The Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona hosts world championship boxing this Saturday night, but it won’t be the main event that many hoped for, as Joe Smith Jr defends his WBO light heavyweight title for the first time, against the unknown Floridian, Steve Geffrard, live on ESPN in the USA and on Sky Sports in the UK.
Geffrard steps in at late notice for Britain’s Callum Johnson, who was ruled out just a couple of weeks from his scheduled fight with Smith with COVID-19.
Smith Jr (27-3, 21 KOs) is a decent operator, and he first came to wider prominence in 2016, wiping out the dangerous Andrzej Fonfara in a round.
That earned the New Yorker a golden ticket against the legendary Bernard Hopkins, and Smith Jr finally ended the long career of ‘The Executioner’, knocking the Philadelphian out of the ring and out of the contest in eight rounds.
The success was short-lived though, as he was out hustled by Sullivan Barrera in his very next fight, falling short on a ten round decision.
Since losing a 2019 WBA title shot to Dmitry Bivol on the cards, Smith Jr is on a run of three straight wins, including a ninth round stoppage of former world champion, Eleider Alvarez, and that win gave him a shot at the vacant WBO belt last time out.
That was in April last year, and the 32-year-old took a majority verdict against Maxim Vlasov to become world champion. He now faces an underwhelming opponent in Geffrard (18-2, 12 KOs), a man nominated to fight for the belt as the 15th ranked contender with the organisation.
The 31-year-old lost his first two bouts as a professional, and has only fought once since March 2018.
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Geffrand entered the WBO rankings by way of winning the vacant Asia Pacific title in 2016. His last outing was in March last year, outscoring Denis Grachev over eight rounds.
Prediction: Smith Jr should have no trouble in dealing with Geffrard, and I favour him to do it in the first half of the contest. The champion hits hard, and may score a knockdown early on the way to a dominant victory.
Two ten rounders support the main event. At featherweight, the unbeaten Abraham Nova faces William Encarnacion (19-1, 15 KOs), who fights outside his native Dominican Republic for the first time and replaces Jose Enrique Vivas, who withdrew through injury.
Nova (20-0, 14 KOs), who has high rankings at super featherweight, has been steadily stepping up in class, and Encarnacion was knocked out just two fights ago.
Prediction: Nova can win inside schedule.
The other ten round attraction comes at heavyweight, where Lyubomyr Pinchuk (13-2-1, 8 KOs) should be able to take an early win against Jose Mario Flores (8-2-2, 4 KOs).
In six round action, Omar Rosario (5-0, 2 KOs) can bank a points win against Raekwon Butler (4-1, 2 KOs) at super lightweight, and at middleweight, Troy Isley (3-0, 2 KOs) can see off Harry Keenan Cruz Cabano (6-2, 2 KOs) inside the distance.
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The final six rounder is at welterweight, and Jahi Tucker (5-0, 3 KOs) can take an early win against Akeem Black (6-4, 2 KOs).