Undefeated WBA World light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol (15-0, 11 KOs) defends his title this Saturday, March 9 against hard-hitting Joe Smith Jr (24-2, 20 KOs) at the Turning Stone Resort & Casino in New York. It’s a potentially interesting showdown put on by Matchroom Boxing USA as they continue to extend their brand into North American markets following the historic deal struck with Perform Group’s streaming service DAZN nearly a year ago.
Tale of the Tape
Smith Jr is a good fighter with excellent punching power, who is most widely known for beating a nearly 52-year old Bernard Hopkins back in December 2016 by eighth round stoppage. It was supposed to be a farewell celebration for B-hop and was competitive until six unanswered punches, the last which sent him flying out of the ring shocked the audience of 6,513 at The Forum. It was even more dramatic because the legend had never been knocked out.
The Long Island native’s most significant quality win was a first round knockout victory over heavily-favored Andrzej Fonfara six months earlier. Smith Jr caught an attacking Fonfara with a perfectly-timed right to the temple which deposited him hard on his back. Fonfara made it to his feet but the fight was stopped seconds later when he could not defend himself against a barrage of punches.
However, Joe’s hot streak came to an end when he stepped up against Sullivan Barrera in July 2017. Smith Jr had Barrera down in the first round but the latter went on to dominate the remainder of the fight, winning by a 10-round unanimous decision and taking his WBC International title in the process. Joe’s other defeat came against Eddie Caminero by fourth-round TKO in just his seventh pro outing.
The 28-year old Bivol compiled an excellent amateur career record of 268-15, winning numerous national championships before turning pro in 2014. The Kyrgyzstan-born fighter now fighting out of St. Petersburg is known for his silky smooth boxing skills and methodical way of wearing opponents down with his heavy hands.
Dmitry has enjoyed a few wins over decent opponents most notably Jean Pascal, Isaac Chilemba and Sullivan Barrera. He faced one of the sternest tests of his career against the ultra-tough Barrera a year ago. He suffered a cut over his right eye early in the bout and a hematoma sustained over the other eye due to an accidental head clash. Bivol passed that test with flying colors though by out-boxing and out-punching the Cuban throughout the fight, eventually stopping him in the 12th and final round.
Bivol won the then interim WBA championship when he beat Felix Valera by unanimous decision in May 2016. He was elevated to full champion when Badou Jack vacated the WBA title after beating former champ Nathan Cleverly. Dmitry is making the fourth defense of his title and his rapid ascent has placed him on a collision course with the other champions at 175 – Oleksandr Gvozdyk (WBC), Sergey Kovalev (WBO) and Artur Beterbiev (IBF).
Three Keys to Victory
Punching Power – Bivol has just as much punching power as Smith Jr but more paths to victory. Therefore, Smith Jr will need to leverage his power and aggressiveness to a greater extent to make it a competitive fight against Bivol. He’s a fine knockout artist who throws good combinations and possesses a powerful right hand. It will be interesting to see if Joe can catch Bivol with something big that changes the tide of this fight.
Hittable – Bivol has the definite edge here with the tighter defense but has appeared vulnerable at times, especially when he was being tagged by Barrera’s right hand. He also sometimes exposes himself by appearing stationary (even lethargic) and is viewed in some corners as being too much of a head-hunter. You could argue that Joe’s best defense is his offense and he’ll need every bit of it in this scrap.
Skills – Dmitry is a very calculated fighter, a textbook puncher that sets up his shots well, with complete precision and impressive counterpunching. Smith Jr will have his hands full with that array of weaponry. That said, Smith Jr is underrated when it comes to his command of punches and punch combinations. Joe is also more experienced than Bivol and sufficiently capable of hurting the champion.
Bivol sometimes fights to the level of his competition and other times he is a devastating puncher looking to take his opponent out. So much of the outcome will depend on which Bivol shows up. That does not give Smith Jr much hope here in a fight that could be a real mismatch with Bivol as the heavy favourite. Joe will need to outwork the champion by a wide margin to win on points but I just do not see that happening. Smith Jr will have a puncher’s chance but I think that he will run out of ideas and ultimately fall apart against Bivol.
I see this fight following a very predictable course with Bivol easily winning a shutout via unanimous decision.
Maurice Hooker vs. Mikkel Lespierre
Matchroom Boxing USA could have done a better job in organising this co-main event that looks like a complete mismatch on paper. Maurice Hooker (25-0-3, 17 KOs) puts his WBO super lightweight strap on the line against little known opponent Mikkel Lespierre (21-0-1, 10 KOs). ‘Mighty Mo’ is predicting a devastating knockout over his challenger, who has a resume devoid of quality opponents. Hooker won the title on the road, going the distance for the first time against Terry Flanagan last June. He hit the road again for his first defense, a thrilling knockout over Alex Saucedo in Oklahoma City in November. Hooker had to climb off the canvas in the second round to defeat the local favourite.
Prediction – The Roc Nation Sports (a division of rapper Jay-Z’s entertainment company) fighter has his sights set on a bigger homecoming fight in Dallas next. He will need to take care of business first against the inexperienced Lespierre and I suspect that he will do just that via brutal knockout by the third round.
Callum Johnson vs. Sean Monaghan
Johnson makes his highly anticipated return to U.S. soil in search of another world title bout against Sean Monaghan to headline this weekend’s Bivol-Smith Jr undercard. The exciting Brit (17-1, 12 KOs) made quite the impression last time out in nearly stopping heralded Artur Beterbiev in the second round, but was then stopped by the IBF champion in the fourth round of their exciting clash last October. Johnson has major power as he proved in that fight and this bout will be good while it lasts. The 37-year old Monaghan (29-2, 17 KOs) has come up short twice against top-level opponents, suffering defeats to both Sullivan Barrera and Marcus Browne.
Prediction- Both men will come to fight but Monaghan is on the downside of his career and will not be able to keep up with his younger opponent. I have Johnson blasting Monaghan out inside the distance in impressive style.
World-ranked heavyweight contender Sergey Kuzmin, (14-0, 11 KOs) will battle Joey Dawejko (19-6-4, 11 KOs) and Otha Jones III makes his pro debut to round out the remainder of the card.