Jose Pedraza is trying to elevate his star status in Puerto Rico with a defense of his 130-pound world title. British challenger Stephen Smith is simply looking to keep up with his siblings.
Both fighters enter Saturday night’s championship bout at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut (Showtime, 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT) with impressive résumés. But while Pedraza possesses greater individual accomplishments, Smith brings a family’s worth of credentials into the ring.
Jose “Sniper” Pedraza (21-0, 12 KOs) is making the second defense of the title he won in June with a near shutout of Andrey Klimov in Birmingham, Alabama. The 26-year-old Puerto Rican retained his title in October by gaining a split decision over Edner Cherry in Cincinnati.
After going 12 tough rounds with the veteran Cherry—who in his 15-year, 44-fight career has faced such formidable opponents as Paulie Malignaggi, Tim Bradley and Stevie Johnston—Pedraza believes the experience made him a better boxer.
“It was a very long and intense training camp, but we saw improvements in my abilities,” Pedraza said. “I have been waiting a long time for this day to come, and we are going to demonstrate to Smith that I am a weapon.”
Stephen Smith (23-1, 13 KOs), a 30-year-old native of Liverpool, England, is one of four brothers to have held British boxing titles. He will be trying to join younger brother Liam, who possesses a 154-pound title, as a world champion. Smith’s oldest sibling, Paul, is a two-time world title contender at 168 pounds, while his youngest brother, Callum, is an unbeaten 168-pound contender.
“Two weeks ago, Callum won a European world title, and it just gives me the confidence, the spirit to hike,” Smith said. “I'm in a really good place mentally, and I couldn't be feeling better going into [Saturday's fight]."
Smith has won 11 straight bouts, including seven by stoppage, since his lone defeat in Liverpool in September 2011, when current 126-pound world champion Lee Selby stopped him in the eighth round in a contest for the British and Commonwealth titles.
"I have seen some videos with my team of [Smith’s] fights, and I can see he is a boxer with a lot of resources who utilizes hooks to the body just as much as to the head,” Pedraza said. “He is strong, but something that works in my favor is that he is a come-forward fighter.
“I hope on fight night I can neutralize all of his abilities and get the victory. I wouldn't doubt if the win came by a KO anywhere from the sixth through the eighth round.”
In his rise to world champion, Pedraza has become a star in his homeland. He began boxing at the age of 12 under the tutelage of his stepfather, Luis Espada, who still trains the switch-hitting Pedraza, and the 26-year-old represented Puerto Rico in the 2008 Olympics before turning pro in 2011.
Both Pedraza and Smith weighed in at 129 pounds Friday for their title fight. While Smith is the underdog, he has to look no further than his brothers as examples of what it takes to reach the top.
“I believe I have what it takes to fight anyone, and nothing will keep me from becoming a world champion,” Smith said. “It can be a different type of fight; we know he likes to switch it up and box from different stances.
“He's obviously talented, but we know what to expect. I've gone over everything with my trainer, Joe Gallagher, and we're ready to go."
Pedraza has admitted he his eye on potential title-unification bouts at 130, as well as eventually moving up in weight. But first there's the matter of getting past Smith.
“With my abilities, come Saturday, I will demonstrate that I am above Smith and that I am at the level of what I am: a champion,” he said. “My aspirations as a boxer are to make history, not just in Puerto Rico but in the world.”
For a complete look at Pedraza vs Smith, visit our fight page.