Joe Smith Jr. wants to fight Artur Beterbiev, but he doesn’t think the feeling is mutual.
The WBO light heavyweight champion contends that neither Beterbiev nor his trainer, Marc Ramsey, want the Russian knockout artist to face him in a much-discussed light heavyweight title unification fight. Montreal’s Ramsey also trained top contender Eleider Alvarez for an elimination match Smith won by ninth-round technical knockout in August 2020 at MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas.
“I don’t believe he wants to fight me,” Smith told BoxingScene.com in reference to Beterbiev. “When I fought Alvarez, his trainer was in Alvarez’s corner. They’ve got the same trainer and he seen what I did to Alvarez, and I think I made a statement there.”
Bob Arum, whose company co-promotes Beterbiev (17-0, 17 KOs) and Smith (27-3, 21 KOs), has repeatedly discussed the inevitability of Beterbiev-Smith materializing. Their fight for Smith’s WBO belt and Beterbiev’s IBF and WBC crowns seemingly should be easy to make, but frustrated fans have grown restless while waiting for it to be put together.
Beterbiev has made back-to-back mandatory defenses of his IBF and WBC championships against Adam Deines (20-2-1, 11 KOs) and Marcus Browne (24-2, 16 KOs), respectively. The WBO has ordered the winner of the Smith-Callum Johnson fight January 15 in Verona, New York, to make a mandated defense of its 175-pound title against England’s Anthony Yarde (22-2, 21 KOs) in his subsequent bout.
The 36-year-old Beterbiev should be free to face Smith next if the Mastic, New York, native conquers the hard-hitting Johnson (20-1, 14 KOs) in a main event ESPN will televise from Turning Stone Resort Casino.
Beterbiev suffered a nasty gash across his forehead, however, on his way to beating Browne by ninth-round knockout December 17 at Bell Centre in Montreal. That cut required extensive plastic surgery and could cause a lengthy layoff, but Smith would welcome the Beterbiev bout next, assuming the favored fighter beats England’s Johnson.
“I’ve signed multiple contracts to fight [Beterbiev], but he came up with injuries,” Smith said. “I was actually supposed to fight him after he fought Callum Johnson [in October 2018], and he turned down the fight after that because he said he wasn’t gonna be ready in time because of the punches he had taken in the fight. I was actually training to fight him for a few months, and that’s when I ended up fighting Bivol instead because he backed out of the fight two or three times while I was in training camp.
“And, you know, people never talk about that. They put it out as if I’m avoiding him, but it was the other way around. That’s how I came across fighting Bivol, as I was saying. But by the time I fought [Bivol], I was training for months and months. I was kinda burned out at that point.”
Russia’s Bivol (19-0, 11 KOs) out-boxed Smith and won a 12-round unanimous decision to retain his WBA light heavyweight title in March 2019 at Turning Stone.
The 32-year-old Smith is 3-0 since Bivol beat him, including a 12-round, majority-decision victory over Russia’s Maxim Vlasov (46-4, 26 KOs) in his last fight. Smith won the then-vacant WBO light heavyweight title when he overcame Vlasov on April 10 at Osage Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.