JOE SMITH JR sits back in his chair, ponders the question posed to him, looks around the room, thinks a little more, and comes to a decision. “The craziest moment of his career?” he asks back. “I mean, looking back… Andrzej Fonfara, Bernard Hopkins, there have been some amazing times and unexpected moments in my career.
“This Saturday I’m hoping to do that again and finally secure myself a world championship.”
It’s been a long road for Smith Jr. He’s a simple man who’s lived the ultimate life of labour, sprinkled with lashings of the extraordinary.
He began boxing at 13 at Heavy Hitters Gym in Ronkonkoma and began work, cutting down trees with his father, just a few short years later, before getting more fruitful work with Laborers Local 66 in Long Island, New York, where he grew up.
Smith Jr held the constriction gig on his back but ploughed forward with a full-time pro boxing career in his sights, picking up the opportunities that worked their ways into his path.
Signed to Joe DeGuardia’s Star Boxing, it was time for Smith Jr to start seizing those opportunities. And he did, despite opening up as a 33/1 underdog in a fight with Fonfara in 2016.
Smith Jr smashed Fonfara around the ring for over two minutes before the referee stopped proceedings in the first round. His next opponent? Only the legendary Bernard Hopkins, a fight in which he was another sizeable underdog.
Hopkins never returned to the ring after his evening with Smith Jr. B-Hop was sent tumbling through the ropes, onto the arena floor and into retirement by a much stronger and hungrier man. TKO8.
Smith Jr returned to work on the construction site the week after.
“I literally went back to work after the Hopkins fight, just that week later,” he reminisces. “I worked for a couple weeks then I realised I had other big fights coming up. I stayed there a little longer but then when we opened our own business I stopped working full-tine.
“I walked into the job site after the Hopkins fight and the guys were like ‘what the hell are you doing here? You just fought a legend knocked him out and you’re back here at work? Something’s off!’ I was like ‘I need to make money!’.
Losses to Sullivan Barrera and Dimitry Bivol have followed, but so have emphatic wins over Jesse Hart and Eleider Alvarez.
Next is Maxim Vlasov, for the vacant WBO light-heavyweight world title. And he’s finally the bookies’ favourite.
The construction work has stopped, but Smith Jr now runs his own tree service business, Team Smith Tree Services, with his father. The dirty work now gets left to his own workers, while he gets down to business in the ring.
But there was a time where Smith Jr wasn’t so convinced his boxing career would lead to anywhere special. Enter trainer Jerry Capobianco.
The vacant WBO Light Heavyweight title is 𝙊𝙁𝙁𝙄𝘾𝙄𝘼𝙇𝙇𝙔 on the line in Tulsa. 👑⚖️ Joe Smith Jr. – 174.8 lbs⚖️ Maxim Vlasov – 175 lbs#SmithVlasov | TOMORROW | ESPN & ESPN+ pic.twitter.com/dZfUmgKV6e— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) April 9, 2021
Smith Jr adds: “My trainer Jerry, he said ‘give me everything you’ve got for a few years and I’ll make you a world champion’. At first I was like ‘you crazy?’. But as my career went on I started getting the bigger fights I knew this guy wasn’t lying to me.
“Now, I go into every fight the same way, that guy there opposite me is there to hurt me, he’s trying to take away what’s mine so I’ve got to go in there and stop him from doing that.”
A big win over Vlasov sets up a huge unification fight with current 175lb king Artur Beterbiev, who turned 36 in January.
“It’s going to be there that Beterbiev fight,” Smith Jr says.
“I just need to win and set up an opportunity like that for myself. That’s the main thing on my mind, stay focussed on this fight, do whatever it takes to win and there’ll be some huge opportunities to come.
“We’ll see what happens in the ring with Vlasov but I’m going to go after the stoppage of course.
“He’s an aggressive fighter. He comes forward, throws a lot of punches.
“A lot of the guys I’ve fought are more boxers and counter-punchers. But Vlasov will be busy and aggressive. Whatever he brings I’m prepared for it all.
“I can’t wait to get in there on Saturday night. It’s been a long time coming, I can’t wait to put that belt above my head and walk out as a champion.”
Newly married to his long-time girlfriend Kelly Reilly, Smith Jr plans to spend his hopeful post-win months relaxing back in Long Island, by the water where he can jet-ski. More simpleness accompanied by thrill.
“I’m a big jet-skier,” he says. “I love going out on the boat too. That’s the sort of stuff I love to do.
“I’m looking forward to the summer, once I win this fight we’ll go jet-skiing right by my house in Long Island. I can’t wait.” More