The light heavyweight division has it’s share of fighters that can pack a good punch. Unified champion Artur Beterbiev is viewed as the top guy at 175, and his stoppage win over Oleksandr Gvozdyk continued his streak of 15 consecutive KO victories. WBA champion Dmitry Bivol has 11 KO victories out of his 17 fights. Former champion Jean Pascal is also known to have a good left hook as well. They are a few of many in that division that can hurt an opponent, and the two fighters that will headline the card in Las Vegas on Saturday are definitely part of that group.
Eleider “Storm” Alvarez (25-1, 13 KOs) and Joe Smith Jr. (25-3, 20 KOs) are top ten light heavyweights that want to get in the world title picture and a win would put them one step closer to a world title shot. This bout between Alvarez and Smith is a WBO world title eliminator, with the winner waiting to face the victor of the planned bout between Maxim Vlasov and Umar Salamov for the WBO title. The Alvarez-Smith bout is held in the MGM Grand Ballroom, which has been nicknamed “The Bubble” after the series of fights held there by Top Rank. Many have considered this bout one of the most anticipated bouts of the summer because they know what they can get from each fighter.
Alvarez is a former unified world champion who knocked out Sergey Kovalev two years ago in Atlantic City but lost to Kovalev in a rematch months later. He wants to become a two-time world champion and knows that a win over Smith gets him closer to that opportunity. At yesterday’s press conference, Alvarez emphasized his aspirations to be a champion once again.
“I want to be champion of the world for a second time,” Alvarez said. “Whether it’s by knockout or decision, I know Joe Smith comes to fight. I’m going to do the best I can to win this because I want to be champion of the world for a second time.”
He knows that Smith is a tough opponent, and with Alvarez recovering from a shoulder injury which delayed the bout for a few weeks he wants to show that he is fully recovered and that he wants to continue winning after his stoppage win over Michael Seals in January.
“(The Seals fight) was my first fight in 11 months, so I’m happy to be back. I want to put on a good performance. I felt that with the performance against Seals, I tried. I would’ve been happy with a decision. I was trying different things, but I got the knockout.”
Joe Smith has been close to winning a world championship, but fell short in 2019 with a decision loss to Bivol. His notable win was a few years ago against Bernard Hopkins, but he has a record of 2-2 since then. Saturday’s fight is likely his most important fight of his career as a loss could likely eliminate him from competing for a world title for a long time. Joe knows this and is completely focused for this matchup against Alvarez.
“This is the number one priority right now for me,” Smith said at the press conference. “Being the underdog, I always feel like I have something to prove. I don’t mind it. I like getting in there and proving the world that I belong at the top and should be a champion.”
Earlier this year, Smith defeated Jesse Hart to put him in the position to fight Alvarez. He brought up that fight and his win over Fonfara as examples of when he was not expected to win and he did. That is the case once again against Alvarez. Smith knows what he needs to do in order to get the win.
“I’m just going to get in there and give it my all. I plan on coming out on top. I just want to put on a great show for everybody and have a great night.”