Irish bomber, Joe Smith
New WBO light heavyweight champion Joe Smith Jr. won his title the hard way – working a laborer by day and training by night. The Irish Bomber, as it’s called, talks about his unusual path to success.
COVID-19 attempted to wreak havoc on Joe Smith Jr.’s professional boxing career earlier this year, but luckily that did not happen. The pandemic delayed a championship fight and ruined his honeymoon plans, but in the end, Smith persevered and not only won the WBO light heavyweight title in April, but married his beloved Kelly Reilly. near where he grew up on Long Island.
Most unusual, Smith, 31, rose to the top of the light heavyweight ranks not by hitting a sack or training all the time, but through hard, physical work as a union member Laborers Local 66 of Long Island to which he still belongs. The Irish Bomber, as it’s known, did demolition work, hauled heavy items out of buildings, electrically washed a sewage treatment plant, and “basically spent a lot of days breaking things up,” he told Irish Voice in a recent interview.
“I was one of the youngsters on the team, so I was the one they sent to all the junk work, demolition, things like that. I worked everywhere, every day – Hofstra University, a train station in Long Island City, all kinds of places. Lots of physical work. “
Smith followed an unorthodox path to the ranks of elite professional boxing where so many fighters live lives built solely around strict training regimes, but he wouldn’t have done it any other way. His union colleagues across the country were a vital source of support in his early days when he needed to build a fan network, and the rise and rise of an alarm at 4:30 a.m. followed by a hard day of working with the union has provided Smith with discipline and strength.
After checking in, off to the gym for some evening boxing sessions with his trainer Jerry Capobianco. It seems exhausting, dealing with hours in a gym after hours of manual labor, and it was, admits Smith.
” It was hard. But I was motivated. I also had good people behind me to make sure I went to the gym every day. There were days when I didn’t want to go, but my trainer picked me up from my house and said, “You are going”.
It was Joe Smith Sr. who insisted his 13-year-old namesake get into boxing as a way to keep him on the right track, so he went to the Heavy Hitters gym in Ronkonkoma. Joe Jr. is the oldest of eight, seven boys and one girl, an Irish American family from Mastic in Suffolk County.
Smith is not sure where his Irish ancestors came from, nor did he go to Ireland, but he “would love to go” someday.
“We always celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in our house, going to Montauk for the parade,” he adds.
The name Irish Bomber comes from one of its promoters. “We had a different one and he said, ‘Why don’t you just use the Irish Bomber? You are an Irishman. So the name stuck.
Capobianco first met Smith at Heavy Hitters when the young fighter was around 17. Smith had trained well “but it was a chore at first,” he laughs. “Then I started training and doing good against other guys who had been there for a long time. “
A veteran himself – his father John coached legendary Long Island heavyweight Gerry Cooney – Capobianco has said he could make Smith a world champion.
“When he first told me I thought he was crazy,” Smith says. “I had thought that maybe I could be a champion, but even having the chance to fight for a world championship is difficult.”
Capobianco’s brother Phil, another former boxer, became Smith’s co-manager and got the idea that having a secure job with union membership would be good for his burgeoning boxing career – until At this point, 12 years ago, Smith was working for a tree. maintenance company with his father. So he joined Labor Local 66, working during the day and training at night.
Smith turned pro around this time in October 2009 and notched his first victory, a first round TKO on a card at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut. A slew of wins followed, including one in 2016 against Andrzej Fonfara in Chicago which earned him the WBC international light heavyweight title. Smith lost that belt a year later after doing 10 rounds against Sullivan Barrera, but before that he beat famed multi-title champion Bernard Hopkins, 25 years his senior, in the Hopkins farewell fight.
It was after Hopkins’ victory that Smith and his team thought it would be wise to put daytime work on the back burner and focus on boxing more or less full time.
“I went back to work for about a week and then said I had to do number one boxing,” Smith recalls.
But Smith did not completely let go of his past as a worker. In 2017 he and his father started Team Smith Tree Service in Suffolk County, which gave Smith the opportunity to train and mostly cut trees when his schedule allowed.
“I am able to work when I need to and leave the company when I need to. When I’m not around, my dad takes care of everything, ”Smith says.
The fight he was waiting for, a shot for the vacant WBO light heavyweight title, was signed and sealed for February 13 this year in Las Vegas, or so Smith thought. He would fight Russian Maxim Vlasov, his training camp was going well and he was ready for battle, looking forward to a wedding with Kelly in mid-March and a honeymoon in the Caribbean right after.
But Vlasov tested positive for Covid-19 days before the fight. Smith was devastated but there was nothing he could do. He postponed the honeymoon but not the wedding at Giorgio’s in Baiting Hollow, and the fight was postponed until April 10 at the Osage Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
It was a hard-fought 12 rounder and required all the mental courage Smith could muster. The last three laps were particularly fierce, but the Irish Bomber put his physical pain aside, reflected on how far he had come and what other goals he wanted to achieve, and stood firm for a majority decision.
He was a cut and sore man afterwards, but thrilled to finally be a WBO Champion, just as Jerry Capobianco told him he could be.
“It was a tough fight, and when I went on my honeymoon I could really feel it. But at least I was on a nice vacation where I could relax and recover, ”Smith says.
“It’s great to be a champion. It gives me more motivation to keep doing my thing and doing great shows. “
Like all belt holders, Smith is keen to make a lot of money while he can. He’s checking out WBC and IBF light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev for a unification fight later this year, but nothing has been signed.
“The main goal is to keep earning and making money over the next few years, that way I can retire and be comfortable,” Smith said.
These days, he’s enjoying all the attention a WBO World Champion gets, does interviews and even a day named in his honor in his hometown of Mastic. UFC commentator and one of the world’s most popular podcasters, Joe Rogan, is also a fan of Smith and posted a congratulatory message on his Instagram after the victory over Vlasov.
So life is good as a newly married light heavyweight champion. “He is. Kelly and I have been together for almost nine years so it’s not much different. I hang out at the beach. I’m a big jet ski guy. I prepare our house and have fun,” Smith says. , father of a 13-year-old girl who lives with her mother in Florida.
But of course he also keeps an eye on the family business. “When I’m not working out I’m still going to jump in and work out, but not today! Smith said.
“I know they’re working on the trees today, but I’ve got a ton of gardening to do in my own house, so I’m going to let them do it. “