One of professional boxing’s rising stars resides in Mastic and trains at Unique Fitness in Shirley.
Yet the 27-year-old Joe Smith Jr., ranked #2 on the World Boxing Council’s (WBC) list of light-heavyweight (175 pounds) contenders, is far from a household name. Smith’s quiet ascent in the boxing world came after he won 22 of his first 23 pro bouts. Eighteen of his 22 victories have come by knockout. In a Rocky-like twist, Smith is a member, and worker, in the General Building Laborer’s Local 66 when he is not in training.
Smith’s profile will rise dramatically on Saturday, Dec. 17, starting at 10 p.m., ET, when he’ll appear in a live, nationally televised HBO World Championship Boxing fight against 51-year-old Bernard Hopkins, a former world champion and future Hall of Famer. Hopkins (55 wins, 7 losses, 2 ties, and 32 knockouts), who has not fought since 2014, says this will be his final professional match. The Smith-Hopkins showdown is the main event on a boxing card that evening (Dec. 17) at The Forum in Inglewood, CA.
“I’m so glad I was chosen to fight Bernard Hopkins in his final fight on December 17th at the Forum. I’m going to train very hard for this fight and take full advantage of it. I’m looking forward to putting on a great show for everyone,” Smith said, at an Oct. 26 press conference in Los Angeles.
Smith used the biggest stage of his career to date to score a first-round technical knockout (TKO) against heavily-favored Andrzej Fonfara in what was scheduled to be a 10-round bout on June 18’s NBC Premier Boxing Champions broadcast. His dramatic win catapulted Smith onto HBO’s radar as well as that of Oscar de La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions, which represents Hopkins.
“I expected it to go 10 rounds because he’s a great fighter,” Smith stated, after he stopped Fonfara in the fight’s opening round nearly five months ago in Chicago. “I trained harder for this fight than I ever have, and came here to prove a point—that I belong in the ring with the best.” Gerard Capobianco, Smith’s trainer, is himself a former light heavyweight contender. Smith’s promoter is Joe DeGuardia, president and CEO of Star Boxing.
“It is certainly great to be here in LA at the Forum where so much history has been made,” said DeGuardia, at the same Los Angeles press conference at which Smith appeared late last month. “This fight was really easy to make, and that is a testament to Bernard Hopkins, because most fighters would shy away from a puncher like Joe Smith Jr. It is an honor and I thank Bernard and Oscar for taking this fight.”
Boxing fans in the New York metropolitan area may have some familiarity with Smith because he’s fought at The Paramount in Huntington, Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Resorts World Casino in Queens, and Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods in CT. The eldest of eight children, Smith turned pro in Oct. 2009, after capturing multiple titles as an amateur, including a New York Golden Gloves Championship.
Seven-plus years into an already distinguished professional career, Smith can on Dec. 17 punch his ticket into boxing’s highest levels.
Mike Barry, vice president of media relations for an insurance industry trade group, has worked in government and journalism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the publisher or Anton Media Group.