Joe Smith Jr. will have to continue waiting to defend his WBO light heavyweight title. Callum Johnson, his planned opponent on Jan. 15, had to back out of the fight after testing positive for COVID-19.
ESPN’s Mike Coppinger was first to report the news. Top Rank officials are working on finding a new opponent for Smith. Promoter Frank Warren told BBC Sport that he is hoping Smith vs. Johnson can be rebooked soon.
“It’s a real great shame for Callum,” Warren said. “Hopefully we can get him back in, they may want to [reschedule the fight] in late spring. He worked really hard to get the opportunity.”
A 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medalist, Johnson made his pro debut that year. A former Commonwealth and British light heavyweight champion, Johnson lost to Artur Beterbiev in 2018 for the IBF light heavyweight title. Since then, he has won three in a row, his last bout being a majority decision win over Server Emurlaev in October.
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Smith made his pro debut in 2009. He won the WBO light heavyweight title last April against Maxim Vlasov. He tested positive for COVID during 2021.
Although a new opponent is not known and Johnson is still looking to challenge for the title, Warren is hoping Smith can face off against Anthony Yarde.
“I’d love to do Joe Smith vs. Anthony Yarde in the UK,” Warren said. “The WBO say there is a mandatory due and it’s going to be Yarde. He is the No. 1 [challenger]. Anthony looked so good in his last fight against Lyndon Arthur. We’ve got him down to fight sometime in March anyway. Fingers crossed. We’ll see what happens next week with Smith and how he comes through, then go from there.”
Yarde, 30, made his pro debut in 2015. A former WBO European and Intercontinental light heavyweight champion, he lost to Sergey Kovalev in 2019 for the WBO light heavyweight title. He has gone 4-1 since then. In his last fight, he beat Arthur in rematch last December to capture the Commonwealth and WBO Intercontinental light heavyweight titles.
“The experience he’s gained since [fighting] Sergey Kovalev stands him in good stead,” Warren said. “He really gives Smith so many problems.
Also interested in fighting Smith is undisputed super middleweight king Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.