Joe Smith Jr. will take on Callum Johnson in Verona, NY on January 15
Long Island’s Joe Smith Jr. will make the first defense of his WBO light heavyweight world title against British knockout artist Callum Johnson on Saturday, Jan. 15 at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, N.Y.Smith-Johnson kicks off the Top Rank on ESPN 2022 schedule with a battle between two of the division’s biggest punchers. Smith was supposed to defend his title Oct. 30 in New York City, but a COVID-19 diagnosis delayed his return to 2022. In the 10-round featherweight co-feature, undefeated Abraham “El Super” Nova, who hails from Albany, N.Y., will face Mexico’s Jose Enrique Vivas.
Smith-Johnson and Nova-Vivas will air live on ESPN and ESPN Deportes (simulcast on ESPN+) at 9:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. PT.
Smith (27-3, 21 KOs) retired the legendary Bernard Hopkins with a storybook knockout in 2015, but it took him nearly six years to capture a world title belt. He fell short in his first attempt versus Dmitry Bivol in 2019, but in 2020, big-fight opportunities knocked. Smith battered Jesse Hart over 10 rounds in January and then knocked out former world titlist Eleider Alvarez through the ropes in August. Nearly eight months after the Alvarez triumph, he edged Maxim Vlasov by majority decision to earn the vacant WBO world title belt. He became the fourth Long Island-born boxing world champion, joining Buddy McGirt, Chris Algieri, and former WBO junior lightweight world champion Jamel Herring. After a full recovery, Smith returned to training intent on staking his claim as the world’s preeminent 175-pounder. Smith said, “I am glad to be getting back into the ring as quickly as I am to defend my WBO world championship after having COVID. It is not the fight the fans or I expected, but this will be an explosive fight between two huge punchers. I look forward to facing Johnson and defending my belt in front of my fans, as well as putting on a great show for the ones watching at home.” Johnson (20-1, 14 KOs) is a former British and Commonwealth light heavyweight champion riding a three-fight winning streak since a 2018 knockout loss to current WBC/IBF unified champion Artur Beterbiev. Johnson knocked Beterbiev down in the second round, but Beterbiev rebounded and knocked out Johnson in the fourth. Johnson, from Boston, England, shared the same bill with Smith at Turning Stone Resort Casino in March 2019. Johnson knocked out Sean Monaghan in three rounds, while Smith lost a decision to Bivol in a bid for the WBA light heavyweight title. Johnson said, “Joe is a good world champion, and we’re both big punchers. I’m looking forward to it as much as I’m sure he will be. I also would like to thank Frank Warren and the team at Queensberry, who said they would deliver me a world title shot. They’ve done their job, and now it’s time for me to do my job in the ring and become the new WBO light heavyweight champion.” Nova (20-0, 14 KOs), world-ranked at junior lightweight, is now campaigning at featherweight. In June 2020, he turned away Avery Sparrow by unanimous decision, but in training camp for his next fight, he suffered a torn Achilles tendon. Nova was out of action more than a year and returned in August with an eight-round decision over Filipino veteran Richard Pumicpic. Vivas (21-1, 11 KOs) is a classic Mexican pressure fighter, a 27-year-old native of Texcoco who has won four in a row since a decision defeat to Ruben Villa. In October 2020, he needed only 76 seconds to knock out John Vincent Moralde. He returned in May and rose from a pair of third-round knockdowns to edge Louie Coria by unanimous decision.