Fighter of the Year Nominations:
Joe Smith Jr.
Winner: Joe Smith Jr.
Plain and simple, no single fighter had more impact on the sport of boxing last year than Joe Smith Jr. All of the above pugilists had outstanding campaigns in 2016 and scored important victories, but it was the unknown club fighter from New York who actually changed the sport.
Put another way, no boxer in 2016 shook up their division like Smith. A year ago Andrzej Fonfara and Bernard Hopkins were major forces in the 175 pound class, but both were overwhelmed by Smith. Now the fighter who few had heard of at the start of the year is ranked by most in the top five of the division while his foes are gone. Joe is rated fourth by the Transnational Boxing Rankings, behind only Adonis Stevenson, Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev. He could very well challenge for a world title in his next match.
Growing up on the South Shore of Long Island in New York, Joe was introduced to boxing at age 13 by his father. “He saw I was getting in fights in school and outside of school, so he brought me to the gym,” Smith told George Willis of the New York Post. “He said, ‘If you want to fight, you can fight here.’ I ended up doing pretty good against a guy who had been in the gym for a few years. I’ve stuck with it since.”
But while he’s pursued a boxing career, he’s also kept his day job, putting in hours of toil on construction sites. “It’s labor work,” says Smith. “Patching concrete, pouring concrete, smashing down walls with sledgehammers, digging up dirt, all kinds of jobs all over the Island. It’s tough work.”
Naturally this makes for a great story, a compelling narrative about an honest working man and father who puts in his hours on the building site before hitting the gym to train for his next fight. Already, “The Irish Bomber” is known as “The Common Man” after a press conference rant by Hopkins, and the unique story could translate into genuine fame should Smith keep winning major fights.
But that said, Smith’s days as a construction labourer may be numbered. With two upset knockouts, he is on the cusp of big money opportunities. Which only makes sense. He was a massive underdog in two significant fights and he won both by spectacular knockout. Indeed, his clean KO of Bernard Hopkins stands as a truly historic event since it will go down as the final fight in the career of the former world champion and future Hall of Famer. As a result, it’s our KO Of The Year. And his first round demolition of Fonfara stands as our Upset Of The Year.
From our perspective, this is not a difficult decision to make. Other major fighters had excellent years, but Joe Smith Jr. has had one of truly historic significance. No matter what happens from here on in, none can dispute what Smith accomplished in 2016. Which now includes being The Fight City’s 2016 Fighter Of The Year.