Joe Smith Jr.: I am going to make my dream come true and become world champion
Joe Smith, who is ranked No. 4 by The Ring at 175 pounds, and Maxim Vlasov will square off for the vacant WBO light heavyweight title on February 13, Top Rank officially announced on Tuesday.
A venue and location for the fight have yet to be announced but it could end up at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada, where Top Rank has promoted fight cards since June due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Smith and Vlasov will be fighting for the belt vacated by Canelo Alvarez less than a month after stopping Sergey Kovalev on November 2 of last year.
Smith (26-3, 21 knockouts), who resides in Long Island, New York, most recently fought on August 22, outboxing Eleider Alvarez before ending matters in Round 9. Alvarez once held the WBO title by knocking out Kovalev in August 2018, losing it in their rematch less than six months later.
The 31-year-old’s most notable win was by knockout over former middleweight and light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins in December 2016. The impact of the punch forced Hopkins to fall through the ropes and onto the floor, where he was counted out at 20 after struggling to get back into ring.
Known for his blue-collar work ethic, whether it is his aggressive style in the ring or as an owner of a tree-trimming business on Long Island, Smith believes he is ready for an opportunity at a world title after overcoming losses to Sullivan Barrera and WBA titleholder Dmitry Bivol.
“I have worked very hard to get a second opportunity at a world title,” said Smith, who also has wins over Jesse Hart and Andrzej Fonfara, is co-promoted by Top Rank and Star Boxing. “I feel I have improved and, on February 13, I am going to make my dream come true and become world champion.”
“This is ‘Rocky IV’ come to life,” said Top Rank chairman Bob Arum. “Joe Smith Jr. is boxing’s blue-collar hero, a relentless fighter who chops down trees outside the ring and chops down opponents when the lights are bright. Maxim Vlasov is a tough Russian who is going to meet Joe punch for punch in the center of the ring. This will be an early contender for ‘2021 Fight of the Year.’”
Joe DeGuardia of Star Boxing agrees.
“I am very confident that Joe Smith Jr. will be the new WBO world champion but I also know that Maxim Vlasov is a strong and seasoned fighter who also wants to become champion,” said DeGuardia. “It will make for a great night of boxing on ESPN. Kudos to the WBO for recognizing Joe’s talents and mandating this fight and to Bob Arum and Top Rank for their continued excellence during this pandemic.”
Vlasov (45-3, 26 KOs), who resides in Samara, Russia, defeated previously-unbeaten Emmanuel Martey over 10 one-sided rounds on November 30 of last year. Vlasov has won his last three bouts since losing by unanimous decision to former WBO cruiserweight titlist Krzysztof Glowacki, of Poland, in November 2018.
Prior to his most recent fights, Vlasov competed as a cruiserweight. His other notable bouts included decision losses to Gilberto Ramirez in January 2015 and Isaac Chilemba in February 2011.
“This is a great chance and perhaps my last opportunity to finally become a world champion,” said Vlasov. “Smith is a strong and relentless fighter, so I expect a very serious challenge.”
In the co-feature, former IBF lightweight titleholder Richard Commey, who is ranked No. 3 by The Ring, will square off against Jackson Marinez in a 10-round bout.
Both fighters suffered a loss in their most recent fights and it’s arguable that they can’t afford another. A victory would put the winner back in world title contention.
Commey (29-3, 26 KOs), who is originally from Accra, Ghana, and now resides in the Bronx, New York, lost by technical knockout in Round 2 to Teofimo Lopez on December 14 of last year. Commey would lose the IBF title to Lopez, who would unify the belts at 135 pounds after defeating Vasiliy Lomachenko on October 17.
Marinez (19-1, 7 KOs) is best known for losing a controversial unanimous decision to lightweight prospect Rolando Romero in his most recent bout on August 15. The fighter, who resides in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, is trained by Robert Garcia.
Francisco A. Salazar has written for The Ring since October of 2013 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (California) Star newspaper. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @FSalazarBoxing.
GET THE LATEST ISSUE AT THE RING SHOP (CLICK HERE)