Bivol dominates Smith to easily retain world title

VERONA, N.Y. -- Dmitry Bivol's skill level was simply too much for the upset-minded Joe Smith Jr. to overcome.

Bivol, with fast hands, quick feet and sharp combinations, dominated Smith on Saturday night to retain his light heavyweight world title for the fifth time at the Turning Stone Resort Casino.

The judges awarded Bivol a unanimous decision via scores of 119-109, 119-109 and 118-110. ESPN also scored the fight 118-109 for Bivol, who had to stave off Smith in the 10th and 11th rounds.

"Of course, this was not an easy fight. I trained hard but Joe Smith fought hard and he has strong hands," Bivol said.

Smith was taken to the hospital for precautionary reasons after the fight and not available to give his give his view of the fight.

If Bivol remains with sports streaming service DAZN and Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn, his path to a 175-pound title unification fight is blocked because the other top light heavyweights -- world champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk, titleholders Sergey Kovalev and Artur Beterbiev, as well as former titlist Eleider "Storm" Alvarez -- are with Top Rank and ESPN. So Bivol's future big fight could come if he moves down to the 168-pound super middleweight division, which he is willing and apparently able to do. That is where he could face Callum Smith, who also fights on DAZN and is promoted by Hearn.

Callum Smith (25-0, 18 KOs), 28, of England, knocked out George Groves in the seventh round to win the title in the final of the World Boxing Super Series super middleweight tournament in September and has not fought since nor does he have a fight scheduled.

"Yes, of course," Bivol said when asked if he could make 168 pounds. "I ate breakfast before I weighed in for this fight. You can say I am not big, Joe is bigger than me. Other guys are bigger than me."

Joe Smith (24-3, 20 KOs), 29, from New York's Long Island, came out fast, trying to go right at Bivol and impose his size advantage, but Bivol was calm under pressure and got his jab going early to keep Smith off of him. He continued to pick Smith apart in the second round with more jabs and also landed three-punch combinations down the middle that left Smith with swelling on the left side of his face.

Smith landed a right hand to the head that buzzed Bivol in the fourth round, but he quickly shook it off and went back to work firing his jab and combinations.

Smith could do little against the far more skilled Bivol, whose hand speed and footwork, not to mention his straight, sharp punches, kept him off balance.

Bivol (16-0, 11 KOs), 28, of Russia, hurt Smith with a short left hand inside on the seventh round that forced him to hold in yet another dominant round for the titleholder.

Perhaps Smith was frustrated when they got tangled up in the ninth round because he body-slammed Bivol to the mat, eliciting a strong warning from referee Gary Rosato.

Smith was the crowd favorite and his fans tried to lift him in the later rounds with chants of "Let's go Joe! Let's go Joe!" He kept plowing forward looking to land a big right, which he finally connected with just as the 10th round was ending. Bivol was rattled by the shot and wobbled back to his corner, clearly unsteady.

"I felt his right hand on the top of my head, on the side," Bivol said. "I lost my balance but I didn't have enough time to react. It was a good punch. Maybe I don't have enough experience. This is a big fight. But at the end of fight I felt that I could knock him out. But that's not my goal. It was a drama fight, it was a good defense. Intelligent boxing. This is a smart sport and you have to think a lot."

Smith tried to land another right hand as he chased Bivol around the ring in the 11th round, but he seemed so tired he couldn't get to him again. Bivol had recovered by the 12th round and nearly dropped Smith in the final seconds of the fight as he battered him with an onslaught of punches.

According to CompuBox punch statistics, Bivol landed 208 of 714 punches (29 percent) and Smith landed a paltry 39 of 395 (10 percent).

Smith was attempting to score a third major upset. He burst on the world boxing scene in 2016, when he scored a first-round knockout of Andrzej Fonfara in a huge upset and then scored another in December of that year when he was picked as the opponent for the great Bernard Hopkins' farewell fight and shockingly knocked him out -- and out of the ring -- in the eighth round.

But then he lost a 10-round decision to contender Sullivan Barrera in July 2017 in which he suffered a badly broken jaw. Smith was sidelined by the injury for 11 months before knocking out Melvin Russell in the first round in June and then seeing other dates and fights fall through before he finally landed the coveted title shot against Bivol. The Russian wants to win another world title belt, whether it comes in the light heavyweight or super middleweight division.

"I want to fight for another belt. I am ready for a unification belt or to fight at 168," Bivol said. "I want to be remembered in this sport."