Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Could Joe Smith Jr. Be In Line For A Title Shot?

The sport of Boxing has always been linked with stories of an underdog being pitted against a significant favorite. In most scenarios, the fighter who is labeled the underdog in a fight is given little more than a puncher’s chance of winning against the heavy favorite. Such a scenario took place on June 18th at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago, IL when former Light-Heavyweight world title challenger Andrzej Fonfara entered the ring to do battle against Joe Smith Jr. in a fight for the WBC International Light-Heavyweight championship.

For Fonfara, this was the fourth fight since losing a hard-fought twelve round unanimous decision to WBC world champion Adonis Stevenson in May 2014. Since that fight Fonfara had won all three of his previous bouts heading into this fight including victories over former world champions Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Nathan Cleverly. Off the strength of not only the “Game” effort he put forth in defeat against Stevenson, but also his performances against Chavez and Cleverly, Fonfara had climbed back up the ranks and entered the fight against Smith ranked in the top five in the world by the WBC, WBA, IBO, and WBO in the Light-Heavyweight division.

Despite this fight being considered a “Tune up” by some and being a heavy favorite heading into the fight with Smith, this fight represented an opportunity for Fonfara to move himself into a mandatory position to once again challenge for a world championship. For Joe Smith Jr., a fighter who entered the fight having won twenty-one of twenty-two professional fights, this fight represented the most significant test of his career as he was viewed as a relative unknown heading into the fight, despite being unbeaten for nearly six years and having compiled fifteen consecutive victories.

In a scenario where some fighters have crumbled under pressure, Smith would rise to the occasion. Although Smith had to contend with a pro-Fonfara crowd as the Polish-born and Chicago-based top Light-Heavyweight contender Fonfara has established himself as a crowd favorite, Smith would show that having the crowd against him in essentially an opponent’s hometown plus fighting on national television on NBC would have no adverse effect on his performance in the ring. Smith came out aggressively from the outset and immediately engaged with Fonfara as he looked to get in close and throw punches with both hands to the body and head. Smith would capitalize on an opening and land a devastating overhand right to the head of Fonfara sending him down to the canvas with a minute to go in the first round.

Even though the always “Game” Fonfara showed his mettle by getting up from the knockdown on wobbly legs, Smith sensing that he had his opponent in trouble went in for the kill and dropped Fonfara for the second time with a follow-up barrage of punches forcing the fight to be stopped. It was as sudden and devastating a knockout as one could see and a prime example of as this observer has often said over the years that “Anything can happen at any given time in the sport of Boxing and that is what makes the sport so great.”

Graphic Courtesy

Final punch stats for this bout as shown and provided by shows that although this was a short fight, both fighters did not hesitate to let their hands go as they nearly equaled each other in total punches landed in a fight that had no feeling out process. Smith was able to out land Fonfara by a single punch, but both fighters overall produced comparable offensive outputs in terms of statistics. The telling blow of the fight however, was the flush overhand right that produced the first of two knockdowns suffered by Fonfara.

Although Smith was a relative unknown prior to this fight, he left the ring after this fight a potential star on the rise. The obvious question is will this victory over Andrzej Fonfara propel Smith into an opportunity at a world championship? It is a question that will likely have some difference of opinion.

It is important to remember that the most compelling fight that could be made in the Light-Heavyweight division currently remains a potential unification bout between undefeated unified WBO/WBA/IBF world champion Sergey Kovalev and WBC champion Adonis Stevenson. Both fighters continue to do circles around each other in facing other opposition rather than each other as both have upcoming title defenses in the month of July. Kovalev will defend his title in Russia on July 11th against Isaac Chilemba. Stevenson meanwhile, will defend his WBC world championship on July 29th against Thomas Williams Jr. in Quebec City, Canada.

 This would seem to eliminate the possibility of Smith fighting for a world championship at least in the immediate future, particularly against Sergey Kovalev, who if he is successful in his upcoming title defense against Isaac Chilemba is scheduled to meet undefeated former Super-Middleweight world champion Andre Ward later this year. If Stevenson however, is successful against Thomas Williams Jr., Joe Smith Jr. should be considered a potential opponent. Not only did Smith stop a fighter in Andrzej Fonfara, who gave Stevenson all he could handle in 2014, but he defeated a top five rated contender in devastating fashion. This would make a potential Stevenson-Smith fight compelling.

There are however, other possibilities that could exist for Smith coming out of this fight. Fights against the likes of former world champion Jean Pascal, current WBO number one Light-Heavyweight contender Dominic Boesel, or top rated contender Artur Beterbiev would each be interesting and if he were successful against either of those fighters it would only strengthen Smith’s case for a potential title shot. Although this observer does not believe it will happen in the near future, it would not surprise me to see a potential rematch between Smith and Fonfara down the line.

After all, even a devastating loss sometimes will not set a fighter back too far in the rankings and if Fonfara can find a way to bounce back from this defeat in a talent deep Light-Heavyweight division, he could find himself right back in the mix and possibly in a position where he would have to fight Smith in order to advance up the rankings. Although we do not know as of this writing where Joe Smith Jr. will be rated when Boxing’s respective sanctioning organizations update their respective rankings in the 175lb. Light-Heavyweight division, Joe Smith Jr. has established himself as a force to be reckoned with and it will be interesting to see if his star will continue to rise.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

Fonfara- Smith stats and graphic provided by: Throwdown Used with permission.  For more information please visit: . You can score live fights by downloading the free Throwdown Scoring app on Google Play or on Apple ITunes.

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