Can late sub Steve Geffrard upset title holder Joe Smith Jr in this weekend’s WBO light-heavyweight showdown at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York? Luke G. Williams previews the action…

It has been a slow start to 2022 from a boxing perspective, but the year’s world-title action finally gets under way on Saturday night, when champion Joe Smith Jr puts his WBO light-heavyweight championship on the line against late substitute Steve Geffrard. (Before this fight the sole world title action this year has been a female IBF light-flyweight showdown between Evelin Nazarena Bermudez and Yaditza Perez in Argentina on 7 January).

A week ago the 31-year-old Geffrard was sweating in a sauna getting ready to weigh in for a low-key fight in Delray Beach, Florida when he received a call offering him the chance to fight Smith Jr after original opponent – the hard punching British boxer Callum Johnson – had withdrawn after contracting Covid-19.

Former national amateur and Golden Gloves champion Geffrard decided to seize the world-title opportunity with both hands and has admitted he can’t quite believe the turn of events.

Geffrard says stepping in to face Smith Jr is surreal.
Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images

“I was looking forward to Smith vs. Johnson, but now I’m the one fighting for the title,” he said this week. “It’s surreal.”

Geffrard will be hoping he can become one of those late subs who shocks the boxing world – in the manner of Andy Ruiz against Anthony Joshua, Manny Pacquiao versus  Lehlohonolo Ledwaba or Yordenis Ugas versus Pacquiao.

Geffrard was certainly well-schooled as an amateur, but there is nothing in his pro record to suggest he will compete with the seasoned Smith Jr.

This may be the Long Island, New York native’s first defence of his 175lbs crown, but he has mixed in good company in recent years, having beaten quality opponents such as Andrzej Fonfara, Bernard Hopkins, Jesse Hart, Eleider Alvarez and Maxim Vlasov.

Aside from a loss to Eddie Caminero early in his career, the only fighters to have bested Smith Jr have been accomplished ones in Sullivan Barrera and Dmitry Bivol.

In contrast, Geffrard’s 18-2 (12 KOs) record doesn’t even contain the names of any has-beens, but is rather a motley collection of never-wases. Just six of his 20 opponents possessed winning records, and this sestet aren’t even household names in their own households.

Despite the massive gulf in professional experience between the two men, Geffrard insists he will be able to compete. “When those belts are on the line, that mental switch turns on,” he said. “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.”

For all Geffrard’s fighting talk, Smith Jr (27-3, 21 KOs) is an overwhelming favourite – around 1/12 with most oddsmakers, while Geffrard is around an 8-1 outsider. With his blue collar credentials and consistent determination to give his best at all times, Smith Jr does not seem the sort to take an opponent lightly.

“Since I became a world champion, the only thing that has really changed for me is that I’m holding this title, and I want to keep it that way,” the 32-year-old said this week.

“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 possesses good fundaments and a decent jab. He is also a big light-heavyweight. However, Smith Jr is an extremely underrated operator.

Long thought of as a technically limited trier, he works hard at his boxing and against Eleider Alvarez in 2020 he showed marked improvements technically and tactically and is currently rated the third best light-heavyweight in the world by Boxing Social, no mean achievement in a weight class with a decent depth of talent.

The pick here is for the fight to start slowly, with both men perhaps cautiously feeling their way in, before Smith asserts himself in the mid-rounds prior to securing a stoppage victory sometime between rounds seven and nine.