Joe Smith Jr. was a dead man.
The former WBO light heavyweight champion pressed the issue against Artur Beterbiev from the opening bell, which is what he needed to do against his older opponent. But instead of employing an intelligently aggressive strategy, Smith was reckless and paid dearly for it.
Let us go back to how I initially broke down the fight. Beterbiev has the shorter arms and tends to start slower. If you're Smith and you have the longer reach, would you rather jump on him early and try to get him out of there within the first six rounds? Or do you try and outbox him for 12 rounds?
Again, any strategy against Beterbiev is inherently dangerous because you're facing the most destructive puncher in boxing today. I expected Smith to fight smart and use his jab effectively to keep him at bay in the early rounds.
However, that didn't happen. Smith threw away any advantage he had from the opening bell. Instead of using his jab, he got right in Beterbiev's kitchen and dropped his left hand in close quarters consistently, allowing Beterbiev to catch him with big right hands. The Russian bear may have been in hibernation during the ring instructions, but as soon as Smith woke him up, he was toast.
Aside from the fight-changing power, the other element that really stood out was the amateur experience. Smith had 50 fights in the unpaid ranks, Beterbiev had 300 bouts, and the difference in skill was evident. Beterbiev has been dropped twice in his career, and your typical couch potato, keyboard-wielding fan will yap that he doesn't have a chin. It's the same folks that suffer from Andre Ward Derangement Syndrome. They don't realize just how gifted of a boxer Beterbiev truly is. It's those subtle movements to get your guard out of position, and we saw that particularly late in the first round.
Beterbiev feinted to the body, Smith took the bait, and Beterbiev came back up over the top with a right hand to drop Smith to a knee. When you have an inexperienced opponent using the high guard, and he needs to get you out of position, Beterbiev will use little feints to open up targeting opportunities. And Smith fell for it throughout the fight, and Beterbiev took full advantage. In the second round, Beterbiev literally made the same move, and Smith fell for the feint again, crashing face-first to the ropes.
And the way Beterbiev fires his jab, it's a power punch. It knocks you off balance, and in that split second or two of disparity, Beterbiev cuts off the ring, and now you're in trouble. With the shorter arms, he can really uncork some shots on the inside.
— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) June 19, 2022
When you're fighting Beterbiev, you're essentially fighting two beats: a guy who can box and take your head off simultaneously. And it's time people wake up and realize just how special this fighter really is. But that's a tall task for Twitter. Besides, it took nearly two decades for some of them to realize Roman ‘Chocolatito' Gonzalez is one of the top pound-for-pound fighters of this era.
As for Smith, he overachieved in his career. Many wrote him off after losing to Sullivan Barrera and Dmitriy Bivol, but he ended up winning a major world title. Yes, it was a vacant title, but Smith (28-4, 22 KOs) still had to beat a couple of solid veterans in Jesse Hart and Eleider Alvarez, whom he upset and knocked out, to get in position to fight for the championship. He's a hero in his hometown of Long Island, New York, and retirement is probably the best option for him moving forward.
As for Beterbiev (18-0, 18 KOs), a Russian native based in Montreal, will likely move on to face Englishman Anthony Yarde (22-1, 21 KOs) with a target date of Oct. 29. If we're being honest, Beterbiev will likely win that match handily, and then hopefully, we'll get the undisputed matchup with Bivol, who upset and dominated Canelo Alvarez in May.