Over the past two years, the light heavyweight division has developed into the sport’s premiere weight class. A lot of this has been due to the presense of Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev, a pair of special talents. But the roster is a deep one, extending far beyond those two superstars.
The matchup between Joe Smith Jr. and Sullivan Barrera highlights this fact. These are a couple of hungry, exciting fighters. The winner will be in good shape for a big fight later this year or early in 2018.
Heading into 2016, Smith was a relative unknown, outside of the Northeastern club scene. He had a KO percentage of nearly 80 and a solid decision win over Will Rosinsky, but was a fringe contender at best. Then, in June of last year, he propelled himself into the division’s top 10 when he jumped all over Andrzej Fonfara and stopped the tough Polish contender in Round 1.
Smith’s stature rose further last December when 51-year-old Bernard Hopkins selected him as an opponent for a comeback fight. This proved to be the night Father Time finally caught up with B-Hop, along with Smith’s big right hand. Smith knocked the aging legend from the ring, handing Hopkins the first KO loss of his career.
Barrera was a decorated international amateur for the vaunted Cuban national team. As a professional he recorded wins over solid contenders like Karo Murat and Vyacheslav Shabranskyy. In March of 2016, he lost a one-sided decision to Ward. It is not like Barrera embarrassed himself in that fight, though–Ward has since demonstrated that he is the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world. A savvy fighter like Barrera is going to be an improved competitor after spending 12 rounds in the ring with somebody like Ward.
Both of these guys are top-10 fighters at 175 pounds. You cannot ask for more from contenders than that they face each other while working their way to the top.