Joe Smith Jr. works in construction. Did you guys hear about this?! The boxing media writ large has proven themselves wholly incapable of discussing Smith without mentioning it. You won’t read an article about the Long Island light heavyweight that doesn’t include the word “jackhammered” or “lunch pail” somewhere in the headline. Right now someone is writing “Steamrolled: The Joe Smith Jr. Story” starring Joey Lawrence as Smith and Willem Dafoe as the voice of the anthropomorphic steamroller who teaches him how to love again, or whatever.
And look, I get it. Even more so than the fights, boxing is about the stories. Myth-making, especially that of the online variety, is what separates fighters from mere professional boxers, so to speak. It’s no secret why fans of a working-class sport like boxing would be attracted to a salt of the earth, blue-collar fighter like Smith, or at least the version we’ve created in our minds. Tales of the average workaday Joe who bleeds under the bright lights on a Saturday night and is back punching the clock on Monday morning are as old as the sport itself.
But what happens when the story becomes bigger than the author?
All the folktales and fantasy wishcasting of Smith being the hard hat-clad antidote to the gaudy excess of the Mayweather era don’t obscure the fact that once the bell rings, both fighters start with a blank page. No matter how much ink has been spilled, the real story gets written in blood.
On Saturday night Smith (27-3, 21 KOs) stepped into the ring against hard-assed Russian veteran Maxim Vlasov (45-4, 26 KOs) at the Osage Casino in Tulsa, OK on an ESPN televised card for a vacant something-or-other title. If you care to know which one, go to the website www.google.com and type in “shit that doesn’t matter.” It should pop up.
Vlasov, a 34-year-old who turned pro in — I swear to god this true — 2005, had never been stopped in 48 pro bouts and had no intentions of letting the notoriously heavy-handed Smith break that streak. From the opening bell, Vlasov took the fight to Smith, walking him down and making him noticeably uncomfortable in the process. Smith, coming off a massive KO win over Eleider Alvarez last August, was clearly struggling to find room to land the homerun shot against Vlasov.
By the mid-rounds, Vlasov had run up a nice lead on the scorecards. A blitz toward the end of round 7 had Smith pulling a moving truck up to the house on queer street but Vlasov was not able to get him to sign the lease. Smith survived the flurry and once the bell rang to start round 8 he began to do what he’s always done; go to work.
As the fight entered the championship rounds, Vlasov appeared to be slightly ahead, as the official scores would later reflect. Clearly sensing the deficit, Smith was the busier, flashier fighter in the final six minutes, throwing nearly 113 punches in the final round alone. It would prove to be his saving grace. A bizarre moment in round 11 occurred when Smith either forgot where Vlasov’s face was located or simply stopped caring and knocked the Russian to the canvas with a rabbit punch. In the end, it wouldn’t matter much.
As the scores were read in his favor (114-114, 115-112, 115-113) a visibly exhausted Smith celebrated a hard-earned victory with his team. The fight could’ve gone either way and Vlasov has a legit case for griping. Ultimately, the nail-biter ending and the controversial scorecards will just go down as part of the story. The blue-collar Joe who opts for brawn over brains and puts his ass on the line when it matters most. What more could you want.
Smith has likely earned himself a shot at a unification fight against undefeated Artur Beterbiev. The Russian knockout machine will be the favorite but Smith will be the story. Win or lose, the legend of the everyday construction worker from Long Island, literally named JOE FUCKING SMITH, has been etched into the books. The ending may not matter.
Joe Smith was never supposed to make it this far in an unforgiving sport like boxing. Yet somehow hard work, heavy hands, and a little bit of luck have taken him nearly to the pinnacle. Boxing fans connect with a fighter like Smith because we think we see a little of ourselves in him.
“I could do that,” we tell ourselves.
“He’s a regular guy just like me.”
And that, dear reader, might just be the biggest myth of all.
(Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank)