Light heavyweight world titleholder Artur Beterbiev will defend his title for the second time when he takes on contender Joe Smith Jr. later this year, their promoters told ESPN on Monday.
The fight comes as a surprise because Smith had been close to finalizing a deal to challenge Dmitry Bivol for his version of the 175-pound world title on Nov. 24 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on HBO in what would have been one of the network's final fights before it exits boxing at the end of the year.
However, Star Boxing promoter Joe DeGuardia, who represents Smith, told ESPN that they pulled out of that deal a little over a week ago when Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn, Beterbiev's co-promoter, made them a better offer to fight on streaming service DAZN, where Hearn has an eight-year, $1 billion deal to provide boxing content.
"We were in discussions for the Bivol fight, but we didn't have a signed deal and there were still some loose ends," DeGuardia said. "And then we got a tremendous offer for something different. I ended those Bivol talks as soon as this deal came into the fold, and I called up Main Events [which would have promoted the Nov. 24 card] and HBO to tell them."
The date for Beterbiev-Smith is not locked in, but it will take place in December at a location to be determined in the Northeast -- Smith is from New York's Long Island -- according to DeGuardia.
"It was possible for November, but that's slipping away, so it's going to be in December. We are ready to roll," said DeGuardia, who added that they have signed their paperwork.
Beterbiev (13-0, 13 KOs), 33, a Russia native fighting out of Montreal, made his first title defense on Oct. 6 in Chicago on Hearn's first United States-based DAZN card. He knocked out England's then-undefeated Callum Johnson, the mandatory challenger, in the fourth round of an action-packed shootout in which Beterbiev survived a second-round knockdown.
Now he will face Smith (24-2, 20 KOs), 29, who is also a brawler who carries a big punch.
"It's a great, explosive fight," Hearn, who co-promotes Beterbiev with Yvon Michel, told ESPN. "I really feel like Artur is going to make a strong charge now and he is fantastic to watch. Joe will have plenty of support as always and you mustn't blink!"
Smith made a name for himself in 2016 with back-to-back big upsets, a first-round knockout of former world title challenger Andrzej Fonfara in an NBC-televised prime-time main event, followed by an even bigger win against the legendary Bernard Hopkins, whom he knocked out of the ring in an eighth-round knockout victory that sent Hopkins into retirement.
Smith suffered a badly broken jaw early in his next fight and lost a decision to contender Sullivan Barrera in July 2017. After surgery to repair the injury, Smith returned 11 months later to stop Melvin Russell in the first round on June 30 to put him in position for a bigger fight.
DeGuardia said he is happy that Smith will get a chance to fight for a world title regardless of whether it would be against Bivol or Beterbiev.
"Both are very, very difficult fights because they are both top, top fighters," he said. "But you're fighting for a championship. So it's not an easy fight. You look at it and say Beterbiev, as a fan, I'd love to see. [They are like] smashing robots, two bangers who can punch. But it's a tough fight and a good fight. I think it will resonate with the fans."