By: Hans Themistode
Joe Smith Jr. was disappointed with what took place a few years ago. In March of 2019, the Long Island, New York, native was thoroughly outclassed against WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol. Instead of giving up on his dream, Smith Jr. simply placed his head down and got to work.
With back-to-back wins against Jesse Hart and Eleider Alvarez as an underdog, Smith Jr. (27-3, 21 KOs) had effectively worked his way back to world title contention and didn’t waste his newly acquired opportunity.
In front of roughly 500 fans inside of Osage Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Smith Jr. took on fellow streaking contender Maxim Vlasov.
Despite coming in as the favorite, things didn’t start off great for Smith Jr. The herky-jerky style of his opponent threw his rhythm off completely. The Long Island native’s head was repeatedly snapped back due to the consistent jab of his man and while he attempted to throw something back in return, Smith Jr. couldn’t find the target.
An early cut in round two made things worst for the championship hopeful. He attempted to wipe the blood from his eye and get himself back into the fight but Vlasov continued to befuddle him. With an early deficit, the sparse crowd attempted to push him forward as they yelled at the top of their lungs. Seemingly encouraged by all of the support, Smith Jr. began landing some big shots.
Vlasov, to his credit, kept his composure and continued to push the pace. For much of the middle rounds, both men fought on even terms. With Vlasov pocketing several of the early rounds though, simply fighting on even terms wasn’t going to get the job done for Smith Jr.
As the championship rounds rolled by, Vlasov (45-4, 26 KOs) slowly began fading as Smith Jr. caught his second wind. The shots he threw during the first half of their fight that hit nothing but air, now found their target and Vlasov’s face began marking up as a result of it.
Wanting to leave nothing up to chance, Smith Jr. closed their contest strong, including a 12th round flurry that most likely sealed his championship fate. While all three judges struggled to give a definitive answer to their showdown, Smith Jr. was elated once his name was called at the end of a majority decision by the scores of 114-114, 115-112 and 115-113.
Smith Jr.’s title dreams may have come to fruition but he appears to be already looking ahead.
“I want the other belts,” said Smith Jr. during the post-fight interview. “I want to unify.”
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