Back in 2017, light heavyweight Joe Smith, Jr. used his earnings from boxing to establish Team Smith Tree Service with his father. The longtime member of the Melville, N.Y.-based Laborers 66 Union, part of the AFL-CIO, captured the hearts of boxing fans during his ascent up the rankings.
During his time as a Local 66 laborer Smith worked on major projects including the construction of Hofstra University dorm rooms and a new train station in Long Island City.
This Saturday, February 13, the fighter known by such nicknames as “Common Man” and “The Irish Bomber” and “The Beast From The East” is back for a other fight. Smith will take on 6-foot-4 Russian boxer Maksim Vlasov, to contend for the currently vacant WBO light heavyweight title.
Currently, Smith is ranked as the world No. 4 in the light heavyweight class.
“It’s the final days of training, fight’s getting close,” Smith said. “The training camp went great and I got some good sparring in. I’m ready and feeling good.”
Since turning pro in late 2009, Smith has had an impressive run, booking a 26-3 record, with 21 knockouts. On a video call February 3, I spoke with Smith about his career so far and balancing a work life outside of boxing with his time in the ring.
Andy Frye: Boxing is much more entrepreneurial than, say, the NFL and NBA, where players get drafted after college ball. Tell us about coming up through the ranks while working a day job for so long.
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Joe Smith, Jr: To get to the top of boxing and to the big paydays, it’s a tough road. The only way to make big money is to get to the top and win a world championship, and then defend it. Otherwise, you’re doing it for the fun of it. (Laughs.)
AF: But clearly you’re not just boxing for the money. So talk about what your training regimen looks like and how you’ve stayed in the game.
Smith: Boxing is definitely a mentally challenging sport as well as physically. You need to make sure you’re mentally tough and prepared for a fight when you get in that ring.
VIDEO: Highlights of Smith’s TKO of Bernard Hopkins, December 17, 2016.
In the beginning, I would work a full day, starting early, and then after work I would go to the gym. Even during lunch breaks I would go for runs instead fo just taking lunch. On my way home I would get a few rounds of bag work and calisthenics, then go home and relax and do it all again the next day. Then the further along I got in my career and the bigger the fights got, I became able to take off from work to focus on training.
In training for the (2016) Hopkins fight, I worked on up until about a month before and took off, and went back to it right after the fight.
AF: Is it a concern, as a the owner of a tree service and one who has a very physical job, that you could get injured on the job prior to a fight?
Smith: I haven’t missed a fight but came close to it. Once I opened my tree business with my father, six weeks before a fight I was cutting a stump that was low to the ground.
I was cutting the stump, and the blade of the chainsaw hit the fence behind it and it ricocheted, pushing the chainsaw into my leg. I was petrified that my leg was going to be cut terribly. It was a nice cut, but I was able to bandage it and I got stitches but it healed just in time.
AF: Who were your influences in boxing? What fighters did you watch, and who inspired you to pick up the gloves?
Smith: The reason I got into boxing was that my father brought me down to a gym when I was 13. IU started boxing, and I was pretty good at it. My trainer and my father told me that I’d got to stick with it. And when I turned pro, I found my trainer Jerry (Capobianco) and he told me he could make me a world champion. I didn’t necessarily believe it at the time, but it sounded good.
As far as I like watching fighters, I liked watching Mike Tyson and Roy Jones, Jr., because I always liked watching knockout fights. And—knocking out other fighters—that’s something I always wanted to do.