(July 24th) Saturday night, July 15th, Mastic/Shirley New York former WBC International Light Heavyweight Champion Joe Smith Jr. boldly faced once beaten Sullivan Barrera on HBO’s Boxing After Dark. Amongst all the criticism after the bout it was diagnosed for the second time in his young career with a broken jaw.
With Shenandoah National Park Ranger Roy Cleveland Sullivan holding the Guinness Book of Records for being hit by lightning seven times in boxing the idiom “Lightning Never Strikes Twice” took another hit. The second “lightning strike” came Saturday night July 15th at the Forum, Inglewood, California, when after flooring challenger Sullivan Barrera in round one the 27-year-old power punching Smith Jr. trained and managed by the “Fighting” Capobianco’s was forced to battle on with was later diagnosed as a fractured jaw. First detected at UCLA Medical Center on the west coast, Smith returning home would have his jaw wired at Stony Brook University Hospital near his home. This would be the second time the valiant warrior Smith battled under such conditions.
While broken jaws are uncommon, nothing new to boxing. You can go back to English bare-knuckle champion Tom Cribb’s breaking of former US slave and American’s real first world champion Tom Molineaux’s jaw in their savage contest back in 1811 through Muhammad Ali’s 1973 highly glorified broken jaw battle with Ken Norton and one thing is certain facing such an adversity is not just a sign of courage but gives us a snapshot into the mindset of the fighter and his team.
As many of the Monday morning quarterbacks have criticized Smith Jr.’s corner for not stopping the fight, I see it much differently. Let’s look at some of the facts. Smith a distinguished amateur beginning with numerous, junior, novice and open titles going on to win two New York Golden Glove titles turned pro in 2009. Winning his first six bouts all coming by KO Smith would face his first real adversity amateur or pro August 7th, 2010 in just his seventh pro fight facing Lawrence, Massachusetts, Eddie “Thunder” Caminero, the new pro battled four rounds with was post-fight diagnosed as multiple jaw fractures.
Returning to action eleven months later, winning his next fifteen, eleven of those victories coming inside the distance against an increasing level of competition including Otis Griffin, Michael Gbenga, Cory Cummings and Will Rosinsky. The old school fighting Irishman would go onto make the most of of his biggest opportunity June 18th, 2016 stopping former WNC Light Heavyweight challenger Andrzej Fonfara in one round.
Readily excepting his next challenge, four months later Smith would again make the most of an opportunity launching Philadelphia boxing methuselah and future Hall of Hamer Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins out of the ring and into retirement in eight rounds. Smith labeled the “Common Man” by Hopkins before their bout, Smith continuing his fight anyone, anywhere attitude unhesitatingly excepted the fight to face once beaten Barrera.
Putting aside the rumors of a bruised jaw in his last sparring session prior to the fight, when you consider that at no time did the young talent ask for or show any open display of wanting the fight stopped.
A throwback fighter in search a world title, Smith understanding his position going into the fight made a personal choice to continue. In fact, after the contest the young “Irishman” immediately went onto praise his team for their judgement and support.
To understand this further if you have to consider the fact the heavy-handed Irishman always armed with a one punch solution thoroughly understood his chances and possible consequences having been in this position before. Whether it was potential for further injury or more important to him the fact that the fight being stopped at this juncture of his career with the potential of a meeting for the winner to face former WBC World Champion Sergey Kovalev in November on the line a stoppage loss would severely handicap the young boxer/puncher in his world championship bid.
Having the advantage of hindsight and no further damage having been sustained and Smith now recovering from the second surgical procedure on his jaw I think it should be perfectly clear to any and all Team Smith doubters fully knowing the consequences and odds the choice they made to fight on was the right one. After all, in today’s hide and seek, protect the zero-boxing mentality who knows when the next opportunity, if any would come. To me Smith and his team not only made the right decision but in my mind made a choice consistent with his let’s fight mentality.
Knowing Smith since he was a young teen and having witnessed his steady progression as a fighter, specifically his skills as a boxer since coming under the tutelage of a pair former fighters Phil and Gerry Capobianco. To me it is clear to see the confidence and self-assurance Smith has not only in his punch but the years of boxing awareness and expertise they bring both in and out of the ring. It is that along with a genuine and almost parental care about their charge that I think allows Smith the fighter to clearly look forward and stay focused on the task at hand.
Now 23-2, 19Ko’s the hard working, union backed 27-year-old boxer / laborer, after commending his opponent Barrera for his performance has not shown any sign of regret and remains entirely focused on his recovery and his return to his quest for a world title.
What might that quest entail? Promoted by Joe Deguardia’s Star Boxing, Smith with a five month return prognosis, medically cleared, could return with a potential take the rust off comeback fight around December or early 2018, potentially setting up a financially rewarding long talked about fight against former amateur rival and sparring partner Seanie Monaghan.
Ironically or in the stars Monaghan suffered his first defeat the same night July 15th, to Staten Island 2012 Olympian “Sir” Marcus Browne. That quick plan being just one of many options alone justifies Smith’s desire to continue to battle Saturday night, after all he is the one facing the punches. The Monaghan loss most likely calling for a step back return fight of his own sync’s up two very popular Irishman on a collision course perfectly timed for St Paddy’s Day at Long Island’s newly renovated Nassau Coliseum.
One thing is for sure, Smith no stranger to adversity again proved he is NO ordinary Joe. Admitting after fight that there were moments he contemplated giving in to the increasing pain, quickly cited his corners positive input reinforced and re-energized his desire to continue. It is with that in mind if you consider Smiths current position you could easily draw parallels to the great Irish light heavyweight and future heavyweight champion “The Fighting Marine” Gene Tunney.
I’m not making a comparison of skills, talent or power but of a situation similar to the position Smith found himself against Barrera. On May 23rd, 1922, Tunney in his first and only defeat after having had his nose severely smashed, both eyebrows cut and bleeding from the nose and mouth early in his Light Heavyweight Title challenge of reigning champion Harry Greb, “The Fighting Marine” once verbalized his choice to continue stating: "during that fight he rationalized to himself that if Greb couldn’t finish him off, he would be the better man."
Again, not to make a direct comparison of Smith to Tunney but it is with that same mindset that Tunney would turn that mental victory into a Hall of Fame career going on to face the future Hall of Famer, Greb four more times without a loss, later claiming the World Heavyweight title scoring a ten round unanimous decision over one of the sports most popular champions Jack Dempsey.
Tunney was 25 for the first Greb fight. So, before we jump to conclusions when it comes to Smith, as true boxing fan, I just ask that at this stage of Smith’s promising young career we all just take a deep breath, sit back and watch to see what is this old school tradesman’s next move brings.