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HBO

Organized Labor's Cinderella Man

On HBO Boxing, Joe Smith Jr., a union laborer makes us all proud

Kris LaGrange's picture
Dec 19, 2016

On Saturday, December 17, Joe “The Beast” Smith Jr. fought former multi-class champion Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins in Hopkins final fight.  After eight rounds, Smith, a Laborers Local 66 member, knocked Hopkins out, retaining his WBC International Light Heavyweight title.

Smith has recently come into the spotlight after his shocking first round knockout of Andrzej Fonfara, Smith’s first nationally televised fight, which gave Smith the title. After the fight, UCOMM Blog interviewed Smith as he returned to a hero’s welcome at the Laborers Local 66.  In boxing there are four different governing bodies that regulate title fights.  Since none of the other champs want to fight Smith in a unification bout, nor does the WBC World Light Heavyweight champ, he got the opportunity to fight Hopkins who announced that at 51 this would be his last fight.  Hopkins is one of the most decorated boxers in United States history having defended multiple titles 20 times at multiple weight classes.  Going into the fight, Smith was considered a slight underdog due to his lack of big fight experience.  In the pre-fight press conference, Hopkins belittled Smith saying that while he was special, Smith was just common, something that Smith takes pride in, and another bump in the road for him.

Throughout the fight, Smith held his own with Hopkins.  On the officials’ scorecards, two had him winning, while the other had Hopkins up by one point.  Then in the eighth-round Hopkins got caught on the ropes in the corner as Smith unleashed his patented flurry of power punches. The amazing power that Smith focused on Hopkins comes from years of hauling concrete and doing demolition, a trade the Smith still does even with his new-found fame.  As the punches kept coming, Hopkins was hit so hard that he was punched right through the ropes and out of the ring.  After 20 seconds, Hopkins was counted out and Smith was awarded the technical knockout.  This represented the first knockout in Hopkins storied career.  In a fitting fashion, Hopkins went out the way Joe Louis ended his legendary career, by getting knocked out of the ring by a blue-collar fighter, Rocky Marciano, who was the up and comer.

Smith, who styles himself as the everyman fighter, couldn’t have been more different from the brash Hopkins.  While Hopkins talked smack, Smith did the hard work as he fights to provide a better life for his family.  Smith came out in his traditional union made silks, never forgetting where he came from. This may have been the fight that moves Smith’s career from, to quote Hopkins, a common one to a special one.

Now Smith is looking to his next fight, with some speculation being that he could be coming home to Long Island to fight fellow Long Islander Sean Monaghan, but in a post fight interview, Smith promised that he would be back on the job site, keeping busy and waiting until his next shot at the title comes.  That fight could be the first fight at the new Nassau Coliseum, a project that Smith is working on as a union Laborer.

This photo was taken after Smith's last fight, when he won the Championship, at the Laborers Local 66 Union Hall. The fight was broadcast nationally on NBC. Click here to see Smith's interview about going back to work as a Laborer following the fight

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