The battle for the vacant WBO Light-Heavyweight world championship between top contenders Joe Smith Jr. and Maxim Vlasov was one that like many saw complications and subsequent delays due to the ongoing global COVID-19 epidemic. In this case, there was a delay of eight weeks from the original date of February 14th in Las Vegas and the rescheduled date of April 14th in Tulsa, OK.
Beyond the obvious question that follows a fight that has been delayed under the circumstances of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis of how will the delay impact the fighters involved, the delay also allowed the fight to be moved from the closed confines of the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas to the Osage Casino in Tulsa where a crowd of around five-hundred spectators following COVID-19 protocols, which included temperature checks, as well as a mandate of wearing face masks were allowed to attend.
The limited number of spectators were treated to one of the best fights in what has been deemed the “COVID-era” by some. For twelve rounds, Smith and Vlasov engaged in a grueling battle fought at an extremely high pace from the opening bell that was frankly exhausting to watch. A pace that was established and maintained throughout the entire twelve round world championship bout by Vlasov.
Although it is very rare to see a twelve round bout fought at such a high pace all the way through, some might say it was more surprising under these circumstances due to Vlasov’s testing positive for COVID-19 during the week of the originally scheduled bout in February, which led to the postponement. For his part, Vlasov claimed in the days leading up to this fight eight weeks after the postponement that he had experienced no symptoms consistent with the COVID-19 virus and that he believed the instance of his testing positive for the virus was a case of s false positive.
Whatever the case might be in regard to what led to the initial postponement, it certainly appeared to this observer that Vlasov did not seem to have any problems that would give the impression that he were coming off of a bout with COVID-19. Nevertheless, it was a testament to his conditioning that he could set and maintain such a pace.
Many of the rounds in this fight were extremely close. The dynamic of the combat was Vlasov pressing the action, seemingly throwing more punches, but Smith landing the harder punches of the two fighters. As this observer has often said over the years when it comes to close fights it will often boil down to what a judge prefers in their own individual criteria based on clean punching, effective aggression, ring generalship, and defense.
While when discussing close fights I almost always reference the aforementioned criteria, this was a fight where all the above was clearly illustrated between the two boxers and enough criteria/evidence exists where one could make an argument for either fighter as having won this fight.
For Maxim Vlasov, beyond his greater activity and bringing the fight to Smith, he used an unorthodox style, which he used a lot of lateral movement specifically in his upper body as well as throwing punches at every conceivable angle. It was this approach that disrupted Smith from getting into a consistent rhythm and that I felt gave him a slight edge over the first half of the fight.
The difference that gradually began to emerge as the bout progressed was the harder punches Smith was able to land as well as the effective work he was able to execute to Vlasov’s body. At the conclusion of the twelve round world championship bout, I felt a sense that it could go either way, the usual feeling that follows a close fights in every sense of the word.
In all honesty if one were to ask my opinion as to who I felt won this bout, this is an instance where I could not provide a solid answer one way or another based on the arguments that can be made for both men. This had all the appearance of a fight that could be determined by a round either way, or one that could have ended up being scored a draw. Simply put, it was that close.
The official scoring of a majority decision was one that was adequate in this observer’s view based on what took place when the two fighters were in the midst of combat. While this is not always the case when three official judges render scores that make up a majority decision, this was the type of bout where frankly no other ruling would have been appropriate. Although I personally couldn’t distinguish a clear winner as I ended up with an even scorecard 114-114, two judges turning in scores of 115-112 and 115-113 or seven rounds to five is about as narrow a margin as it gets. If one of those scores had a round scored in favor of Vlasov, you arrive essentially at the same 114-114 score as I and the third official judge David Sutherland saw the bout. The exception one could point to is the scorecard of Judge Gerald Ritter, who turned in the 115-112 scorecard. The one difference between his scorecard and the 115-113 scorecard of Judge Pat Russell was that he scored the eleventh round 10-8 in favor of Smith, resulting in the one point difference in an otherwise seven rounds to five scorecard.
In that round, Smith did get the better of the action and Vlasov appeared to be fatigued in what was a grueling bout. While I did not feel a 10-8 score was warranted in that round, Smith did win the round and Ritter’s scoring of that round is likely a case of one’s discretion. No matter how one saw that round, it does not change that it was a close bout that certainly deserves a rematch.
In previewing this bout back in February, I questioned whether or not this bout would signal the beginning of a new era for the 175lb. Light-Heavyweight division. While I would not necessarily suggest that the question was answered as the division looks for it’s next central figure, fights that are fought in the way that Smith-Vlasov was does indicate that whomever emerges atop the Light-Heavyweights in an emerging post-Sergey Kovalev era, the division will be in good hands.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
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