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When Dreams Collide: Joe Smith Jr. versus Callum Johnson

Joe Smith Jr. is living his dream.

Callum Johnson would like to snatch that dream and step into his shoes.

Smith, the WBO light heavyweight champion, fights one-time title challenger Johnson January 15 at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, NY.

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Smith is a resilient fighter

When Smith (27-3, 21 KOs) lost two of three fights several of years ago, many thought his upset victories over Andrzej Fonfara, and Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins, were flukes. The defeats were devastating, but Smith was no quitter. A re-boot was in order.

Smith returned to the ring ten months after losing to Dimitry Bivol. His opponent was hard-punching Philadelphian, Jesse Hart. A minor title was on the line, but more importantly, so was contender status. Hart was heavily favored, but Smith was relentless. He floored Hart – winning the fight by split decision.

Johnson (20-1, 14 KOs) fought IBF light heavyweight champion, Artur Beterbiev in 2018. He was desperate to win the title for his father, who died several months before the fight.

The challenger left it all in the ring that night. Nobody, including the biggest sportsbooks and oddsmakers, expected Johnson to give Beterbiev much of a fight.

Beterbiev has knocked out every fighter he’s faced in his short career. He’s strong and sturdy. Johnson, with 12 KOs under his belt, took the fight to Beterbiev. His strategy appeared to be pretty simple. Kill or be killed. Down in round one, he rallied to floor Beterbiev with an inside hook. Beterbiev got up and battled. He hurt Johnson with an uppercut in round three, finishing him with a crushing right off the temple in the next round.

“I was gutted in the Beterbiev fight, I was gutted because I felt the occasion maybe got to me, but I still had good moments in the fight and I’ve learned a lot from it,” said Johnson a few months after the fight.

Since that loss, he’s won three fights in succession, two by knockout.

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Who’s an underdog?

Smith fought former champion Eleider Alvarez 16 months ago in Las Vegas. As usual, he entered the bout an underdog. He exited the fight the winner – imposing his will on Alvarez from the opening bell. He pounded on Alvarez by whipping right hands. Smith was comfortably ahead on all three judge’s scorecards heading into round nine. A heavy right and power jab knocked Alvarez through the ropes – ending the fight. Smith fought for the title last April against Maxim Vlasov.

For once he was favored, but Vlasov’s herky-style was a tough nut to crack. After being outboxed early, Smith rallied in the second half of the fight. His bodywork slowed Vlasov down. In the 12th, and final round, Smith connected to the ribs. Vlasov caught him with a right to the eye, but Smith battled back with shots to the head and body. Vlasov returned a few blows, but it was Smith who let his hands go and kept landing at the bell.

“It’s a great feeling,” said Smith in the ring after being declared the winner and new champion. “It was definitely a close fight. I believe I got the victory because I landed more power punches.”

Johnson is thrilled that he’s getting a second shot at a world title.

“Joe is a good world champion, and we’re both big punchers,” said Johnson at a press conference announcing the fight last month. “I’m looking forward to it as much as I’m sure he will be.”

“I am glad to be getting back into the ring as quickly as I am to defend my WBO world championship,” Smith said.

So who wins? Smith is favored by almost 3-1, but it would be silly to underestimate Johnson.

The champion has more power so a stoppage is likely.

Go here for the latest odds…


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