WBO light welterweight champion Joe Smith Jr. says his focus is on unifying the 175-lb division against champions Artur Beterbiev & Dmitry Bivol, not on defending against superstar Canelo Alvarez.
Smith Jr. (27-3, 21 KOs) wants to shape his legacy by becoming the undisputed champion at light heavyweight, and he can’t do that if he spends time making defenses against the likes of the belt-hungry Canelo, who may soon be attempting to win all the straps at 175.
Smith, 32, has to make sure he holds onto his WBO title in his next defense this month on January 15th against Callum Johnson (20-1, 14 KOs) at the Turning Stone Resort & Casino, in Verona, New York. The fight will be shown on ESPN+.
“Everybody would choose the Canelo fight, just because there’s money to be made there,” said Joe Smith Jr. to Last Stand PodCast with Brian Custer.
“For my legacy, I want to be known as a great fighter, so I would like to fight Beterbiev and Bivol.”
Well, suppose Canelo (57-1-2, 39 KOs) is interested in fighting for Smith’s WBO title next or at some point in 2022. In that case, it’ll be interesting to see if he continues to be adamant about preferring to fight Beterbiev and Bivol.
The money that Smith can get will be too good to be true, and it would be impossible for him to reject it. But even if Smith does say ‘NO’ to the idea of defending his WBO 175lb strap against him, he could be FORCED to face him.
As the WBO 168-lb champion, Canelo can petition the World Boxing Organization to install him as the mandatory for Smith’s 175-lb title, which would make it necessary for him to take the fight.
If Smith refuses to defend against Canelo in that case, he’ll be stripped by the WBO, and the Mexican star would then face the highest-ranked available contender in the 175-lb rankings with their organization.
Under that scenario, Canelo would likely fight #1 WBO Lyndon Arthur or #2 Gilberto ‘Zurdo’ Ramirez.
“Really, [Beterbiev and Bivol] are the only fights I want to take. It’s those two. I want to unify. I’m trying to get all the belts,” said Smith.
We’ll see what happens in 2022. Thus far, Joe Smith Jr. needed to worry about Canelo because he’s considering moving up cruiserweight to challenge WBC champion Ilunga Makabu.
If Canelo doesn’t take that fight, he still might choose to return to the 168-lb division to defend his four belts against a contender of his trainer Eddy Reynoso’s picking. Canelo has several easy fights if he stays at 168 that he can pad his record with.
Grated, Canelo won’t make history if he returns to the 168-lb division, but he can earn good money defending against John Ryder, Zach Parker, Aidos Yerbossynuly, and Evgeny Shvedenko.