Smith defeats Vlasov in Russian roulette to win light heavyweight title
SAN DIEGO, Calif., April 10, 2021 – In a hard-fought all-action contest, Long Island’s Joe Smith Jr. (27-3, 21 KOs) had to dig deep and battle every second of 12 rounds against sturdy veteran Maxim Vlasov of Russia (45-4, 26 KOs) to earn his first world championship title.
Smith Jr. ended up in a dangerous game of Russian roulette with Vlasov, winning a narrow majority decision by scores of 115-112, 115-113, and 114-114 on the third card. Smith Jr. now holds the WBO World Light Heavyweight title. A relieved Smith Jr. said it was a great feeling.
“It was definitely a close, tough, tough fight,” said Smith Jr. “I give it to Vlasov, he was a great fighter. He put on a great show tonight and toughed it out.
“I think I got the victory tonight because they saw I landed the bigger, harder shots. He landed a lot of punches, it was a great fight,” laughed Smith Jr.
Smith Jr. said he told himself during training and in the locker room just to tough it out. “I know I’m going to get hit because he’s a very busy fighter. He throws a lot of punches But just tough it out. Eventually, I’m going to get him.”
Smith Jr. said he was a little disappointed not to get a unanimous decision. “The fight was a little too close for me. I would have liked to win a unanimous decision, but a victory is a victory.”
Vlasov was also disappointed for different reasons. He disagreed with Smith’s vies of the fight and believes the world title should be going home with him to Russia.
“This was a very hard-fought, competitive fight,” said Vlasov. “I thought I was winning rounds and was well ahead. Against the aggressive style of Joe Smith, I came forward the entire fight. I felt confident I was winning and was securing rounds in the bank with the judges. I never felt that I was behind at any stage of the fight. This was my opportunity to show the world I was a world champion, and I did that, and Joe Smith knows I did that.”
Durable Vlasov came to win and nearly did
The fight was delayed after Vlasov tested positive for COVID-19 in February. Vlasov says he never felt any symptoms and thinks it was a false positive. He showed no effects in the ring. He was sturdy and determined with a chin any fighter would love to have. It was Smith Jr. who came out at the opening bell looking shaky.
Vlasov’s unpredictable rhythms and movement in the ring gave Smith difficulty in the first few rounds. Once Smith Jr. settled down and started connecting shots, Vlasov took them well. For a man like Smith accustomed to blasting out opponents with his right hook, he must have known he was in for a long night.
Vlasov had fought at cruiserweight, so Smith Jr. didn’t seem so big or dangerous, and he didn’t show any fear at all of Smith Jr.’s power. He delivered plenty of hard shots of his own. He opened a cut over Smith’s left eye early. Cutman Stitch Duran said he knew he’d earn his pay in the fight and succeeded in keeping it under control.
Gutting it out to get the win
Smith Jr. buzzed Vlasov in the third, seventh, and tenth rounds, but Vlasov shook it off each time. After ten rounds, Smith Jr. looked like he might be in danger of fading or giving up. This is where championships are won or lost. Smith Jr found an extra gear and outworked Vlasov, digging into the body. He had to go for broke. In the 11th round, Smith Jr. appeared to score a knockdown with a right to the head, but referee Gary Ritter called it an illegal rabbit punch. The replay showed Ritter was correct.
“I believe that round where I hurt him there, I believe he stuck his head down, and I should have gotten the knockdown on that,” said Smith Jr. “I believe I would have gotten the stoppage that round. He pulled it off and made it out on his feet.”
Although Vlasov was given time to recover, the punch made an impact anyway. Smith Jr. thought he’d scored a knockdown, and Vlasov did go down. It was the last bit of encouragement Smith Jr. needed. He won the last two rounds on all scorecards, and it won him the narrow victory.
Smith Jr. landed 226 of 888 punches thrown (25%), against 214 of 863 for Vlasov (25%). Smith Jr. landed 43 of those punches in the final round. Vlasov landed 187 power punches to 174 for Smith.
Light heavyweight unification fight ahead: Beterbiev or Bivol?
Smith Jr. is now in position to unify titles with one of two more Russians, fellow power puncher Artur Beterbiev, or expert technician Dmitry Bivol, who has already defeated Smith Jr. once. Smith Jr. only cares about the titles, not the names.
“I want other belts. I want the big fights out there. I know I have to get back in the gym and keep working on my technique, but I believe I’m going to start unifying belts.”
But not before his new wife Kelly gets to have a real honeymoon with her new husband, Joe. They quickly got married when the February fight was postponed, but Smith Jr. had to go right back to training camp.” She’s very excited, she wanted me to win and put my ring back on. It’s been off a few days.”
Smith Jr. and trainer Jerry Capobianco will have a lot of feedback from the Vlasov fight to work with. The best version of Bivol has already beaten Smith Jr. once, and Beterbiev punches harder than Vlasov. But Smith Jr. will get his chance to make the most of the opportunity.
Efe Ajagba drops Brian Howard in three
In the co-main, Nigerian Olympian Efe Ajagba now training in Sutherland, Texas (15-0, 13 KOs) returned after a break for surgery and rehab, making a statement with a lights out knockout of Brian Howard of Atlanta (15-5 12 KOs) in the third round. Ajagba threw a left hook to set up a straight right, landing like a thunderbolt to Howard’s ear, and the fight was immediately over at 1:29 of the third round. Howard was down for several minutes but eventually left the ring on his feet.
Oh. My. Goodness. @AjagbaEfe.
— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) April 11, 2021
Ajagba called Howard “slippery:” and tried to pick his punches, set up by the jab. His trainer Kay Koroma told him to take his time. But when he saw his opportunity, he took it. “I listened to the corner. They told me to start to the body and then go to the head. When I started with the jab to the body, it caused him to drop his hands. Then came
my left hand and my right hand, and that’s it,” said Ajagba.
“I trained hard for this fight, I took my time, worked on my conditioning, and came back strong,” said Ajagba, warning the rest of the heavyweight division. “I’m coming for them. I want to shine. It’s my time to shine.” Ajagba lacks certain fundamental skills, but massive power covers many sins and makes for an exciting fighter to watch.
Heavy-duty undercard: Four knockouts in seven total rounds
Jared “The Real Big Baby” Anderson of Toledo (9-0, 9 KOs) swiftly worked his way inside against Karpency, with his third solid body shot forcing Jeremiah Karpency of Pennsylvania 16-3-1, 6 KOs) to take a knee near the end of the first round. He landed the same right to the body in the second round, and Karpency told the referee the repeated blow was “too much,” letting himself be counted out at 34 seconds for the KO.
“I respect him for getting in there; I respect him for showing up today. I’m grateful for the opportunity. I seen the shot. His hands kept going up as I was throwing my jab… it just came, and he couldn’t get back up,” said Anderson. “We just keep asking for them. They can’t run for long! It’s not a race; eventually, they’re going to get caught.” Anderson says within the next year and a half, he expects a title fight, perhaps across the Atlantic.
Trained by Kay Koroma, the 21-year-old Anderson kept busy with six fights through the pandemic, and he might prove the cream of the young American crop of heavyweights.
Young Philly heavyweight Sonny Conto (7-0, 6 KOs) kicked off the card with a first-round blowout of Waldo Cortes Acosta of Arizona (6-4, 3 KOs). It only took The Bronco 1:41 to get the job done.
Tulsa native Jeremiah Milton, now fighting out of Las Vegas (3-0, 3 KOs) beat that time, scoring an unusual knockout win at 1:19 of the first round. Milton blasted opponent Jayvone Dafney (2-3, 2 KOs), who fell onto the ropes, motionless. Milton’s restraint and the referee’s quick response kept the upright but out cold Dafney from being seriously hurt.
Another Tulsa product, Trey Lippe Morrison (17-0, 17 KOs), got a messy stoppage win in the third round due to an ankle injury to opponent Jason Bergman (27-20-2, 18 KOs). Bergman was putting up a spirited fight before he injured himself and was unable to continue.
Junior lightweight Albert Bell of Toledo (18-0, 5 KOs) ground out an eight-round decision win over a determined Manuel Rey Rojas of Dallas (20-5, 6 KOs). Scorecards were 78 – 74 X 3.
In another junior lightweight bout, 2016 Olympic gold medalist Robson Conceicao (16-0, 8 KOs) scored a seventh-round TKO win over Jesus Antonio Ahumada in his first fight of 2021.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal is a veteran boxing observer covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
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