By Dan Ambrose: The highly ranked Joe Smith Jr. (23-1, 19 KOs) will be taking a risky fight this summer against the big punching Sullivan Barrera (19-1, 14 KOs) on July 15 the Forum in Inglewood, California. The Smith Jr. vs. Barrera fight will be televised on HBO’s Boxing After Dark. The start time for the fight is at 9:50 p.m. ET/6:50 p.m. PT.
The winner of the Smith Jr-Barrera fight should see themselves pushed up the rankings and in better position to get a world title shot than they are now.
Smith, ranked #3 WBC, #5 WBA, #11 IIBF, #11 WBO, could have fought unbeaten Oleksandr Gvozdyk in a WBC light heavyweight title eliminator to get a title shot against WBC 175-pound champion Adonis Stevenson. The World Boxing Council was interested in making the Smith Jr. vs. Gvozdyk fight. With Smith Jr. choosing to face Barrera, it suggests that he might not be interested in taking what could be a very, very long path to a title shot against Stevenson.
Smith Jr. would likely need to wait an incredibly long time for a title shot against Stevenson if he beat Gvozdyk. That’s the problem. Stevenson has been taking a lot of a lot of voluntary defenses in the last 4 years. If the WBC doesn’t force Stevenson to face his mandatory challengers on a fairly regular basis, then it could take Smith Jr. years to get a title shot against him.
Barrera, #4 WBA, #8 WBC, #13 WBO, was supposed to have fought Artur Beterbiev. Barrera pulled out of the Beterbiev fight because of the money wasn’t to his liking. Ignoring for the second Barrera not being pleased with the purse for the fight, it would have been a very tough match-up for him to take on the Russian 2-time Olympian. Beterbiev was just a bad match-up for Barrera. If the money wasn’t worth the career risk, then you can’t blame Barrera for not taking that risk. It’s far easier for Barrera to take a softer path to get a title shot rather than having to go through a tough cookie like Beterbiev.
Smith Jr. is coming off an impressive 8th round knockout win over Bernard Hopkins last December at the Forum. Hopkins didn’t have the power to keep Smith Jr. off of him. In the 8th, Smith Jr. knocked Hopkins out of the ring. Hopkins was hurt after falling out of the ring and the fight was subsequently stopped when he failed to get back inside the ring. This was Smith’s second consecutive huge win that took place in 2016. Earlier in the year, Smith Jr. destroyed favorite Andrzej Fonfara by a 1st round knockout in June of last year in front of Fonfara’s own boxing fans at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago, Illinois.
”I’m thrilled to be back on HBO against another top light heavyweight, Sullivan Barrera, I’ve already started training and will be ‘more than ready’ on July 15. There’s a number of great fighters in our division and I’m looking forward to another victory on my way to a world title shot,” said Smith Jr.
The 35-year-old Barrera has shown to have a chin problem in a couple of his fights since turning pro in 2009. Andre Ward dropped Barrera in the 3rd round in 2015. Ward ended up winning that fight by a lopsided 12 round unanimous decision over Barrera. Barrera was too slow for Ward. In Barrera’s fight against Vyacheslav Shabranskyy, Barrera was dropped hard in the 2nd round of their fight last December. Barrera was able to stop Shabranskyy in the 7th round after knocking him down three times in the fight. It was a good win for Barrera in taking the best shots from Shabranskyy and going on to get the victory. However, Sharanskyy looked very flawed against Barrera. As bad as Shabranskyy looked in that fight, he would have been in trouble against a lot of guys in the light heavyweight division.