Last Saturday night at the UIC Pavillion in Chicago, the virtually unknown Joe Smith Jr. shocked a packed live crowd and a national television audience when he stopped light heavyweight contender Andrzej Fonfara at 2:32 of Round 1.
This is the clubhouse leader for Upset of the Year. In my own rankings, Fonfara was top five in the world at 175 pounds. His only recent loss was a competitive decision to Adonis Stevenson. He had stoppage wins over former champions Gabriel Campillo and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., as well as contender Tommy Karpency. He had decision victories over former champions Glen Johnson and Nathan Cleverly. In other eras, he would have definitely been a world champion at light heavyweight.
Smith came into this bout a virtual unknown. I was vaguely familiar with him, but I also live in the Northeast, see a bunch of undercards each year, and also get “Broadway Boxing” on the Madison Square Garden network, as part of my standard cable package. Smith is a decent-sized, strong-looking light heavyweight. Last December he picked up the best win of his career prior to Fonfara, a unanimous decision over Will Rosinsky, a tough super middleweight who is well-known mostly for giving Kelly Pavlik all he could handle in a July 2012 decision loss that that sent Pavlik back into retirement, where he belongs.
Prior to Saturday night, I would have told you Smith was the current class of the NYC-area club scene and deserving of a step up. But I most certainly didn’t expect him to send a guy like Fonfara packing.
Smith entered the fight with a 21-1 record, but 17 knockouts to his credit. And even if he racked up the stoppages against low-level opposition, he showed against Fonfara that the power was legitimate.
Fonfara came out aggressive, landed some big punches early and then got even more aggressive. Too aggressive. Smith was hurt badly, but not too badly to land a huge punch of his own, dropping Fonfara hard. Fonfara beat the count, but stumbled into the ropes. Smith finished the show.
It’s not the kind of fight that makes me want to write off Fonfara as a top light heavyweight. But I do want to see more of Smith. He currently works full-time as a union laborer, but at just 26, this could be the sort of break that launches him into a noteworthy career.