Joe Smith, Jr. – Puncher’s Lesson He Forgot

What Joe Smith, Jr. (23-2-0, 19KO) failed to remember in his bout with Sullivan Barrera (20-1, 14KO) at the Forum in Inglewood, CA was something punchers should never forget. Great knockout artists like Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano never forgot it, and in a big way it was responsible for their greatness. It was something that would lay the foundation for them, something a construction worker like Joe, of all people, should know.

The only highlight in Joe’s performance against Barrera came when his looping counter left hook bopped off Barrera’s forehead and deposited the Cuban on the canvas. That happened in the first round, a round Joe was losing. The question was whether he deserved a 10-8 round? Realistically, he deserved one point.

The potential thrill of an early knockout excited the crowd. However, Barrera proceeded to put a damper on that excitement by boxing Joe’s ears off. Announcers Jim Lampley, Roy Jones, Jr., and Max Kellerman never gave up telling viewers that Joe could punch extremely hard and, therefore, remained a threat no matter how one-sided things looked.

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The broadcasters’ task grew more difficult as it became apparent Joe lacked the one thing necessary to get the job done. Launching punches without proper set up and from the wrong distance resulted in wild swings that caused little more than a bit of a breeze. They certainly weren’t cause for concern with Barrera. As long as that was the extent of Joe’s attack, Barrera knew he was on the way to victory.

In fairness to Joe, he isn’t the first fighter who, when matched against a more skilled opponent, has a memory lapse. Apparently Joe felt he could at any time even things up by landing a good hard shot. He’d rattle Barrera’s brain and dislodge his marbles. Joe could see himself propelled into a title fight.

However, he forgot one of the most important things a puncher must never forget, and that is to “hit something”. For most of the ten round fight, Joe was like the baseball slugger made to look foolish when trying to pull the ball. He refuses to go to the opposite field. As a result, he is suckered with change ups, breaking balls, and fast balls low and outside. The power hitter strikes out and slumps back to the dugout.

The hitter forgot to hit it where it’s pitched. Go up the middle, or bang one to the opposite field. Hit what is available. In boxing, what is often available is the ability to pound the opponent’s arms, elbows, kidneys, or the liver. If the blows stray a bit below the belt line, thats okay too. Maybe it will result in a warning, but the damage will be done. Murderous punchers, the greats, often directed blows to the area just above the potential victim’s heart. Boxing is a dangerous sport, but fighters look for something short of the lethal commotio cortis.

Joe wasn’t being munificent. Rather, he was wasting his talent at the Forum. He needed someone like Emaual Steward in his corner yelling, “Hit something”! The great Jack Dempsey certainly knew the value of that simple maxim. Tommy Gibbons, who managed to go the distance against the Manassa Mauler, knew it all to well. Post fight, he couldn’t raise sore arms high enough to put on his own hat!

Archie Moore knew he was more talented, more skilled than Rocky, but he found out that didn’t matter. Rocky was not going to stop “hitting something”. By the ninth round, the Old Mongoose crumpled like a piece of well hammered Salisbury steak. Pounded to perfection.

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The other Joe, the great one, extended the same lesson to the great Billy Conn. The Pittsburgh Kid knew he was faster and smarter (really?) than Joe. He planned to hit and run. When Joe was asked how he would counter such tactics, he uttered the now well known and ageless response, “He can run but he can’t hide.” Joe kept hitting what was available. For Conn, leading on points (rounds) wasn’t enough. The Kid foolishly paused long enough in an attempt to stop the Bomber……well, you know what happened.

Joe Smith, Jr. is characterized by some as a murderous puncher. Why then wasn’t he hitting Barrera’s arms, elbows, kidneys, the heart and toes (if necessary)? Undoubtedly, such a tactic would have given him a better chance of landing his Sunday Punch. It’s that simple, something that should be easy to remember…”Hit something”, damn it! Without “it”, a puncher is too often left with a disappointing effort.

In Joe’s case, without “it” means his legion of blue collar fans, who hold him in awe, are the one’s who receive a blow to the heart. They proudly count him as one of them, a special someone, who was going to make them proud. Instead, they watched him get his hard hat knocked catty wampuss.

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