It has been a long road towards a world championship for Joe Smith Jr.
He scored knockout victories over the likes of Bernard Hopkins and Andresz Fonfara but also lost to Dmitry Bivol and Sullivan Barrera, and the loss to Bivol made it look like it would be tough for the native of Long Island to get another title shot. A big win over former champion Eleider Alvarez put him in the position to fight for a world title again, and it nearly took all the energy that he had.
A game opponent in Maxim Vlasov had Smith struggling in the opening rounds, even causing a cut to form above Smith’s eye. However, Smith found his way back over the course of the fight and after 12 rounds got the majority decision (115-113, 115-112, 114-114) to win the WBO light heavyweight championship in front of the crowd at the Osage Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The corner for Smith jumped in jubilation as he was named the new champion as the months (and years) of hard work finally paid off.
Smith came in as the favorite but Vlasov was the one starting the bout with the movement and sharper punching, giving Smith issues as it took a few rounds for Smith to get into the bout. It was the inside fighting and power punches that shifted the momentum back to Smith midway through the fight. After suffering a cut to his eye, Smith responded with right hands that landed to have Vlasov bleeding from the mouth. It was a back and forth encounter until the later rounds when it seemed like Smith may have hurt Vlasov to the point where the fight could have been stopped.
A combination by Smith in the 11th round had Vlasov in trouble and Vlasov went to the canvas, but it was not counted as a knockdown by the referee as he ruled that Vlasov was hit behind the head. That could have taken away the charge that Smith had up to that point, but his determination for the rest of that round and the 12th carried him to victory.
Once the decision was announced and Smith was awarded the WBO title, he was relieved. “It’s a great feeling. It was definitely a close, tough fight,” Smith said. “I give it to Vlasov. Great fighter. He really put on a great show tonight and toughed it out.”
He believed that his overall activity throughout the fight was the difference between him and the Russian.
“I believe I got the victory tonight because they saw I landed the harder shots. He landed a lot of punches. It was a great fight.”
For Vlasov, it was a crushing defeat as he felt that he started the fight strong and had a sizable lead over Smith in the later stages of the fight.
“I thought I was winning rounds and was well ahead,” Vlasov said. “Against the aggressive style of Joe Smith, I came forward the entire fight. I felt confident I was winning and was securing rounds in the bank with the judges.”
“I never felt that I was behind at any stage of the fight. This was my opportunity to show the world I was a world champion, and I did that, and Joe Smith knows I did that.”
Smith is now 27-3 and the future is bright for him as he has an opportunity to further prove himself in the light heavyweight division. The other world champions will be available for him to fight later this year, which could mean a rematch against Bivol. After getting the WBO belt, Smith is eager to unify.
“I want the other belts. I want the big fights out there. Now I gotta get back in the gym and keep working on my technique and stuff. I believe I’m going to start unifying belts.”