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.
World Title Previews
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