Much of the last decade in the 175lb. Light-Heavyweight division was largely dominated by former three-time Light-Heavyweight world champion Sergey Kovalev, who ultimately served as a central figure for the division over that period of time. In recent times however, Kovalev has been more known for what he has been involved in outside the ring including recently testing positive for a banned substance, which forced the cancellation of his scheduled January 30th bout with Bek Melkuziev. With the future of Kovalev very much uncertain, the Light-Heavyweight division appears to be embarking on a new era as top contenders Joe Smith Jr. and Maxim Vlasov will meet on February 13th at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas, NV for the vacant WBO Light-Heavyweight world championship. A crown, which Kovalev held three times and one that has been vacant since his loss to Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in November 2019. With Alvarez choosing to relinquish the championship to focus on opportunities in the 168 lb. Super-Middleweight division, it has created an opening for Smith and Vlasov to attempt to enter the picture amongst the world champions of the division that are each trying to emerge as its new central focus.
Joe Smith Jr. emerged on the scene in the eyes of many with his knockout victory over future Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins in December 2016. While that win did establish Smith as a force to be reckoned with in the Light-Heavyweight division as well as giving him the status as being the only fighter to ever stop Hopkins, doing so in the final fight of Hopkins’ legendary career, he has suffered some setbacks and has not been able to go from top contender to a world champion. Some may recall Smith’s two losses that followed his victory over Hopkins to top contender Sullivan Barrera in 2017 and undefeated WBA world champion Dmitry Bivol in 2019. Although Smith lost those fights, he gave a good account of himself in defeat, was not stopped in either of those bouts and has maintained his status as a top contender in the division by compiling two victories in his last two fights over Jesse Hart and scoring a stoppage of former WBO world champion Eleider Alvarez in his last fight in August of last year.
Smith has scored knockouts in twenty-one of his twenty-six career wins compiling a career knockout percentage of nearly 73%. Despite being known for his punching power, Smith has also shown that he can box and has an ability to adapt as a fight progresses. In Maxim Vlasov, Smith will face an opponent, who like him has never been stopped in his career, but a fighter who some might say has not succeeded when he has stepped up in caliber of opposition in his career.
Vlasov will enter this bout with a record of 45-3, with 26 Knockouts compared to Smith’s 26-3, with 21 Knockouts. Even though Vlasov has an experience edge over Smith, it will be Smith who will likely have more recognition going into this fight.
What this fight appears to be in my eyes is an encounter between two boxer/punchers and one might argue that it could end quickly or could easily go the distance. This appears to be one of those bouts that you just do not know what type fight it will be going in.
Despite the experience edge Vlasov has going in, he has lost against fighters such as Isaac Chilemba, Gilberto Ramirez, and more recently, Krzysztof Glowacki in November 2018. Perhaps one advantage Vlasov will have over Smith in addition to experience is several of his bouts took place in the Cruiserweight division and he was able to avenge his loss to Chilemba in a rematch in 2019. Much like Smith, Vlasov will enter on a win streak having won his last three bouts. The questions that I have going into this fight is whether or not Vlasov will be able to deal with the consistent pressure and punching power of Smith for twelve rounds and whether or not he will be able to be elusive and nullify that pressure.
What will lie ahead for the winner of this fight could be some lucrative opportunities against fellow world champions of the division including WBA world champion Dmitry Bivol and unified IBF/WBC world champion Artur Beterbiev. As this observer has often said over the years however, before any talk can take place regarding potential fights that could be made and the various financial figures that are involved, there is business to attend to first for both Joe Smith and Maxim Vlasov.
Who will emerge in what might be the post--Sergey Kovalev era as the next central figure in the Light-Heavyweight division is anyone’s guess, but it sure will be an interesting process to watch as it evolves.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
Smith vs. Vlasov takes place on Saturday, February 13th at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas, NV. The card can be seen in the United States on digital subscription streaming network ESPN+ beginning at 7 PM ET/4 PM PT. The main event portion of the card will also be simulcast on the linear ESPN main network across cable and satellite providers beginning at 10 PM ET/7 PM PT. For more information about ESPN+ including schedules, list of compatible streaming devices, platforms, and smart TVs, and to subscribe please visit: plus.espn.com/. For more information about ESPN please visit: www.espn.com. Check your local listings internationally.
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