By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
A massacre will take place one day before Valentine’s Day, as Maksim Vlasov & Joe Smith Jr are set to go to war for the vacant WBO Light Heavyweight championship.
The 16 year veteran Maksim Vlasov (46-3/25 KOs) will soon be entering his 50th professional fight, with the chance to cement his legacy and finally call himself a world champion. The road to that dream however has been quite long and not without its hiccups.
Vlasov began his career back in 2005 at Super Middleweight, where he ended up being undefeated. His most significant win in the division was against former European champion & 4x world title challenger Khoren Gevor (34-10).
As a Light Heavyweight, Vlasov suffered only 2 losses, a controversial one to Isaac Chilemba (26-7), which was avenged in 2019 and a close match with the unbeaten Gilbert Ramirez (41-0). In that bout, Vlasov had problems with his endurance, due to the weight cutting, which is why he then moved up to Cruiserweight.
It was there, where the Russian had his big moment, when he came face to face with 2008 Olympic champion Rakhim Chakhkiev (26-3) for the vacant WBA International title. Vlasov shined that night. He scored a fast knockdown in the 2nd with a short right hook and rocked Chakhkiev hard at the end of the round. The fight could have possibly ended there, had it not been for the timekeeper mistakenly ringing the bell 15 seconds earlier than he should have. Vlasov nailed him again with a straight right hand in the 5th, scoring a second knockdown. The action picked up in the next round, as Chakhkiev dropped him with a liver shot of his own. The two men continued to trade bombs until Vlasov returned the favour, flooring the Olympian for the third time. At the 7th round, Vlasov put Chakhkiev down for good this time, after connecting with a plethora of punches and another straight right to the jaw. It undoubtedly was the most spectacular battle of an already great night of boxing. (Gassiev vs. Lebedev was the co-main event, while names like Kudryashov and Troyanovsky were also competing)
Vlasov qualified for the 2018 Cruiserweight WBSS tournament, after dominating former WBC Silver champion Olanrewaju Durodola (34-8), only to be eliminated by Krzysztof Glowacki (31-2) at the quarter finals. After that defeat, he switched back to Light Heavyweight and quickly captured the WBO Global title, winning 4 fights in a row over Omar Garcia (16-4), Isaac Chilemba (26-7) as aforementioned, Emmanuel Martey (15-1) and Sergei Ekimov (18-2), earning himself another crack at the gold. In order to fulfil his longtime goal though, he will have to go thrown a very rugged opponent.
A bona fide KO artist that possesses massive power in both hands, Joe Smith Jr (26-3/21 KOs) has ended most of his fights within 6 rounds.
His first major victory came in 2016, when he took on former IBO champion Andrzej Fonfara (30-5) for the WBC International title. In a surprising turn of events, Smith put the Polish fighter down midway of the opening round with a thunderous right hook, before finishing him off just a few seconds later.
Smith would then go on to knock an aged Bernard Hopkins (55-8) out of the ring, successfully defending his belt and moving up in the rankings. However his momentum was momentarily cut short after losing to Sullivan Barrera (22-3) in a world title eliminator. Despite dropping him in the 1st, Smith didn’t do enough as the fight progressed to get the decision. He returned to action almost a year later (Smith’s jaw was broken in the Barrera match) and quickly earned himself an opportunity at the WBA champion Dmitry Bivol (17-0), but was completely outclassed during their encounter, giving the undefeated Russian some trouble only in the 10th round.
In 2020, he made another strong comeback, this time against 2x world title challenger Jesse Hart (26-3). A relentless Smith kept the pressure on, continuously moving forward and throwing way more punches than his opponent. After 10 punishing rounds and 1 knockdown, Smith was once again back on track.
He solidified his place at the top of the Light Heavyweight rankings last August, with an impressive performance over Eleider Alvarez (25-2). Smith overwhelmed the former WBO champion, virtually leaving him no room for an offense of his own. By the 5th round, Alvarez had already a bruised face and was bleeding profusely from the nose. Smith finally connected with a sharp straight right in the mush, following it up with a left, to drop Eleider and become the #1 contender for the vacant WBO crown. The “working” Joe is now only a step away from realizing his full potential and claim his first world title.
When you take a closer look at these 2 guys, you can find similarities in their careers as well as their styles. Both are pressure fighters and even though they have a strong right hand, usually it’s not a one hit punch that does the job. They tend to beat down their opponents before finishing them off with it. Moreover, both men have a good chin. Vlasov has never been stopped in his entire career, while Smith has only been once, but that was a decade ago. Power wise, Joe has to be considered the stronger fighter. In spite of Vlasov having more knockouts, Smith has the higher KO ratio. On the other hand, Vlasov has the better footwork and knows how to properly use his reach to his advantage. As far as their resumes are concerned, each man hold wins over accomplished boxers, but the main difference is in their career’s trajectory. Smith’s best performances came last year, whereas Vlasov’s “best hits” belong in the past. It’s also worth mentioning that the Russian fighter seems to have lost some of his knockout power since moving back to Light Heavyweight, where Smith is looking stronger than ever before.
All things considered, Smith must be considered the favourite in this match, but at the same time, Vlasov has proven to be a formidable fighter and not an easy one to dispose of. If he manages to keep his distance and cuts off Smith’s barrage, we might be looking at the 4th Russian born Light Heavyweight champion of the world.
By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On March 9th, in Verona, Wisconsin, Dmitry Bivol will defend the WBA Light Heavyweight World Championship against top contender Joe Smith Jr.
Dmitry Bivol (15-0/11 KOs) is considered to be one of the top boxers of his division today (currently ranked #3 by the Ring & BoxRec). Boasting an amateur record of 268 wins and only 15 losses, Bivol won numerous titles from 2006 to 2014, including youth and junior World championships, 2 National tournaments as well as gold at the 2013 World Combat Games.
Turned pro in 2014 (23 years old) and in 15 months he had already garnered 6 victories, all stoppages. During that time Bivol gained the WBC U.S. Silver & WBA Intercontinental titles, proving his skills early on in his career, while establishing his right hand as a legit threat to anyone that stepped into the ring with him.
In May of 2016, the Russian prodigy went toe to toe with the reigning WBA interim World champion Felix Valera, for the Light Heavyweight strap. Valera was also undefeated at the time, standing at 13-0, with 12 stoppages, most of them coming in the first round. Bivol outboxed the champion in every single round, and even dropped him twice, earning a wide unanimous decision and of course the interim championship.
Bivol proceeded to defend his belt against Robert Berridge (30-7) and Samuel Clarkson (21-5) in 2 one sided beatdowns, knocking them down three times each before getting the TKO win in the 4th round. He then faced 30 fight veteran Cedric Agnew, in a non title match. Bivol dropped him in 2 minutes of the very 1st round with a fast combination and continued to punishing him until the referee waved the fight off in the 4th. It’s worth mentioning that Agnew’s only KO loss prior to this was against fellow Russian champion Kovalev, who needed 7 rounds to get the job done. In these last 3 bouts, Bivol showcased some excellent bodywork, which we hadn’t seen much from him in the past.
After Badou Jack vacated the WBA title, Bivol was promoted to Regular champion. As such, he marked his inaugural title defense over Trent Broadhurst, in November of 2017. The Australian was on a 13 fight winning streak and hadn’t lost in 6 years. Bivol stopped him with a perfectly placed right on the chin, in the very last second of the 1st round.
In 2018, Bivol defended his World title thrice, against Sullivan Barrera, Isaac Chilemba and Jean Pascal. Barrera got dominated for 12 consecutive rounds, taking shots nonstop until a right hook sealed the deal. Chilemba had already suffered back to back losses to Alvarez, Kovalev and Gvozdyk, thus not proving to be much of a challenge. The most significant out of the three was the former WBC World champion Pascal, who put up a much better fight that the other two, connecting with some good punches through out the fight, but it wasn’t enough overall to take the belt away from Bivol, who systematically picked him apart and got the win one more time. Now for his 5th one, he will have to face a much stronger boxer this time.
Joe Smith Jr. (24-2/20 KOs), a bona fide KO artist with knockout power in both of his hands, has finished most of his opponents within 6 rounds. 2019 will mark the young veteran’s 10th anniversary into the sport, as he aims to finally add a World championship to his collection.
His first major success came in 2016, when he took on world title contender Andrzej Fonfara (30-5) for the WBC International title. In a surprising turn of events, Smith put the Polish fighter down in the midway of the opening round, before finishing him off with a left & right hook combination a few seconds later.
However, Smith’s biggest test came 6 months later, as he was set to go face to face with legendary boxer Bernard Hopkins, in the main event of a Golden Boy show, broadcasted live on HBO. Hopkins, the 2 division World, Lineal & Ring champion, came out of retirement for one last match and the opportunity to go out with a win and another belt. After 8 action packed rounds, Smith shocked the world again when he caught Hopkins with a thunderous left uppercut, which knocked him out of the ring. Unable to respond to the 20 count, Smith was declared the winner, in what definitely must be his most important victory to date.
Smith’s momentum was momentarily cut short in 2017 after losing to Sullivan Barrera in a world title eliminator. Despite dropping Barrera in the 1st, he didn’t do enough, as the fight progressed, to get the decision. He returned to action almost a year later (Smith’s jaw was broken in the Barrera match) and completely dominated Melvin Russell, putting himself again in world title contention.
This could be Bivol’s toughest fight yet. Smith has the highest KO ratio of any of Bivol’s previous opponents (77%), while he’s also the youngest and the most experienced one, in terms of years competing as a pro. He might not be the most technically sound boxer in the division but he’s certainly one of the strongest punchers. Smith’s style can be described as aggressive, always moving forward, trying to get the KO as soon as possible and that strategy has worked very well for him thus far (minus 2 fights). On the other hand, Bivol is as technically sound as it gets. He never rushes to finish the fight. He stays patient, picking his shots and most times manages to drop his opponent, usually with a well calculated right hand. If he (Bivol’s rival) manages to get back up, then and only then Bivol storms in with incredibly fast (for his weight class) combinations, going for the kill, and if he doesn’t go down again, Bivol disengages and starts over. To conclude with, the only unknown factor here is if Bivol can withstand Smith’s power. If yes, then a 5th successful title defense is almost guaranteed, as he will try to take this to the distance, which will play in his favour, since Smith has never gone to the 12th round. If not, then Smith will be crowned the 43rd WBA Light Heavyweight World Champion ! Either way, we will get our answer this coming Saturday.
World Title Previews
The biggest fights get broken down as we try to predict who will come out on top in the up coming world title bouts.