The light heavyweight division will crown a new world champion in February as Joe Smith Jr. will take on Maxim Vlasov for the WBO light heavyweight title. It will be held in the MGM Grand Ballroom in Las Vegas and promoted by Top Rank in association with Joe DeGuardia’s Star Boxing and Patriot Promotions. Smith and Vlasov are fighting for a title that has been vacant since 2019 after Canelo Alvarez relinquished it following his victory over Sergey Kovalev.
Smith (26-3, 21 KOs) got back into title contention after his defeat to Dmitry Bivol with victories over Jesse Hart and Eleider Alvarez this year. With his win over the former world champion in Alvarez, the Long Island native gets another opportunity at a world title. Vlasov (45-3, 26 KOs) has been fighting in three different weight classes, most recently being at cruiserweight before moving down to light heavyweight last year. He avenged a loss to Isaac Chilemba and defeated Emmanuel Martey to be a top contender in the light heavyweight division and now this will be his first chance to become a world champion.
Joe Smith is becoming a fan favorite with his latest wins and Top Rank chairman Bob Arum recognizes that, and also points out that Smith is doing this while owning a tree service business. “Joe Smith Jr. is boxing’s blue-collar hero,” Arum said. “He’s a relentless fighter who chops down trees outside the ring and chops down opponents when the lights are bright.”
Joe DiGuardia has been with Smith for years and is very confident about his fighter, but knows how good Vlasov is. “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,” he said following the announcement of this fight.
The 31-year-old from Long Island has continuously worked on his skills in the gym, and he believes that on February 13th he will come out as the victor. “I have worked very hard to get a second opportunity at a world title,” Smith said. “I feel I have improved, and on February 13, I am going to make my dream come true and become world champion.”
His opponent has also worked hard to get to this position and does not want to squander it. Vlasov is a 15 year veteran and he knows that this is the opportunity of a lifetime. “This is a great chance, and perhaps my last opportunity, to finally become a world champion,” Vlasov said. “Smith is a strong and relentless fighter, so I expect a very serious challenge.”
This bout headlines a card that will be shown live on ESPN starting at 10pm ET, which includes former IBF lightweight champion Richard Commey against Jackson Marinez. Commey will be in his first bout since losing to Teofimo Lopez, and Marinez is coming off a controversial decision loss to Rolando Romero.
Cover photo by Mikey Williams of Top Rank