Joe Smith Win Over Maxi Vlasov Now Sets Up a Fight Against Artur Beterbiev
The bout between Joe Smith Jr (27-3, 21 KOs) and Maxim Vlasov (45-4, 26 KOs) for the vacant WBO World Light Heavyweight title is upon us. Their fight was originally set to happen on February 13. However, it was postponed after Vlasov tested positive for COVID-19.
Smith made his splash onto the boxing scene when he knocked out modern-day legend Bernard Hopkins in December of 2016. Ever since that breakthrough performance, the 31-year-old has been a mainstay in the 175-pound landscape. In March of 2019, Smith challenged the current WBA “Super” World Light Heavyweight champion. Unfortunately for native from Long Island, New York, he lost by decision.
Despite the setback, he was not deterred. Dusting himself off, he earned this opportunity with a ninth-round TKO win over former WBO 175-pound world champion Eleider Alvarez in August of 2020. Ranked first by the WBO at 175-pounds, Smith feels his time is now.
He is facing a Maxim Vlasov who is fighting in his first world title fight. A pro for 16-years, the 34-year-old from Samara, Russia has taken an interesting path to the title. He began his professional career as a middleweight and has campaigned as high as a cruiserweight. Deciding to move down and campaign as a light heavyweight in 2019, the Russian earned this fight with a twelve-round decision win over Issac Chilemba in July of 2019. Ranked second by the WBO at light heavyweight, can he achieve his life-long dream of winning a world title?
A TRICKY CUSTOMER
This fight was a fascinating clash of styles. Vlasov was the one who set the pace early. He used his length and punches from odd angles to find a home for jabs and right hands. Smith started to find a home for hard, straight right-hands in round two. But he was also cut over his left eye from the repeated jabs from his opponent. It was in the second that the action started to heat up from both men.
What makes Vlasov so difficult is that he has a way of forcing fighters out of their rhythm. This is what he began to do to Smith. He was not landing with the hardest of shots. However, it was those prodding, off-speed hooks and uppercuts that made the New Yorker uncomfortable. To compound matters, when Smith was able to land with a hard shot to the head, Vlasov was taking the punches well.
Thirty seconds into round seven, Smith was finally able to stun Vlasov with a right hand to the head. Yet, instead of going wild looking for the finish, he stayed calm. Rather than trying to go crazy with head-shots, he focused his attack on the body. Vlasov was proving to be tough as oak, gritting his teeth and fighting back hard.
TURNING INTO A WAR
What started as a clash of styles early became a battle of attrition as the action progressed from the middle into the latter rounds. But an interesting thing started to develop starting in round nine. Vlasov once again began to push the pace. It was like he caught a second wind and was fighting with more force. Smith looked troubled by the cut and swelling over his left eye. At the end of the tenth, he had the look of a fighter who was wilting.
Then suddenly, the vaunted power of Smith struck as Vlasov was hurt from body punches in round eleven. With forty-five seconds to go in the round, the Russian went down as a result of an illegal punch to the back head. With Vlasov given time to recover by the referee, the corner and handlers of Smith went into a frenzy of bitter protest.
The final round was a continuation of the intense action throughout. Both men traded shots, never letting up until the final bell. In the end, Smith was given the fight by majority decision scores of 114-114, 115-113, 115-112. Having watched this fight live, this reporter disagrees and scored the fight 115-113 for Vlasov.
Ultimately, this was an exciting and entertaining scrap. Both men left it all in the ring. After a long, hard road of struggles in and out of the ring, Smith finally achieved his dream of winning a world title. He is now the new WBO World Light Heavyweight champion.
It is anticipated that he will next face IBF/WBC world 175-pound world champ Artur Beterbiev. Following the win over Vlasov, Smith said now it is time to start unifying belts.
By: Michael Wilson Jr.