In December, boxing superstar and consensus pound-for-pound king Saul “Canelo” Alvarez vacated the WBO light heavyweight title he lifted from Sergey Kovalev the previous year. With that, an opportunity for a new stakeholder to take his place in the 175 pound title picture has presented itself.
Harry How | Getty Images
On Feb. 13, no. 1 ranked WBO contender Joe Smith Jr. (26-3, 21 KO) will face the no. 3 ranked Maxim Vlasov (45-3, 26 KO) for the vacant belt. The fight will headline a Top Rank Boxing card from The Bubble at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Smith, 31, first competed at a world level in 2016, scoring knockout victories over Andrzej Fonfara and future hall of famer/former two-division world champion Bernard Hopkins. That momentum was halted though, when he lost a decision to Sullivan Barrera the next year. After picking up a bounce-back KO win in 2018, Smith then challenged for the WBA light heavyweight title against Dmitry Bivol in March 2019. Despite having momentary success against Bivol, Smith lost a unanimous decision.
The Long Islander has since embarked on a two-fight win streak: a split-decision win over top contender Jesse Hart and a TKO win over former titleholder Eleider Alvarez. Both victories came in 2020.
Vlasov, 34, has spent the majority of his career to date bouncing around between the super middleweight, light heavyweight and cruiserweight divisions, and has shared the ring with familiar names such as Gilberto Ramirez, Isaac Chilemba (twice) and Krzysztof Glowacki. For now, the Russian pugilist has decided to focus on winning a title at light heavyweight and has won three-straight fights since losing to Glowacki in 2018.
Maxim Vlasov | Boxing Scene
A win for either fighter could bring a lucrative unification match with Artur Beterbiev, who holds the IBF/WBC belts, or a unification fight with Bivol, who holds the WBA strap.
Fighter’s Form (last 5 fights):
Joe Smith Jr.
Eleider Alvarez - WIN by TKO 9 - 22/08/2020
Jesse Hart - WIN by SD (98-91, 97-92, 95-94 [for Hart]) 20/07/2019
Dmitry Bivol - LOSS by UD (119-109, 119-109, 118-110) - 09/03/2019
Melvin Russell - WIN by KO 1 - 30/06/2018
Sullivan Barrera - LOSS by UD (97-92, 97-92, 96-93) - 15/07/2017
Isaac Chilemba - WIN by UD (117-110,117-110, 116-11) - 20/07/2019
Krzystof Glowacki - LOSS by UD (118-110,117-110, 115-112) - 10/11/2018
Olanrewaju Durodola - WIN by TKO after 10 - 03/02/2018
Vikapita Meroro - WIN by KO 1 - 21/12/2017
Denton Daley - WIN by TKO 9 - 07/09/2017
Date: February 13th, 2021