Joe Smith Jr successfully defended his WBO light heavyweight title, stopping challenger Steve Geffrard in the ninth round of a one-sided ESPN main event from Verona, New York.
Geffrard had come in on just eight days’ notice, replacing original opponent Callum Johnson, who was ruled out after testing positive for COVID. Once a standout amateur, the 31-year-old Geffrard lost his first two pro fights in 2013 before winning his next 18, albeit never against serious competition.
Most importantly for this opportunity, Geffrard (18-3, 12 KO) was already in training — for an eight-rounder, but in training — and was willing to take the chance to get a world title shot. And he has nothing to be ashamed of here, as he came in, tried his best, and just wasn’t able to get the job done.
In other words, the fight played out very much like a world champion taking on the man ranked No. 108 in the world by BoxRec.
Smith (28-3, 22 KO) was throwing with bad intentions from the get-go, but Geffrard did his best with a high guard to pick off Smith’s power shots. It worked to a degree, though it was also difficult for Geffrard to get any of his own offense going.
Smith also did some good body work when he could, and maybe even could have done more, and he may have done some damage to Geffrard’s left shoulder by landing shots there that couldn’t get through or around the guard, as Geffrard had told trainer Kevin Cunningham that his shoulder was bothering him toward what wound up being the end of this fight.
Geffrard finally did go down early in round nine, and Cunningham told the commission to stop the fight pretty much immediately, having seen enough of what had increasingly devolved into a clear mismatch. The official time of stoppage was 37 seconds of round nine.
Smith vs Geffrard highlights
Abraham Nova TKO-8 William Encarnacion
A good performance for Nova (21-0, 15 KO), who came out a bit cold, did get shaken by a good right hand in the first round, and then settled in, found the range, and just out-boxed Encarnacion (19-2, 15 KO) and progressively beat him up, eventually forcing a stoppage early in the eighth round.
“It felt good to fight close to home, a day after my birthday. I had a tricky opponent in front of me, but I was able to get the job done,” Nova said. “I was happy with my conditioning coming down to 126. I wasn’t tired at all. I was in shape and had a second gear. He was going to go out, I was waiting for the last minute, but they decided to stop it and it was a smart call. I need to tighten up my defense a bit more, and warm up a bit better. I don’t know why I come in a bit cold in the first round, and they jump me, but it’s something I recognize.”
The 28-year-old Nova is hoping to land a shot at WBO featherweight titleholder Emanuel Navarrete, and flat called him out in his post-fight interview.
“I want him next, to be honest. Everyone thinks he’ll blow me out and knock me out, well, put him in there and let’s see if he does it! I know I can beat him. I know I’ll knock him out. I know I’ll be the next WBO champion.”
Undercard highlights and results
- Omar Rosario UD-6 Raekwon Butler: Rosario (6-0, 2 KO) came out swarming in the first couple rounds, and was landing enough that the referee was considering stopping it, as was Butler’s corner in the second. But Rosario, a 24-year-old junior welterweight, doesn’t have big, thudding power, either, and Butler was able to hang in there and have some nice moments down the stretch. Scores came back 58-55, 59-54, and 59-54 for Rosario, and they were deserved. This isn’t some major blue chip prospect, but Rosario does have some talent.
- Jahi Tucker TKO-2 Akeem Black: Black (6-5, 2 KO) has been in with a few decent prospects at 147 and 154, but none have been able to do what 18-year-old welterweight Tucker (6-0, 4 KO) did here. Tucker dropped Black late in the first round, and Black was probably saved by the bell there. Tucker finished it off before the halfway point of the second, just continuing to do really good work. He didn’t seem to respect anything coming back from Black, which of course Tucker will have to do much more as he works through the levels.
- Troy Isley UD-6 Harry Keenan Cruz-Cubano: Isley goes to 4-0 (2 KO) with a dominant win, really beating up on Cruz-Cubano (6-3, 2 KO) for the entire fight, but the Puerto Rican southpaw finished on his feet and went the distance. It could easily have been stopped by the corner or referee at some point, but wasn’t, and he really was game and gave this all he had. It’s just what he had wasn’t near Isley’s level. Isley didn’t medal in Tokyo, but I came away from the Olympics thinking more of his pro potential than I did going in, and at 23, the Al Mitchell and Kay Koroma-trained middleweight looks like another bright prospect for Top Rank.
- Lyubomyr Pinchuk UD-8 Jose Mario Flores: Turned pretty one-sided after the first couple of rounds, where Flores (8-3-2, 4 KO) did have some success landing shots. But down the stretch, Pinchuk (14-2-1, 8 KO) pretty much dominated the fight, though without doing anything special. You may recall Pinchuk fighting at heavyweight in late 2020 on the sadly ill-fated Ring City USA, losing a decision to Stephan Shaw. He’s really a cruiserweight, and was back at his better weight here, his first fight at the weight since late 2019. At 25, he probably doesn’t have world titles in his future, but cruiserweight can be a wonky division, and he does have time to improve still.