Joe Smith Jr. on his return to ring, undisputed 175-pound championship and Canelo sweepstakes

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Editor’s note: This article was originally published at DAZN.com.

Things were looking up for Joe Smith Jr. after capturing the WBO light heavyweight title last April.

Unification bouts against titleholders Artur Beterbiev and Dmitry Bivol were on the horizon for Smith, but those dreams were dashed when he contracted COVID-19 in September. Then he was scheduled to face Callum Johnson on Saturday. Those plans got scrapped at the end of last week, as Johnson tested positive for the coronavirus.

Smith wanted to stay on the card and was insistent on making his first title defense. His team searched far and wide. Finally, Steve Geffrard accepted the challenge and the fight is on at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, N.Y.

Ahead of his 2022 debut, Smith talked to DAZN News about his 2021, possibly being part of the Canelo Alvarez sweepstakes and the status of the light heavyweight division.

DID IT MATTER WHO THE OPPONENT WAS AFTER JOHNSON PULLED OUT?

“I just wanted somebody in there that was comfortable but I didn’t really care who it was. I just wanted to fight. But at the same time, I didn’t want to fight another top guy and not be prepared enough for it. They tried to get me everybody, but nobody wanted to take the fight on short notice. They wanted more money than I was getting paid. So that was their way of saying no.

“They went through a lot of guys. They called up a lot of people. But they were able to find this guy who’s taking the fight. He may not have the best professional resume right now but he’s a well-experienced fighter. He’s been in the ring with everybody and he has a great amateur background.”

FRUSTRATION OVER HIS LONG LAYOFF AND NOT BUILDING ON HIS MOMENTUM

“It was very frustrating and hard. Once, I got COVID the first time I realized that it’s not a joke (and) that you can get it just being around anybody. No one needs to show symptoms, anything and you could just pick it up. I made the choice and sacrifice for this to make this opportunity happen this time. I didn’t go near anybody. I skipped the holidays. It was just me and my wife. My wife took off for work and I went from home to the gym. That’s it.

“When I went to the gym, nobody was there. It was just me. Shut down the whole gym. I went early when nobody was there. Sparring partners, we COVID tested them and made sure everything was good before we even got in the room with them.”

IF HE’S STILL BOTHERED BY LOSS TO BIVOL

“I got past it. He’s a great fighter. In my opinion, I think he’s the best light heavyweight right now other than me (laughs). I’ll be looking forward to getting a fight with him in the future as long as I can do what I need to do this weekend and get past this guy.”

BEING IN THE MIX FOR A POSSIBLE FIGHT AGAINST CANELO ALVAREZ IN MAY

“I hope I’m in there. I’m hoping I’m one of the names mentioned because I believe I deserve a shot like that. I believe I deserve a payday. I’ve had a lot of tough fights. He’s the pound-for pound-king and I want to fight the best. That’s it. That’s the motivation for me to fight the best. It makes me better.”

THE FIGHT THAT’S MOST LIKELY NEXT BETWEEN CANELO, BIVOL AND BETERBIEV?

“I honestly don’t know. I’ll take any of the fights. I’m looking to get Beterbiev or Canelo next. Those are the two I want next. If the Canelo fight is there and if the Beterbiev fight pops up after that one, I would take that. That would be the order I would choose. But if it’s not Canelo, it’s Beterbiev. I want him next if I don’t face Canelo. I have to fight for more belts and then unify them all again.”

IS THE GOAL TO BECOME THE UNDISPUTED CHAMPION AT 175 POUNDS?

“Yes, I would like to. If I fought Beterbiev first and beat him then I would choose to fight Bivol after that.”