Smith Jr. goes for his first world title against Bivol

VERONA, N.Y. — After light heavyweight contender Joe Smith Jr. — a former construction worker — had a breakout year in 2016 he appeared headed to a world title fight.

After all, he had scored a major upset with a stunning first-round knockout of contender Andrzej Fonfara and followed it with an even bigger win in encore when he sent legend Bernard Hopkins into retirement by knocking him clear out of the ring an eighth-round knockout victory.

And then he appeared on his way to defeating contender Sullivan Barrera in his next fight when he dropped him in the first round. But Barrera got off the deck, broke Smith’s jaw and went onto win a unanimous decision in a fight Smith somehow managed to go the distance in despite a brutal injury that sidelined him for 11 months.

But after returning for a quick first-round knockout win against journeyman Melvin Russell in June, Smith is finally getting the opportunity to fight for a world title that he has dreamed about. He will challenge Dmitry Bivol for his 175-pound belt in what many predict will be a fan-friendly fight on Saturday (DAZN, 7 p.m. ET) at the Turning Stone Resort Casino.

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