Smith vs Vlasov: Playing the light heavyweight lottery Saturday
SAN DIEGO, Calif., April 9, 2021 – When Long Island’s Joe Smith Jr. put all his tools together to take Eleider “Storm” Alvarez apart last August, he seemed on the brink of achieving his dream of becoming one of the world’s light heavyweight champions. Smith Jr. had a claim to getting a shot against the likes of Beterbiev, or Bivol, or another competitor willing to go toe-to-toe for one of the vacant belts.
Instead, Smith Jr. ( 26-3, 21 KOs) weathered delays due to COVID, right before his planned wedding in February. Now that the rescheduled title fight for the vacant WBO World Light Heavyweight belt with sturdy veteran Maxim Vlasov of Russia (45-3, 26 KOs) taking place in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Smith Jr. can finally check this job off his punch list.
Smith vs Vlasov airs on ESPN, ESPN Deportes, and ESPN+ at 10 pm ET/7 pm PT, with undercard fights streaming on ESPN+ starting at 5:30 pm ET/2:30 pm PT. A limited number of fans will be in the seats at the Osage Casino venue.
Smith and Vlasov hope patience pays off
Smith went ahead with his wedding, but he and his bride delayed their honeymoon until Smith Jr. “She’s been great, she’s been patient. She’s waiting for me to put on a good show for everybody,” said Smith Jr. at this week’s final news conference.
After Vlasov tested positive 48 hours before the fight in February, he went home to Russia to recover and then returned to Las Vegas to finish training camp. “I’ve been sharpening my skills, and I’m ready to give it my all, 100 percent,” said Vlasov.
It’s also been a long wait for Vlasov, awaiting his first title shot after nearly 50 professional fights and a 16-month layout. “I feel the same as a younger boxer who is less experienced because this is a great chance for me. This is a great responsibility, a great risk. I am very excited and motivated for this fight.”
Smith Jr. admits it was a little disappointing learning February bout was off, taking to social media to express his dismay. “I felt 100 percent ready then. I enjoyed my wedding for the night. That week I got back to the gym, and I’ve been working just as hard. I feel 100 percent and ready to go. I got in lots of sparring, lots of running, everything. I’m in the best shape of my life,” said Smith Jr.
Smith Jr. gets his second chance to win a world title, coming up short against Russian Dmitry Bivol in 2019. “After my loss to Bivol, I went back to the gym and started working on things I was getting caught for, not landing enough punches because I wasn’t busy enough. I feel like it’s all coming together now, and I’m an all-around fighter,” said Smith Jr. Smith would no doubt love to even the score against Bivol.
Prediction: Smith Jr. by late stoppage
Smith Jr. is favored, but he won’t get a free pass from the veteran Vlasov, whose only losses at light heavyweight came to Gilberto Ramirez and Isaac Chilemba, which he avenged in a rematch. Vlasov understands what he’s up against in Oklahoma. “He is a busy and aggressive guy with a lot of experience, but I have prepared well, and I’m going to give 100 percent of myself to come out victorious,” said Vlasov. ”I have taken preparation seriously, watched many of his fights, and learned some things.”
Both men said hearing those three magic words in boxing, “And the new,” is what they’ve been working for since they were barely teenagers.
Vlasov has a lot of mileage on him and hasn’t pushed past the division’s elite names. Smith Jr. continues to improve since devoting himself full time to boxing, and should have the power-punching edge to wear Vlasov down by the later rounds.
In the co-main, Efe Ajagba of Nigeria and fighting out of Sutherland, Texas (14-0, 12 KOs) faces Brian Howard of Atlanta (15-4, 12 KOs), a 40-year-old who was knocked out in November by Frank Sanchez. Enough said. Junior lightweight Albert Bell of Toledo(17-0, 5 KOs) gets in the ring against Manuel Rey Rojas of Dallas (20-4, 6 KOs).
On the streaming undercard, a lineup of Top Rank prospects get in some work, including heavyweight Jared “The Real Big Baby” Anderson (8-0, 8 KOs), 2016 Olympic gold medalist Robson Conceicao (15-0, 7 KOs), young Philly heavyweight Sonny Conto (6-0, 5 KOs), plus local Tulsa favorites Jeremiah Milton (2-0, 2 KOs) and Trey Lippe Morrison (16-0, 16 KOs).
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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