The Great White…Missed Opportunity

By Paul Magno on June 25, 2018
The Great White…Missed Opportunity
Not only did he beat Hopkins, but he did it in the best possible manner. (Photo: Courtesy)

Joe Smith Jr., the 28-year-old fighting construction worker from Long Island, never got the monstrous, life-changing payday that should’ve come his way…

In boxing, if you want a quick and disproportionately large payday, be a blue-collar white kid with a big punch and a working-class backstory. Boxing media and fans eat that shit up. Networks orgasm at the thought of having a bankable white guy to peddle. And if you can score a big win or two over some “name” opposition on your way up, then you’re REALLY going to cash in!

Or, at least you SHOULD cash in.

Joe Smith Jr., the 28-year-old fighting construction worker from Long Island, never got the monstrous, life-changing payday that should’ve come his way. Instead, he fights for relative chump change this weekend on a Mohegan Sun Casino show in Uncasville, CT against journeyman Melvin Russell.

Less than two years ago, though, Smith was on the verge of getting his payout and also on the verge of seeing whether his heavy hands could take him to the very top of the light heavyweight division where even more money could’ve been had.

The always-tough, but decidedly not-ready-for-primetime Smith started his unlikely run to the near-top with a shocking first round stoppage of the well-regarded Andrzej Fonfara in June of 2016 and then rode a wave to an HBO main event six months later against future first ballot Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins.

Maybe the Hopkins fight WAS this white kid’s payday—a solid $140K cash-out and a video to show his grandkids one day. Smith was clearly picked as B-side to the 51-year-old Hopkins because he was seen as a game, but limited opponent who had temporarily elevated his status with the Fonfara blowout.

But what was to be Hopkins’ going away party turned into a forced retirement as Smith proved to be too strong and too focused to be the fall guy he was intended to be. Not only did Smith beat Hopkins, but he did it in the best possible manner for a pug looking to build towards bigger fights—he knocked Hopkins right through the ropes en route to an eighth round KO win.

A month later, Smith was back at his construction day gig, posing for pics with the foreman at the site, hard hat cocked to the side, WBC international light heavyweight belt over his shoulder. Soon enough, the money would come pouring in.

It never did, though.

Talks to set up a shot at WBC world champ Adonis Stevenson fell apart for various reasons—maybe, mostly, because talks with Stevenson almost seem to invariably fall apart. Meanwhile, Sergey Kovalev and division newcomer Andre Ward busied themselves with one another with the WBO/WBA/IBF titles in play.

It would’ve been prudent for Smith to take a couple of soft touches while letting the divisional dust settle and while waiting on a world title opportunity. The money would eventually come because he was still regarded as a limited and beatable fighter with, because of his back-to-back upsets, an increasingly marketable name. Someone would’ve come along to exchange a bag of loot for Smith’s name on their résumé. And, who knows, maybe the kid could’ve flipped the script yet again to walk away with a world title. Then, everything would’ve been pushed forward even further, the size of the eventual cash-out growing as his run continued.

Instead, Smith’s people saw fit to guide him into a dangerous stay busy fight on an HBO undercard against the skilled Cuban Sullivan Barrera, who got up from a first round knockdown to fracture Smith’s jaw and school him the rest of the way. The one-sided beating effectively killed off all of Smith’s career momentum and, while he did walk away with a career-high purse of $160K, this was pretty much the end of the line when it came to trying to parlay the Fonfara and Hopkins upsets into something really big.

Smith is re-starting his career Saturday in Uncasville, but, honestly, there may not be a road back to the top. He has gone from being a beatable name to a heavy-handed risk. In other words, there’s now less value in his name than the risk involved in taking him on.

A bottlenecked 175 lb. division and an odd career decision worked together to kill Smith’s chances of getting the payday headed his way.

And boxing, as much as it loves the great white hope underdog, is also quick to dismiss blue-collar heroes who can’t keep their fairytale stories alive.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Smith Jr. vs Fonfara HIGHLIGHTS: PBC on NBC - June 18, 2016

Bernard Hopkins vs. Joe Smith Jr.: WCB Highlights (HBO Boxing)

Joe Smith Jr. vs. Sullivan Barrera: BAD Highlights (HBO Boxing)

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  1. Kid Blast 06:15pm, 07/02/2018

    Tim-spot on. People don’t forget.

    As for Joe, he has had jaw issues before. In fact, terrible Eddie Caminero broke his jaw on a fluke and gave him his only loss before Barrera. Joe needs to finish the work fast before he gets hit flush. It’s not that he’s chinny; it’s that he has a bone structural issue.

    But his hands are as heavy as ricks.

  2. Tim 11:50pm, 06/29/2018

    Hopkins lost my respect when he made that racist comment and while Joe Smith Jr will never be anything more than a glorified club fighter, I still was happy he punched, not pushed Hopkins through the ropes. Hopkins stayed classless till the end by insisting he was pushed.

  3. tetumbo 04:38pm, 06/28/2018

    I read the title and thought it was about Golovkin(?) . . . never mind.

  4. nonprophet 08:05am, 06/28/2018

    Beating Hopkins is what it took to make joe smith relevant and a star.  Sullivan Barrera is what it took to show that Smith’s win over B-Hop was a fluke.

  5. Balaamsass 07:11pm, 06/27/2018

    The first warning sign that Kovalev wasn’t the second coming of Superboy was when he didn’t take Hopkins out…..not the first Ward fight that he won but got his first good old fashioned American cornholin’!

  6. Kid Blast 10:15am, 06/27/2018

    The only rap I ever had on Hopkins was his propensity to trash talk. He didn’t need to do that.

  7. Pete The Sneak 09:57am, 06/27/2018

    @ODB…True that. B-Hop was a true testament of a fighter always in outstanding shape and to do the things he did at his age was an incredible feat. However, with that being said, watching him get his bell rung in that fashion by Joe Smith was indeed A ‘ting of beauty’ as they say in Brooklyn…Peace.

  8. Ollie Downtown Brown 08:23am, 06/27/2018

    Watching that video of Hopkins getting knocked out of the ring never grows old. However, I have to give Bernard props. To be in the ring and performing at that level against a man half your age is amazing.

  9. Kid Blast 05:45am, 06/27/2018


  10. TLIG 02:54am, 06/27/2018

    Whatever happens to his career I’ll always support him for ending Hopkins’ career. And the manner in which he did it.

  11. ceylon mooney 02:56pm, 06/26/2018

    barrera did not school smith one bit, and it wasnt a blunder at all putting him in with barrera. he wasnt exposed as a limited banger one bit. bad luck for smith is all. but smith went 9 rounds with a busted jaw and stayed in the fight. he went 9 ROUNDS WITH A BROKEN JAW, he was still in the fight & barrera was unable to do much. smith wasnt exposed barrera was. smith wastes him in a rematch.

  12. Kid Blast 12:33pm, 06/26/2018

    When I was a kid I played football with a guy named John Smith. Once, he was hit by a car and when the cop asked for his name, he said “John Smith.’” The cop then said one more wise crack and I’ll sap you. This, of course, was in Chicago where an occasional sapping wasn’t all that unusual.

    At any rate, Joe needs a confidence builder and then he needs Seany.

  13. Ollie Downtown Brown 08:33am, 06/26/2018

    With a name like Joe Smith Jr, you can only get so far. Perhaps he should have changed it to Rico Suave or better yet, Ollie Downtown Brown.

  14. Kid Blast 07:03am, 06/26/2018

    I wrote about his having a proposed fifth with Sean Monaghan. It’s a natural. But the real back story on this very nice guy is that he has a jaw issue as in bone structure. He lost back in the day to horrible Eddie Caminero as a result of a broken jaw and it happened again against Barrera. Joe’s best chances are early before he gets hit flush. If he hurts his opponents , they are gone because Joe closes like a snap shut door.

    But whatever happens to Joe, and I hope it’s good stuff, he will always be remembered as the guy who sent Hopkins to Cheese Steak Dreamland.

  15. Jim Allcorn 08:09pm, 06/25/2018

    What a blunder his people made in putting him in with Berrera. I knew it was a bad idea from the moment the bout was announced. Berrera’s style was all wrong for him & he had the type of chin & durability to extend Smith & make him look just like the limited banger that he is.
    The ideal next fight for him after the Stevenson fight fell through was a showdown vs the 28-0 fellow Long Islander Sean Monaghan for a good payday & local bragging rights. A victory would have certainly led to a title shot. Unfortunately, promotional differences resulted in that fight not taking place & ironically, the same night that Smith lost to Barrera on HBO Monaghan was blown out in just two rounds by Marcus Browne on Showtime.
    The fight could still be made assuming that their promoters decide to work together but it’s highly doubtful if it would garner the winner a title opportunity or a major payday.

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