Joe Smith Jr., handlers grateful Steve Geffrard accepted challenge

·2 min read

Joe Smith Jr. and his handlers are thrilled that someone – anyone – agreed to face the light heavyweight titleholder Saturday in upstate New York.

Two weeks ago, when Callum Johnson pulled out of the fight because of COVID-19, Smith’s co-promoter Joe DeGuardia and Co. spent the next three days frantically trying to find a legitimate opponent to step in.

Finally, after a battery of phone calls and lost sleep, one time amateur standout Steve Geffrard (18-2, 12 KOs) agreed to take the fight. DeGuardia was relieved … and exhausted.

“It was a crazy process,” DeGuardia said during the final news conference before the ESPN fight. “We went through three days of living hell. My throat is still sore from all the calls and the phone conversations.

“I gotta tell you one thing: The one shining light of it all was these two guys because we went through over a dozen fighters. Guys turned it down left and right, the championship of the world, the opportunity of a lifetime.

“Everyone one of them, Joe told me, ‘Yes, no problem.’ Finally, after about the eighth guy, he said, ‘Listen, Joe. Whoever you put in there I don’t care who I’m fighting. So just go make a deal.

“On the other side, Steve, as soon as he got the call, this fighter recognized what it was. Now remember he was training. We made the deal on Friday (Jan. 7). The next day he was supposed to be fighting in Florida.

“He heard about this opportunity and said, ‘Absolutely. It’s the championship of the world.’ So these two guys, give them a lot of credit. But the time before was torture.”

The coronavirus has played a central role in Smith’s schedule for some time.

The New Yorker was supposed to take on Maxim Vlasov for the vacant WBO 175-pound title last February but the fight was pushed to April after Vlasov tested positive. Smith (27-3, 21 KOs) won a majority decision to claim his first major belt.

Then his scheduled defense against Umar Salamov in October was canceled when Smith contracted the virus. That fight wasn’t rescheduled, which opened the door for Johnson. And we know what happened next.

Smith is grateful things turned out the way they did.

“I’m extremely happy to be here,” he said. “There was a couple of moments when I didn’t think I was going to be here today. I can’t wait for Saturday. … I’m just thankful to my team, to the WBO, Top Rank and everybody for making this happen.”

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