Joe Smith Jr. will defend his light heavyweight title on Jan. 15 after all as unheralded fighter Steven Geffrard signed Friday to replace Callum Johnson on eight days’ notice.
Johnson tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday and was forced to withdraw from the ESPN main event in Verona, New York. It is the third time in the last year that Smith has had a fight impacted by COVID.
Smith (27-3, 21 KOs) was set to vie for a vacant 175-pound title against Maxim Vlasov in February 2021 before Vlasov tested positive. The bout was rescheduled for April, and Smith prevailed via majority decision.
The 32-year-old’s first defense was set for October against Umar Salamov, but then Smith contracted COVID. He was hospitalized after getting the virus.
Now recovered, Smith will meet Geffrard (18-2, 12 KOs), who had been scheduled to fight in an eight-rounder Saturday in Delray Beach, Florida.
The 31-year-old Geffrard, who is from Miami, has never competed in a notable bout. He is coming off an eight-round unanimous-decision victory over Denis Grachev in March.
The bout between Smith and Johnson was a clash between power punchers who show little interest in out-boxing the opposition. Johnson, 36, struggled en route to a majority-decision victory against journeyman Server Emurlaev in October.
The Englishman’s most notable performance came in a title-fight loss, a fourth-TKO at the hands of Artur Beterbiev. In that 2018 meeting, Johnson was floored in the opening round, only to drop the champion in the following round before he was finished in Round 4.
Smith, from Long Island, New York, is rated No. 4 by ESPN at light heavyweight.