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Smith Jr. vs Geffrard: Working for the weekend Saturday, ESPN

Written By | Jan 15, 2022

Joe Smith J. (L) defends his WBO World Light Heavyweight title for the first time against Steve Geffrard Saturday at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York. Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

SAN DIEGO, Calif., January 14, 2022 – WBO light heavyweight champion Joe Smith Jr. of Long Island (27-3, 21 KOs) never does anything the easy way.

He worked full-time as a laborer digging trenches with a jackhammer for most of his professional career, training after the day was done. When he was finally able to pursue boxing full-time, he scored a sensational victory over Eleider Alvarez to achieve his dream of becoming world light heavyweight champion.

Instead, his dreams were delayed by injuries and COVID-19. Finally, last April, he got his shot for a vacant belt against Maxim Vlasov and squeaked out a narrow win. It raised some eyebrows. Maybe the coronavirus left him less than 100%, as it did with Alexander Povetkin and Jamel Herring.

Joe Smith Jr. landed just enough hard shots to rattle Maxim Vlasov and win on the scorecards. Photo: Mikey Williams, Top Rank Inc

Joe Smith Jr. landed just enough hard shots to rattle Maxim Vlasov and win on the scorecards. Photo: Mikey Williams, Top Rank Inc

Smith Jr. was especially eager to get back in the ring and shut down the doubters. But COVID-19 wasn’t done with him. First, Smith Jr. caught the virus himself right before his wedding. Then his original opponent for this Saturday’s fight, British banger Callum Johnson, dropped out due to contracting COVID-19. Fortunately, Steve Geffrard was about to step on the scale for a fight in his native South Florida last Friday when he got the invitation to step in for Johnson, and the fight was salvaged.




It’s a relief for many people and the opportunity of a lifetime for Geffrard (18-2 12 KOs). ESPN, ESPN Deportes, and ESPN+ air the Top Rank card from the Turning Stone Casino, starting with the undercard on ESPN+ at 7:45 pm ET/4:45 pm PT and the main event on all networks at 10 pm ET/7 p.m. PT.

Geffrard makes for an intriguing opponent. He was initially signed after a promising amateur career but lost his first two fights and had to find another promoter. Geffard’s been battling back ever since and is riding an 18 fight win streak with only one 12 round fight in 2016. He’s fought just once since, an eight-round unanimous decision over veteran Denis Grachev. In one fell swoop, a victory Saturday would make him the early Comeback/Upset Fighter of 2022.

Joe Smith Jr. scored a ninth round stoppage courtesy of a hard right hand. Photo: Mikey Williams, Top Rank Boxing

Not many people give Steve Geffrard a chance against the hard-hitting Joe Smith Jr., who scored a ninth-round stoppage against Eleider Alvarez courtesy of a hard right hand. Photo: Mikey Williams, Top Rank Boxing

Not many people give Geffrard a shot, except Geffrard. Bet MGM  has Geffrard +650 at press time, with Smith Jr. -1200 to retain his title. But there are some intriguing clues o Geffard’s resume making him worth some respect. He’s trained by Kevin Cunningham and has been a sparring partner for both Sergey Kovalev and Canelo Alvarez. He’s got a decent chin, has never been stopped or knocked down. And – he said yes to the fight.

When Star Boxing promoter Joe DeGuardia called Geffrard, he was in the sauna cutting weight before his scheduled fight last Friday. Multiple potential replacements had already turned DeGuardia down.

“I was looking forward to Smith vs. Johnson, but now I’m the one fighting for the title. It’s surreal,” said Geffrard. “When those belts are on the line, that mental switch turns on. I know that mentally and skill-wise I can battle with the best. I have sparred with and handled myself very well, against the best of the division.”

“I’m a fighter, especially with an opportunity like this. I’m going to rise to the occasion. I’ll show the world who Steve Geffrard is.”

Smith Jr. is just happy to be stepping in the ring, even if the opponent isn’t the bigger name he planned.

“There were a couple of moments where I thought I wasn’t going to be here. I can’t wait! Thanks to everyone that made this happen,” said Smith Jr.

Smith Jr. said not much has really changed since becoming world champion, and he plans to keep it that way.

“Geffrard has been inside the ring training with the best. I’m sure he is going to give it his all and will try to take full advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Geffrard: Nothing to lose

Steve Geffrard is willing to bet on himself by taking on WBO World Light Heavyweight champion Joe Smith Jr. Saturday night on a week's notice. Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images) Smith Jr vs Geffrard

Steve Geffrard is willing to bet on himself by taking on WBO World Light Heavyweight champion Joe Smith Jr. Saturday night on a week’s notice. Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

Geffrard plays the “nothing to lose” role, and he’s not a horrible opponent. Smith Jr. can’t sleepwalk through the fight while waiting for a unification fight or a significant paycheck, including the Canelo Lottery. A loss would derail those opportunities, and that’s enough risk for the champion to make it a fight worth watching. Smith Jr. can’t win another squeaker either like he did against Vlasov, who was also lightly regarded.

The undercard features young talents: Nova, Isley, Tucker

Abraham Nova (L) and William Encarnacion (R) pose during the press conference prior to their featherweight fight at Turning Stone Resort Casino Saturday in Verona, New York. Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

Featherweight contender Abraham Nova of Albany, New York via Puerto Rico (20-0,14 KOs) fights in the co-main event against Williams Encarnacion of the Dominican Republic (19-1, 15 KOs).

Also on the undercard are 18-year-old welterweight Jahi Tucker of New York (5-0, 3 KOs) and U.S. Olympian Troy Isley of Alexandria, Virginia (3-0, 2 KOs) in his first six-round fight in the middleweight division. Tucker’s first four pro bouts were fought in The Bubble in Las Vegas during the pandemic.

Jahi Tucker has made the most of his time as a professional despite the pandemic. Photo: Top Rank Boxing Smith Jr vs Geffrard

Jahi Tucker has made the most of his time as a professional despite the pandemic. Photo: Top Rank Boxing

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal is a veteran boxing observer covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.

Please credit “Gayle Falkenthal for Communities Digital News” when quoting from or linking to this story.  



 

Copyright © 2022 by Falcon Valley Group

Gayle Falkenthal

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, MS, APR, is President of the Falcon Valley Group, a San Diego based communications consulting firm. Falkenthal is a veteran award-winning broadcast and print journalist, editor, producer, talk host and commentator. She is an instructor at National University in San Diego, and previously taught in the School of Journalism & Media Studies at San Diego State University.