Joe Smith Jr. has been waiting for an opportunity to defend his WBO light heavyweight title. Now, after multiple delays due to COVID-19 and other issues, Smith finally has an opponent in the form of Steve Geffrard, who he will face at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York on Saturday night.
WBO light heavyweight champion Joe Smith Jr. (left) will fight little-known Steve Geffrard (right) after COVID-19 scuttled fights against higher profile opponents. (Image: Mikey Williams/Top Rank/Getty)
Geffrard stepped up to take the fight on eight days notice after the more heralded Callum Johnson dropped out after coming down with COVID-19.
Geffrard falls into opportunity of a lifetime
For Smith (27-3, 21 KOs), Johnson felt like a decent test. Johnson has championship experience, having fought IBF titleholder Artur Beterbiev in 2018.
On the other hand, Geffrard (18-2, 12 KOs) comes into this title fight as a virtual unknown. Sure, he sits at No. 15 in the WBO rankings, making him just barely eligible for a championship bout. But Geffrard has never appeared in a major fight, and ranks 107th in the light heavyweight division according to BoxRec’s rankings.
Even Geffrard himself has expressed shock about how this opportunity fell into his lap.
“Not too many people can say they’ve fought for a world title and look at me, out of nowhere, boom!” Geffrard told reporters. “I just get this blessing that fell out of the sky.”
Geffrard has never gone past the eighth round of a fight, and has only boxed in one 12-round bout in his career: a win over Dmitry Sukhotskiy in China for the WBO Asia-Pacific light heavyweight title.
In other words, Geffrard has never faced a test like this. Oddsmakers don’t have much confidence in the 31-year-old from Miami: FanDuel Sportsbook lists him as a +820 underdog to Smith (-1600) on the eve of the bout.
COVID-19 cancels multiple title defenses
But Smith is simply happy to have an opponent. He hasn’t fought since beating Maxim Vlasov by majority decision to win the WBO title in April 2021. Even that fight faced delays, as Vlasov tested positive for COVID-19 in February when the fight was originally meant to take place.
Smith planned to fight mandatory challenge Umar Salamov on Oct. 30 at Madison Square Garden. This time, Smith came down with a serious case of COVID-19 that sent him to the hospital, and Salamov took another fight instead.
That set up the attractive bout between Smith and Johnson. But last Thursday, COVID once again stopped a Smith fight cold, this time afflicting Johnson.
“I’m doing everything I can to make it to this fight without getting COVID or sick or anything again,” Smith told The Ring. “We’re so close. My wife took off of work and she’s been staying home and I’ve been going to the gym when no one’s there, training on my own with just my trainers.”
Presuming the fight now goes off without a hitch, sportsbooks expect Smith to make short work of Geffrard. FanDuel lists Smith as a -440 pick to win the fight by KO or TKO, with -700 odds of the fight going the distance.