This weekend, we had what I would have called a very interesting little dust-up planned between Light-Heavyweight titlist Joe Smith, Jr. and veteran Callum Johnson, scheduled for ESPN this coming Saturday. So interesting, in fact, that I was legitimately considering predicting the 3-1 underdog Johnson could pull off the year's first major upset.
However, that prediction went into the we-will-never-know pile the moment news broke that Callum had tested positive for COVID-19 and was forced to withdraw from the 175 pound clash.
Naturally, as a fight fan, you're accustomed to opponent changes and postponements. Whether from injury or venue issues, etc., we all have had our patience tested with one fight or another (I'm looking at you, Teofimo Lopez vs. George Kambosos). During the last couple of years, we've grown even more comfortable with the fact that fights are going to fall apart, be postponed, and get pushed back due to the current global climate.
However, that doesn't make it any more enjoyable.
When a fight is altered to the point that a replacement foe is brought in, so many times, you just get the sense that the fight has been diminished. And most often times, that sentiment rings true. Promoters usually aren't going to bring in another five star stud on short notice. They will want to protect the fighter that remains and look to reschedule the original bout on a later date.
To some degree, that makes sense. At the highest level, fighters are preparing for very specific styles and tendencies. To suddenly make them face someone at the very top with a completely different style is probably something to avoid. What's more, having to restart negotiations at the last minute with top fighters that aren't looking to be rushed into making choices just seems like a nightmare.
What's more, the likelihood of a top quality fighter wanting to fight on short notice -- regardless of whether they are easy to deal with or not -- is usually slim to none. All of this meaning that you're likely to see a dip in the quality of a fight when a new name has to step in to salvage the fight card.
Still, we are boxing fans. And if you're taking the time to read this (thank you), you're likely a hardcore boxing fan. Meaning that you're going to watch the fights. Regardless of the taxi cab drivers sometimes brought in to save a boxing broadcast. With all due respect to those cab drivers that help make the sport what it is in their own unique way.
That being said, sometimes it's important to go into these fights with a slightly different perspective. You're mindset has to change in order for this to be an enjoyable experience. You're not going to watch a blockbuster anymore. Carrying on as if you are will ruin the evening. Now, you're hoping for the theater of the unknown. That's the best you can really plan for in these moments.
The good news for a fight like Smith vs. Steven Geffrard, the latter of whom will be replacing Johnson on the night, is that there is some built-in intrigue to the contest. For starters, Geffrard has gone unbeaten since his first and second pro bouts, where he suffered his only two defeats. While he has yet to be tested, he's not terrible looking. Believe it or not, this is a lot better than many substitute foes.
What's more, Smith himself isn't necessarily a world beater. Should he be too much for Geffrard? Absolutely. But is an upset completely out of the realm of possibility when the favorite certainly has their own limitations? Absolutely not.
Personally, as someone that makes a hobby out of predicting fights -- fights of all sizes -- in some ways, these fights can be just an intriguing as a 50/50 pick 'em. While the winner may be all but predetermined, it becomes a game of getting as close to exact in terms of the winner's method.
And as someone that can, at times, have a knack for getting these picks correct, the idea of betting in these less-than-stellar fights can always add some extra intrigue and excitement to an otherwise lifeless encounter. Leave me alone, and save your judgements. Doesn't have to be a large amount. Sometimes just a $10 or $20 bet with a friend can make these fights mean a little something.
By the way, you didn't hear any of that from me.
Boxing isn't a team sport. In other sports, even if you are unable to start your most important players, the show must go on and a team of some sort will hit the field or the court. Boxing is singular, and for the best possible contests, typically, the original fighters need to participate.
Substitutions happen. For example: I had originally written a piece for this week about how much of a live dog I considered Callum Johnson. And here I am, substituting that piece with this one.
At times, those subs can make for some compelling stuff. As an example, Isaac Cruz put forth a brave effort against Gervonta Davis when Rolly Romero was forced to withdraw from their PPV affair in December. A bit further back, Andy Ruiz stunned the boxing world when he stepped in for Jarrell Miller and faced Anthony Joshua in 2019, taking his world championship belts in the process.
It's not a guarantee that the fights will be so bad. Still, adjustments must be made.
Boxing makes you think on your toes. For promoters that scramble to find late replacements, for someone trying to write about the sport only for it to change on a dime, for the fighters themselves during the fights.
The old Mike Tyson adage in relation to boxing (and life) of "everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth" constantly pops it's oh-so-relevant head up in the sport, with this coming weekend being no different in a figurative sense.
All we can hope for now is that Smith and Geffrard plan on being much more literal in terms of that expression and put forth a decent, little scrap.
Thanks for reading the piece, I hope you enjoyed. Lemme know what you guys think down in the comments below, love reading them all. Also, if you're interested, you can check out my prediction for Joe Smith, Jr. vs. Steven Geffrard by clicking here.