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As the sun began to set on a warm California evening, it simultaneously set on the would-be story book career for light heavy weight hopeful, Joe Smith Jr. The power puncher, who was last seen disposing of The Ageless Wonder, Bernard Hopkins, was 10 rounds away from achieving his boxing dreams. The full-time city worker had the evidence of dug ditches on his hands and a valid union card packed away in his belongings. This night, he entered the ring looking to capitalize on his moment. What stood in his path was a Cuban defector with an equally interesting back story.
Sullivan Barrera possessed a wealth of experience from the Cuban amateur boxing circuit that made him a favorite to go home with the International Light Heavy Weight belt. Barrera’s only lost was to the widely regarded #1 pound for pound boxer, Andre Ward. Not only were the eyes of the boxing public glued to this encounter but Barrera’s father who had just reunited with him after more than 10 years, sat nervously proud at ring side.
The fight was made. The stage was set. Would it be the hard-hitting blue-collar effort from Smith Jr. or the calculated cerebral experience from Barrera?
The opening stanza show cased Barrera’s ring generalship and superior punch placement. After rehydrating to 191 pounds, Joe Smith Jr. showed he was no ordinary Joe as a perfectly thrown left hook put Barrera down but not out. Seemingly unfazed by the blow, Sullivan Barrera stuck to his game plan for the rest of the round.
Rounds 2-10 looked identical. Barrera showed his superior boxing I.Q. while Smith Jr. began to show lack of depth in his boxing arsenal. As he tired, Smith began to unravel. His chin remained in the air after jabbing and his defense poorly resembled Arthur Abraham’s peek-a-boo style that left him open for Barrera’s upper cuts.
There is a saying in boxing, “Class tells over time”. As the fight waned on, the difference in class between the two combatants became more evident. Although Smith has tremendous power in his hands, it appears the lack of an amateur pedigree will place a glass ceiling over him ultimately separating him from the upper tier of the division. After the final bell sounded and Barrera was awarded his well-earned belt, the reality set in on Joe Smith Jr.’s face: Either pay your dues in the gym, or continue to pay your dues to your union steward.