Joe Smith Jr. is lining up not just his first title defense, but a major fight in early 2021.
The light heavyweight titleholder is in the process of finalizing a two-fight deal, sources tell ESPN, that would see Smith fight mandatory challenger Umar Salamov in the fall followed by a title tilt with Daniel Jacobs in early 2022.
Smith-Salamov will take place in October or November at Hulu Theater at MSG in New York, per sources, and will headline on ESPN/ESPN+.
Smith (27-3, 21 KOs) will be favored to turn back Salamov (26-1 19 KOs), and if he wins as expected, he’ll meet Jacobs in a major New York fight at Madison Square Garden. That bout, which would see Jacobs jump up to 175 pounds, is being planned for January or February, also on ESPN/ESPN+. Smith hails from Long Island while Jacobs is from Brooklyn.
The two-fight deal isn’t yet agreed to, sources said. Smith and Salamov are promoted by Top Rank (Joe DeGuardia co-promotes Smith) while Jacobs is a free agent. Top Rank chairman Bob Arum has repeatedly said he hoped to pit Smith against Artur Beterbiev in a three-belt unification.
Smith, ESPN’s No. 3-rated fighter at 175 pounds, won the vacant title with a majority-decision victory over Maxim Vlasov in April, capping an impressive run that included a TKO win over former champion Eleider Alvarez last summer and a split-decision nod vs. Jesse Hart last January. All three fights were televised on ESPN/ESPN+.
That three-fight winning streak followed a three-bout stretch where Smith, 31, was on the losing end of two of them. He suffered a broken jaw vs. Sullivan Barrera in 2017 but lasted the 12-round distance. Two fights later, he was outpointed by Dmitry Bivol in a title fight.
His career-best win remains a knockout victory over Bernard Hopkins, the Hall of Famer’s farewell fight. Smith was an underdog in that bout, despite Hopkins being 49, and the former construction worker ended the fight when he sent Hopkins through the ropes and onto the concrete with a series of punches.
A fight with Jacobs would rival his matchup with Hopkins in terms of marketability. Smith is an attraction in New York, and so, too, is Jacobs, a former middleweight champion who has competed against Canelo Alvarez and Gennadiy Golovkin.
Jacobs, 34, was once paralyzed while suffering with osteosarcoma, a life-threatening form of bone cancer. Following his miraculous recovery, Jacobs (37-3, 30 KOs) went on to stop Peter Quillin in the opening round of a middleweight title fight and later dropped a narrow decision to GGG.
Three fights later, Jacobs was champion once again after scoring a split-decision victory over Sergiy Derevyanchenko. Jacobs lost the title in his next fight, a points loss to Alvarez.
Following the defeat to Canelo, Jacobs moved up to 168 pounds, where he scored a stoppage of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. The 34-year-old eked by Gabe Rosado in November in a lackluster performance.
Since that win, Smith has fought once with another bout slated for the fall. Jacobs has no fight scheduled so it’s possible he’ll head straight into the title bout t with Smith in his light heavyweight debut.
Jacobs, a natural 160-pounder, will be considerably smaller than Smith.
Salamov, a 27-year-old from Russia now residing in Las Vegas, has competed in the United States only once and has never faced a fighter of note. He was set to fight Vlasov in November 2020, part of a four-man box-off for the vacant WBO title, before he was diagnosed with COVID. Salamov was symptomatic and faced a long recovery. Smith defeated Alvarez in the four-man box-off and went on to fight Vlasov for the vacant title with Salamov guaranteed a shot at the winner.