The reign of Joe Smith Jr as WBO light-heavyweight champion finally got underway with a 9th round win over Steve Geffrard last night.
After contracting Covid-19 last September Smith was unable to defend against Umar Salamov and then this month it was Callum Johnson’s turn to catch the disease forcing him to withdraw from his date with the champion. So, at eight days notice the unheralded Steve Geffrard stepped in to try and catapult his career into a land of fame and riches. Sadly, the level that Smith operates at was too much of a leap for the 31-year-old Floridian.
Inside the Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, a few hours from the champion’s residence in Long Island, Smith’s jab and power punching dominated Geffrard for the majority of their time in the ring.
From the opening bell Smith’s intentions were clear and he looked to get his man out of there early. His jab either peppered or found a home and would be followed up by a right hand around the peek-a-boo guard of Geffrard. The challenger would occasionally peek but rarely gave Smith a fright and while he had his own cameos of success particularly on the inside, they were few and far between.
For Smith it was a return to action after nine months away. April 2021 was the night when the 32-year-old’s dreams became reality out-pointing Maxim Vlasov to hear those much sought after three words ‘And the new…’ At times you could see the time out played a part in his performance, but this less than 100% version of Smith still had too much in his arsenal for Geffrard. Body attacks, uppercuts through the guard and power shots at range could all be called on by the champion who had the time to do what he wanted.
Throughout the first six rounds any momentum Geffrard tried to conjure up would soon be taken away from him. An effective beginning in the 4th round would then be countered by Smith’s pressure and before Geffrard knew it his feet would be pedalling backwards in a clockwise direction to fend off the onslaught.
Round 5 was one of the most dominant 180 seconds for Smith in the fight. Three minutes of one-way traffic that finally witnessed the 21-fight challenger hold on and enter survival mode in the remaining seconds.
Smith’s efforts in the 5th forced a breather one round later. Geffrard could then get to work and looked to double up his jab and then turn his right hand over on to the New Yorker’s blue-collar features. By the end of the 6th there was a sufficient argument to give Geffrard his first 10 on the scorecard.
“Come on, Joe. Shoot it!” Smith’s corner could be heard in the 7th as they looked for their man to turn the screw. The WBO champion got back to controlling the fight and dictating proceedings. The challenge from Florida was beginning to wilt.
After a repeat in round 8 it wasn’t long in the 9th before Geffrard took a knee which prompted trainer Kevin Cunningham to call the fight off. A straight left from Smith forced his weary foe backwards once again before a double-figure number of punches, not all harmful, were more than enough to give the champion a successful first defence. A case of job done.
“I took my time and figured him out, I was trying to get him out of there early,” Smith told ESPN’s Mark Kriegel in the post-fight interview. “I realised he was really tough, and I tried to wait till the later rounds to really start throwing more combinations to pick him apart.”
During the build-up Smith, who unsuccessfully challenged Dmitry Bivol for his WBA title three years ago, had spoke of his desire for the rematch as well as facing unified champion Artur Beterbiev. However, there was talk of the former WBO 175lb champion, now undisputed super-middleweight boss, Canelo Alvarez during Kriegel’s questioning.
“If Canelo wants to come to 175 and fight me, I’m ready for him,” Smith said. “That’s the fight I want. Everybody would love to see that fight and it’d be a big deal.
“If I got Beterbiev next and beat him I’d want Bivol and unify all the belts and then take out the pound-for-pound king. I’m a much better fighter. Next time I get him [Bivol] in here I’ll be the man with my hands [raised] and all the belts around me.”
Smith Jr’s record moves to (28-3, 22 KOs) while Geffrard now sits at (18-3, 12 KOs).