Although HBO's July 15 boxing card was dedicated to the junior lightweight division, the card began with a new WBC International light heavyweight champion being crowned.
Joe Smith Jr. never capitalized on the momentum gained from retiring Bernard Hopkins last year, losing his title to Sullivan Barrera via unanimous decision (97-92, 97-92, 96-93) in the opening fight of the HBO-televised card.
The fight had started very favorably for Smith, who knocked Barrera down with a flush left hand to the head with 30 seconds left in the first round. Barrera was able to shake the knockdown off and dominate the rest of the fight. Barrera hurt Smith badly with a right uppercut in the fourth round and kept the offense rolling, so much so that the referee nearly stopped te fight after the seventh round. Smith's corner convinced the referee to give him one more opportunity and managed to go the distance but did not do enough to win in the cards.
According to CompuBox, Barrera landed 187 of 484 punches (39 percent) and Smith connected on just 61 of 320 punches (19 percent). Barrera, the former interim WBO Latino and WBA Fedelatin light heavyweight champion, has only lost once in his career, against Andre Ward in 2016. Barrera has since bounced back from the loss, winning his following two fights to set up the bout against Smith.
With the win, Barrera is now in prime position to challenge for the WBC light heavyweight title, which is currently being held by Adonis Stevenson.