Joe Smith Jr.’s nickname is “The Common Man,” but the problem he faced Saturday in his light heavyweight title unification fight in the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden is he was fighting an incredibly special man.
Artur Beterbiev entered the fight for the IBF-WBC-WBO belts with 17 knockouts in 17 fights. He got his 18th on Saturday, but it wasn’t just his power. It was his boxing and his patience, in addition to his enormous power, that made the difference.
He dropped Smith once in the first, twice more in the second and had Smith wobbly around the ring when referee Harvey Dock stepped in to call a halt to the carnage.
Beterbiev struggled early in his last fight against Marcus Browne, which he won by ninth-round stoppage. He said before the fight he wanted to be better and this time he was.
“I wanted to be a good boxer today,” Beterbiev said. “That’s why I was a little bit better than I was in the past.”
Smith, who entered the fight 28-3 with 22 knockouts, made a critical mistake. He stood in front of Beterbiev from the first bell. He’d said before the fight that he felt his quickness would be an advantage, but Smith’s defense was poor and Beterbiev’s punches were put together correctly and well-placed.
Smith simply didn’t have the chin or the defense to get into a toe-to-toe shootout with Beterbiev.
“Joe is a little bit open and it was more easy for me to get him,” Beterbiev said. “It was two fighters who both have a good punch and both were trying to get there first. This time, I got lucky and got him first.”
Beterbiev now holds three of the four light heavyweight belts. Dmitry Bivol, who defeated Canelo Alvarez last month, holds the WBA belt. Beterbiev said he wanted to fight Bivol for the undisputed title, but Anthony Yarde is the mandatory for the WBO belt he just won.