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Joe Smith Jr. and Callum Johnson have agreed to terms for a light heavyweight title fight that will headline an ESPN show on Jan. 15 at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York, sources told ESPN.
Smith (27-3, 21 KOs) was arranged to defend his title versus Umar Salamov on Oct. 30 before he was hospitalized with COVID-19. Top Rank planned to reschedule the fight, but Salamov, a native of Russia, encountered visa issues, sources said.
Instead, Smith, 32, will meet England’s Johnson in a battle of imposing punchers with a penchant for brawling.
Smith, a native of Long Island, New York, won the title in April with a majority-decision victory over Maxim Vlasov. With the victory, Smith rose to No. 3 in ESPN’s light heavyweight rankings.
The fight was Smith’s second crack at a title after an unsuccessful bid versus Dmitry Bivol.
The former construction worker was lightly regarded before he stunned Andrzej Fonfara with a first-round KO in 2016 and followed up with an even bigger upset, a knockout of Bernard Hopkins in the Hall of Famer’s farewell bout.
If Smith comes out on top in his first title defense, the plan is for him to fight Daniel Jacobs later in 2022, sources said. Jacobs, a former middleweight champion now campaigning at 168 pounds, would jump up to 175 pounds for the opportunity.
In the meantime, Smith will have to deal with Johnson, a 36-year-old who struggled en route to a majority-decision victory against journeyman Server Emurlaev last month.
Johnson (20-1, 14 KOs) is best known for a four-round firefight with Artur Beterbiev, ESPN’s No. 1 light heavyweight, in his lone title challenge. In that 2018 bout, Johnson was floored in the opening round, only to drop the champion in the following round before he was finished in the fourth round.