert Easter Jr. in September 2016 for the vacant IBF title. Commey won the IBF title in February 2019 with a second-round stoppage over Isa Chaniev, then defended it in June with an eighth-round knockout over former world champion Ray Beltran. His title reign ended that December, when Teofimo Lopez emerged with a star-making second-round TKO. Commey has not fought since the Lopez fight and is re-energized for another world title run.

Commey said, “It’s been a long and frustrating wait to get back into the ring, and February 13 can’t come soon enough. I’ve kept myself in shape, but once I heard the date, I stepped up my training. All I’ve been thinking about is winning back my title. I am not looking past Jackson Marinez, as I know he is a tough, slick fighter, so he has my full attention. The road to redemption begins now.”

Marinez (19-1, 7 KOs), from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, entered 2020 largely unknown to fight fans. That all changed in August, when he outboxed the unbeaten Rolando Romero over 12 rounds. The official judges disagreed with most boxing observers, and Marinez lost a unanimous decision. Trained by Robert Garcia in Riverside, Calif., Marinez gets a shot at redemption and would enter the world title picture with a victory over Commey.

Smith: ‘I wanted to prove I’m not just a knockout guy’

Joe “The Beast” Smith Jr. once again lived up to his moniker. The Long Island native, nearly four years since he knocked Bernard Hopkins through the ropes, knocked out Eleider “Storm” Alvarez in the ninth round of a WBO light heavyweight world title eliminator.

A right-left combination sent Alvarez (25-2, 13 KOs) through the ropes, and he could not beat the count.

Smith (26-3, 21 KOs), who was leading on all three judges’ cards (80-72 and 79-73 2X) at time of the stoppage, has won two in a row since losing to WBA world champion Dmitry Bivol via decision.

Smith said, “Coming into this camp, I knew I had to work on my boxing. I wanted to be sharp, throw a lot of straight punches. I watched his fight with {Sergey} Kovalev, and Kovalev kind of set the way to beat him. So we watched that and worked off of it. I knew coming in today I had to box a little more because he’s got that great right hand. He caught me with it a couple times, but I can take a punch, too.

“Every time he hit me, I wanted to come and stop him in his tracks, and I did that. I stuck to my game plan, and it was a great fight.

“I feel this one is a big one. I really needed it. I wanted to prove I’m not just a knockout guy. I proved my boxing ability, too, and I showed that tonight.”

Brant is Back

Former middleweight world champion Rob “Bravo” Brant returned from a layoff of more than a year to knock out Vitaliy Kopylenko (28-3, 16 KOs), who remained on his still following the conclusion of the fifth round. Brant (26-2, 18 KOs) suffered a torn biceps in training late last year, which came off the heels of his shocking knockout loss to Ryota Murata in July 2019.

This was Brant’s first fight with head trainer Brian McIntyre.

Brant said, “My punch output was high, but I felt like I threw a lot of quality shots, especially with a veteran like Vitaliy. I’m not going to try and pronounce his last name out of respect, but he’s a crafty veteran. He’s been around for a long time.

“I spent a lot of time in camp with them. It’s been a three-month camp with them. Between the advice they have given me and being around Terence Crawford and Jamel Herring, it teaches you to relax a little more.”

— Julian “Hammer Hands” Rodriguez (20-0, 13 KOs) notched the most significant win of his career, knocking out the previously undefeated Anthony Laureano (13-1, 4 KOs) in the opening round of a scheduled 10-round junior welterweight bout.

Rodriguez returned in 2019 from a shoulder injury, which kept him out of action for nearly two years.

“Previous to the shoulder injury, I was more of a brawler,” Rodriguez said. “I was coming in with bigger shots, but once I noticed the arm wasn’t holding up in that way, it forced me to focus more on my footwork, using my jab, and more of a different style. Now I feel like I have all the tools.”

— The Clay Collard train continues to roll on. The one-time UFC fighter improved to 5-0 on the year with a second-round TKO over Maurice Williams (7-2, 3 KOs). Collard (9-2-3, 4 KOs) started the year with three wins over previously undefeated prospects and has now won two in a row by knockout. Boxing’s newest folk hero is making his case to be the 2020 Prospect of the Year.

“I’m just a fighter. I like getting out there as often as possible and entertaining the fans. I appreciate all the love and support from the fans, and I enjoy putting on a show for them,” Collard said. “Listen, I’ll fight as often as possible. I love fighting on these Top Rank shows, and I look forward to the next one. This has been quite the ride.”

— Featherweight Duke Ragan’s professional debut was flawless, as the Cincinnati native knocked out Luis Alvarado (1-2) with a single right hand in the opening round. Alvarado rose to this feet, but he was in no position to continue, and referee Jay Nady stopped the contest.

— Bantamweight prospect Robert “Biggie” Rodriguez (9-0-1, 5 KOs) made quick work of Abel Soriano (10-1, 7 KOs), dropping the Nebraska native three times before referee Russell Mora called off the bout at 2:59 of the opening round.

— In a six-round battle of unbeaten junior welterweights, Israel Mercado (8-0, 7 KOs) defeated Adrian Valdovinos (5-1-1, 4 KOs) by unanimous decision (60-54 2x and 59-55).

— Wendy “Haitian Fire”Toussaint (12-0, 5 KOs) bested Detroit native Isiah “Loco” Jones (9-3, 3 KOs) via unanimous decision in an eight-round middleweight bout. The judges scored it 80-72 and 79-73 2x.

Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank Boxing

Jesse Hart on fight with Smith: ‘This is personal’

For Philadelphia’s Jesse Hart(26-2, 21 KOs), fighting Joe Smith Jr.(24-3, 20 KOs) on January 11 at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City(ESPN), does two things for him. It allows him to continue to make his presence known at light heavyweight, and maybe more importantly, it will give him an opportunity to get revenge.

Back in 2016, Smith battled boxing and Philly legend, Bernard Hopkins. The then 51-year-old Hopkins was looking to end his career in style, but Smith had other plans. Smith would get the best of Hopkins for most of the fight before knocking him out of the ring and stopping Hopkins. What happened that night is a big motivator for Hart, and he hopes to get revenge for Hopkins and the city of Philadelphia.

“This is personal Bernard inspired me to be what I became,” Hart recently said. “I wouldn’t be right if I didn’t avenge that defeat. I can’t move forward unless I beat him. This is a Philly thing. It’s more personal than business for me. I want a world title shot at light heavyweight, but I have to get through this guy first.

Smith has lost two out of his last three fights but has the opportunity to get back on track against Hart, and according to Smith, he does not care about the personal stuff.

“I am focused and ready to bring everything I have,” Smith said. “Jesse Hart might want to make this personal, but I didn’t even know who he was before this fight was brought up. I am ready for this. It is going to be a great night.”

This is Hart’s second fight at 175 as he defeated Sullivan Barrera back in June. If Hart can win this fight, maybe a title shot at 175 could be in his future. Regarding Smith, he needs to win this fight if he hopes to continue making noise in the light heavyweight division. 

This fight has all the makings of being very fan-friendly. Plus, you add in the revenge factor. The fans in Atlantic City should most definitely get their money’s worth.

Bivol: ‘If someone has a belt in Super-Middleweight or Light-Heavyweight division, I would be glad to fight them’

Dmitry Bivol could open the door to mega-fights at Super-Middleweight as he prepares to defend his WBA World Light-Heavyweight title against Joe Smith Jr on Saturday March 9 at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York, live on DAZN in the US and on Sky Sports in the UK.

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Bivol (15-0 11 KOs) puts his crown on the line for the fifth time against Long Island’s Smith Jr (24-2 20KOs), who fights in his first World title bout. The champion has long stated his desire to unify the 175-pound division, but the unbeaten Russian has cast his eyes on the Super-Middleweight division and is excited by the prospect of potentially becoming a two-weight World champion.

“I’m not a big guy for Light-Heavyweight, and I can make Super-Middleweight, and I said many times that I want the big fights,” said Bivol. By that I mean that I want to fight for belts. If someone has a belt in Super-Middleweight or Light-Heavyweight division, I would be glad to fight them.

“I know Callum Smith has a belt, and I would like to fight him if he wants to, and if our promoters can make this fight. I am open for every fight for the belt now. There are many names who have belts. To the top ten from Light-Heavyweight and Super-Middleweight: I’m ready to fight.

“Boxing is a different sport to something like running. In running, you just have good speed. In boxing, you could have good speed, but this doesn’t mean you can win. I’m not the hardest puncher, I’m not the quickest fighter, but I have something that helps me to be a winner. I have enough speed, I think many speed from Light-Heavyweight have enough speed, the same power as me, maybe more power. I love this sport, because you don’t need to be the quickest or the strongest, I don’t know. I’m just one of the best. I have the best team, I have the best coach, maybe it’s because I believe in my skills.”

Smith Jr’s clash with Bivol is part of a huge night of action at Turning Stone Resort Casino with a second mouthwatering World title fight on the bill in the shape of Maurice Hooker (25-0-3 17 KOs) defending his WBO World Super-Lightweight title against Brooklyn’s Mikkel LesPierre (21-0-1 10KOs).

Callum Johnson (17-1-0 12KOs) and Sean Monaghan (29-2-0 17KOs) will both have a keen eye on the Bivol-Smith Jr. clash as they battle in a crunch fight in the 175lbs division, Uzbek amateur star Israil Madrimov (1-0 1KO) defends his WBA Inter-Continental Super Welterweight title against Frank Rojas (24-2-0 23 KOs),  World-ranked heavyweight contender Sergey Kuzmin, (14-0 11 KOs), of St. Petersburg, Russia will battle Philadelphia based veteran Joey Dawejko, (19-6-4 11 KOs) and Otha Jones III makes his pro debut on the card.
 

Bivol expects a tough fight against Smith Jr.

Dmitry Bivol knows that Joe Smith Jr. is coming to rip his title away from him – and the WBA World Light-Heavyweight king says that will make for a great fight when he defends his belt at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, NY on Saturday March 9, live on DAZN in the US and on Sky Sports in the UK.

Bivol (15-0 11 KOs) puts his strap on the line for the fifth time and it’s been smooth sailing since he destroyed Trent Broadhurst inside a round in his first defense in November 2017.

The Russian has put Sullivan Barrera, Isaac Chilemba and Jean Pascal to the sword since that win in Monaco, and now the hard-hitting Russian goes head to head with Smith Jr (24-2 20KOs).

The Long Island man fights for his first World title against Bivol, and the 29 year old has vowed to pour everything out of himself to land the crown – and the defending champ believes that their styles will gel for a great clash.

“He’s a strong guy,” said Bivol. “I saw his fight against Bernard Hopkins, and he’s really strong. He has the same age like me, he’s young. But he has some minus points like many fighters that I will use to my advantage for my win. He moves forward a lot. This is a good challenge for me, to stop him.

“I saw in his eyes when I met him, he wanted my belt. And I’m glad, because only that way it can make a good fight.

“We are both of different styles. When two guys meet in the ring with different styles in boxing, it usually makes a good fight. I think it will be a good fight for boxing fans.

“To be honest, I don’t think about the belt. I just think about who my opponent is, and what he can show me in the ring. All I think about is how I should beat him. In my sight, I feel like I should just beat him. Of course, the belt is good for history, but I only think about my opponent.”

Bivol’s clash with Smith Jr. is part of a huge night of action at Turning Stone Resort Casino with a second mouthwatering World title fight on the bill in the shape of Maurice Hooker (25-0-3 17 KOs) defending his WBO World Super-Lightweight title against Brooklyn’s Mikkel LesPierre (21-0-1 10KOs).

Callum Johnson (17-1-0 12KOs) and Sean Monaghan (29-2-0 17KOs) will both have a keen eye on Bivol’s clash as they battle in a crunch fight in the 175lbs division, World-ranked heavyweight contender Sergey Kuzmin, (14-0 11 KOs), of St. Petersburg, Russia will battle Philadelphia based veteran Joey Dawejko, (19-6-4 11 KOs) and Otha Jones III makes his pro debut on the card.