Can we still call boxing “the theater of the unexpected” if we have seen so many curious twists and bizarro turns that we are not really surprised that Covid has once again messed with a big-deal bout? Word dropped that Joe Smith, the throwback rumbler from Long Island, New York, won’t be facing Brit Callum Johnson on January 15 at Turning Stone in upstate New York? That’s because the 36 year old hitter from England with a 20-1 mark is Covid positive.
So, what happens to the main event on a Top Rank/Star Boxing card to screen on ESPN?
Joe Smith is a fan friendly bomber with unflagging spirit and nasty pop in both hands.
He has hold of the WBO light heavyweight strap, acquired in a showdown with Maxim Vlasov last April.
The 32 year old, who owns a tree trim business as his more/than-side hustle, possesses a 27-3 record, and a reputation for being able to roll with the punches.
Literally, yes, as he’s turned into a pugilist since turning pro in 2009, he’s not a mere banger whose only asset is his power potential. But more than that is the way he’s had to handle more than a fair share of switches, cancellations and playing the waiting game. And rando shit, like having a bout shifted to when his honeymoon was to take place, so he had to put that off till after the contest.
The show on Jan 15 must go on, so, Smith will knock on wood that everything stays copacetic between now and next Saturday, and the long and slightly less sinister hand of Omicron chooses other prey. Florida fighter Steve Geffrard (18-2) will sub in for Johnson; Geffrard owns solid fundamentals and has won 16 straight since losing his first two pro bouts.
Joe Smith can know some of the frustration Callum is likely feeling, because his title defense against Umar Salamov last October got scratched because the Irish American caught Covid five weeks before the tussle. The sting felt familiar because Smith had gotten all ready to battle Vlasov atop a Feb. 11, 2021 Top Rank card, for the up-for-go rabs WBO trinket.
Two days before the crash, the rug got pulled, when Vlasov came down with Covid.
In the re-set square off, Joe Smith found fuel in his tank late and out-worked the Russian. That’s to his credit; the blue collar refined brawler deserves a large dose of respect for putting up with all the loop de loops on the rickety way-past-prime mini-coaster at a C grade carnival that does the upper Midwest Little League loop of a career prime.
Fight fans mostly underestimate the difficulty level of maintaining a pro fighting career. And a few have a good grasp of the mental toll exacted by the kinds of fits and starts he’s handled, but they aren't as in evidence on social media.
Friends, these guys don’t fight, they don’t get paid.
None of us sideliners know the sting of an eight week camp, building to a mental and physical peak only to get whiplashed by a cancellation two crummy days before the payoff.
Trainer Jerry Capobianco is part of one of the toughest families on the whole Island. Brother Phil teams with Jerry to manage and instruct Joe. Both channel their father John Capobianco, a legit legend in Huntington and surrounding towns, who won the NY Gloves in 1949.
Before he had pro bouts, his wife told him to get a less thrilling job. He stayed in the game, teaching, and doesn’t get credit due for helping Gentlemen Gerry Cooney to became a dangerous contender in the 70s into the 80s. (Click here for a deeper look at the Capo clan and how much Papa John touched townships near and farther away.)
Joe Smith turned pro in 2009, with the fighting Capobiancos leading the way, pointing him in the right direction. They are known in Long Island, especially around their town of Huntington, with John holding a 25-3 record (from 1973-1982), Phil owning a 12-2 pro mark (from 1979-1983), Kevin going 7-4 (from 1972-1974) and Jerry at 2-1 (in 1982). Dad John won the Gloves in 1949, and before he had pro bouts, his wife told him to get a less thrilling job.
John Sr died in 2011; and I’d bet Jerry held the belt, looked to sky-ward, and whispered something about Joe’s victory belonging some to the patriarch, too, because he was Mr. Boxing in Huntington.
Jerry Cap after the switch to Geffrard talked a bit about the opponent substitution. He then bowed out, he was hitting the rack early, because since Joe DeGuardia learned Wednesday that Callum got Covid, there's been drama, and scrambling and some stress. The trainer said there's not much footage of Geffrard out there. Next morning, I bet he saw the below video, from 2016, because it shows that Geffrard (against Samuel Miller) possesses a useful jab.
I told Jerry Cap I remembered seeing Geffrard at a local show, in NY. I thought it was a Salita Promotions at Brooklyn College, but Boxrec kindly informed me that my memory was off. I saw him on a Greg Cohen show running at the Space in Westbury, Long Island, NY in September 2015.
Promoter DeGuardia, I think he deserves an extra nod of respect. After the Geffrard sub got announced he told NYF how it's not as easy as he looks. He ran through about 15 possibles, and thought a few times that he'd reached an agreement with guys. Guys, who then slept on it, woke up, and re-considered getting their chin checked by Joe Smith. “The drama those couple days was insane,” DeGuardia told me.
There was the overseas guy who seemed like a go, until it was discovered he wasn't vaccinated.
One light heavy he thought would be all over the opportunity, but he didn't snap at it. “He said he just wasn't in ideal shape,” DeGuardia said, and his voice had a certain tone.
“Joe,” I said, “do I detect a note of ‘things ain't like they used to be' in your voice?”
He did a rueful chuckle and admitted, no, it feels like sometimes that's too true. I did the Libra thing, and said, yeah, but it is after the holidays, and so many people are that much chunkier. Also, Joe Smith can crack!
True, DeGuardia said, but fighters FIGHT. Imagine an upset win, he said. The pay is quite decent, the opportunity is immense and yet the eagerness to grab the slot wasn't much present.
Anyway, on that 2016 card, Geffrard won, via TKO5, over 18-9-1 Cory Cummings, who had been stopped in his previous fight, by one Joe Smith five months before, in round two. I recalled that vs. the New Jersey-ite Cummings (in what turned out to be his final pro outing), Geffrard looked world class.
Like, he'd be able to hang at the level, we'd have to see if he could do more that hang.
On Jan. 15, at Turning Stone and on ESPN, we shall see. Knock on wood, we shall see.