Joe Smith Jr.’s next title run starts with Gilberto Ramirez

Joe Smith Jr. has never shied away from tough challenges.

The former 175-pound beltholder fought both Dmitry Bivol and Artur Beterbiev in title fights and lost badly both times, first by decision and then by knockout. He clearly doesn’t have a fear losing and what that can mean in a fighter’s career, as many do.

The 34-year-old New Yorker will be at it again on Saturday in Las Vegas, where he’s scheduled to face former 168-pound champ Gilberto Ramirez at cruiserweight, at which he won’t have to battle scale. They’ll be fighting at a catch weight of 193.

Smith (28-4, 22 KOs) wants a shot at another title as soon as possible, which is why he agreed to face another big-name opponent immediately following his second-round stoppage loss to Beterbiev.

“One loss and you’re not worth anything anymore,” Smith told, referring to the impact a setback can have. “Me, on the other hand, I jump right into taking those risks, trying to fight the best right away.

“Do I regret it? No. Like I said, light heavyweight was tough for me to make that division, that weight. I wanted to win titles as quickly as I could. It just didn’t work out.”

Ramirez (44-1, 30 KOs) has had his own problems.

The 32-year-old Mexican was outclassed by Bivol in his attempt to become a two-division champion last November. He then missed weight by 7.6 pounds for his bout with Gabriel Rosado in March and he fight was canceled.

He, too, is embracing a fresh start in a new division and is willing to face a stiff test to move quickly toward a title shot.

Of course, Ramirez isn’t in the class of Bivol or Beterbiev. Smith respects him but also sees weaknesses.

“I think he’s just a very active, busy guy,” he said of his opponent. “He has long range, long reach, likes to get inside and mix it up and just punch. I just have to be in great shape and punch with him. “

Smith didn’t want to divulge what he believes are Ramirez’s vulnerabilities but said his path to victory is clear.

“It’s more just staying busy,” he said, “punching when he makes the mistakes I see.”

Smith and Ramirez were unable to take control of the 175-pound division because of the talents of its champions, Bivol and Beterbiev.

The 200-pound weight class doesn’t have the same impenetrable wall, which could be an open door to a title shot for Smith. The fight on Saturday is being billed as a “title eliminator.”

“Yeah, if I’m offered opportunities, I believe I can get there quickly,” he said. “I can get there quickly and get a title shot and possibly become a two-time champion. But I have to get past Zurdo (Ramirez) to even consider moving on in the cruiserweight division.

“I’ll give it 100 percent and see what happens.”

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