The unbeaten boxer-puncher picked apart the heavy-handed, limited Smith for much of a 12-round main event DAZN streamed from Turning Stone Resort & Casino. Judges Glenn Feldman (119-109), Tom Schreck (119-109) and Don Trella (118-110) clearly were impressed by the performance that led to his unanimous-decision win in their light heavyweight title fight.
Russia’s Bivol improved to 16-0. The Kyrgyzstan native also made the seventh defense of his WBA world 175-pound championship by beating Smith (24-3, 20 KOs).
“Of course, this was not an easy fight,” said Bivol, who was listed by various Internet sports books as a 25-1 favorite. “I trained hard, but Joe Smith fought hard and he has strong hands.”
The 29-year-old Smith, who was taken to a local hospital as a precautionary measure following their fight, had hoped to bounce back from a lopsided points loss to Sullivan Barrera in July 2017. The Mastic, New York, native boxed Barrera for nine-plus rounds with a broken jaw, but subsequent surgery to remove an impacted wisdom tooth made him confident once he resumed his career last year.
Smith made a name for himself by knocking out the legendary Bernard Hopkins two years ago. The hard-hitting Smith knocked Hopkins, then 51, out of the ring that night and won by eighth-round knockout in December 2016.
He had no such success Saturday night, expect for brief moments in the fourth and 10th rounds. Bivol boxed well throughout their bout and Smith couldn’t figure out how to land more than one occasional shot at a time.
According to unofficial CompuBox statistics, Smith landed only 39 punches out of 395 in the entire fight. CompuBox credited Bivol for hitting Smith with 208-of-714 overall punches.
The well-rounded Bivol was equally effective with his jab (101-of-511) and power punches (107-of-203).
Smith seemed tired in the 12th round and didn’t let his hands go, even though he clearly needed a knockout to win. By then, Bivol appeared fully recovered from a troublesome moment at the end of the 10th round.
Bivol also hurt Smith with a right hand as the final round came to a close.
Smith stumbled backward, into a neutral corner. Bivol tried to finish off his disoriented opponent, but he ran out of time.
“At the end of fight, I felt that I could knock him out,” Bivol said. “But that’s not my goal. It was a drama fight. It was a good defense, intelligent boxing. This is a smart sport and you have to think a lot.”
Bivol was way ahead on the cards when Smith hammered him with a right hand to the side of his head just as the 10th round ended. Bivol briefly stumbled as he walked back to his corner.
“I felt his right hand on the top of my head, on the side,” Bivol said. “I lost my balance, but I didn’t have enough time to react. It was a good punch.”
Bivol still seemed buzzed as the 11th round began, but Smith couldn’t catch him with another flush punch until the very end of that round. Smith connected with a left and a right as Bivol moved backward late in the 11th.
Rosato warned Smith after he body-slammed Bivol about a minute into the ninth round.
Bivol basted Smith with back-to-back left hooks later in the eighth round. Smith retreated, but Bivol wasn’t able to truly hurt him thereafter.
A quick, short left hook on the inside by Bivol stunned Smith just before the halfway point of the seventh round. Smith held, then backed away from Bivol, who went on the attack.
Bivol and Smith switched roles in the sixth round, when Bivol backed up Smith. A right uppercut by Bivol snapped back Smith’s head with just under 30 seconds to go in that round.
An accurate, active Bivol beat up Smith during a one-sided fifth round. Smith couldn’t catch up to the champion in those three minutes, as Bivol controlled distance, worked off his jab and landed combinations.
Smith blasted Bivol with an overhand right at around 1:50 of the fourth round. Bivol briefly held Smith to regain his senses after absorbing that shot to the side of his head.
A hard right hand Smith landed with just over a minute left in the third made Bivol move away from him. Bivol quickly fired back combinations to prevent Smith from capitalizing on that moment.
An ansty Smith couldn’t get into a rhythm during the second round. Bivol easily out-boxed him during that round by landing his jab and occasional combinations.
Smith swung wildly with his right hand a few times in the first round. The challenger was the aggressor for most of the opening three minutes, but Bivol worked off his jab and out-landed Smith in that round.
Bivol connected with a left hook, with just under 40 seconds to go in the first round. The champion connected with two more short left hooks just before that round ended, too.