Joe Smith Jr. pressured Eleider Alvarez until the former WBO light heavyweight champion couldn’t take it anymore Saturday night.

Smith knocked out Alvarez with a right-left combination early in the ninth round of their WBO 175-pound elimination match at MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas. The hard-hitting Smith’s right rocked Alvarez and his left knocked an off-balance Alvarez through the two bottom ropes, onto the ring apron.

Colombia’s Alvarez attempted to get up, but referee Tony Weeks already had counted him out by the time Alvarez climbed back through the ropes. Their scheduled 12-rounder was stopped 26 seconds into the ninth round.

The 30-year-old Smith (26-3, 21 KOs), of Mastic, New York, became the first fighter to knock out the 36-year-old Alvarez (25-2, 13 KOs) and secured a title shot in his next fight. Alvarez, a Montreal resident, had only lost a 12-round unanimous decision to Sergey Kovalev before Smith stopped him in the main event of an eight-bout card ESPN+ streamed.

“I stopped a former world champion who’s never been stopped before,” Smith told right after one of the two most significant wins of his career. “And I proved that I can box very well, and still get the knockout. I watched tape of him and I seen if you give him pressure, he starts to lay back a little bit and get a little too comfortable and relaxed. So, I just wanted to keep my jab in his face and stay busy. That was the game plan, and we stuck to it.”

All three judges – Julie Lederman (79-73), Dave Moretti (80-72) and Patricia Morse Jarman (79-73) – had Smith way ahead when he knocked out Alvarez. CompuBox credited Smith with landing 54 more punches and throwing 194 more punches than Alvarez (135-of-497 to 81-of-303). 

Smith advanced to fight the winner of another WBO elimination match for the unclaimed WBO light heavyweight title. Russian contenders Umar Salamov (25-1, 19 KOs), who is ranked number one by the WBO, and second-ranked Maksim Vlasov (45-3, 26 KOs) will meet in the other eliminator on a date to be determined.

Canelo Alvarez gave up the WBO 175-pound championship after knocking out Kovalev in the 11th round November 2 at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Kovalev won back that WBO belt from Eleider Alvarez, whom he out-pointed in their 12-round rematch after Eleider Alvarez knocked him out in the seventh round of their first fight two years ago in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Smith, meanwhile, has beaten Eleider Alvarez and Jesse Hart (26-3, 21 KOs) in back-to-back bouts since losing a one-sided, 12-round, unanimous decision to WBA light heavyweight champ Dmitry Bivol (17-0, 11 KOs) in March 2019 in Verona, New York. Smith is most known for knocking out Bernard Hopkins in what was the legendary middleweight and light heavyweight champion’s final fight, but his victory over Alvarez is very gratifying for him, too.

“This is right up there,” Smith said. “I was in great shape for the Bernard Hopkins fight. I was well prepared. He was a crafty guy. Hopkins, he deserves to be known for fighting one of the best light heavyweights in the world, at his age [51 when they fought in December 2016]. And I’m gonna prove that by becoming a world champ.”

Smith-Alvarez was supposed to take place July 16, but it was postponed five weeks due to Alvarez’s shoulder injury. It was clear early in their bout that Alvarez would have difficulty dealing with Smith’s pressure and power.

Smith nailed Alvarez with a hard, right hand about 25 seconds into the eighth round, a sign of what was to come early in the ninth.

A right hand by Alvarez wobbled Smith with just under a minute to go in the seventh round. Alvarez previously landed a right that caught Smith flush with about a minute to go in the sixth round.

Smith started the fifth round without his mouthpiece, which caused Weeks to call for a break, so that Smith’s trainer could insert it. Smith stunned Alvarez with a right hand to the side of his head and then landed a left hook just after the halfway point of the fifth round.

By that point, Alvarez bled badly from his nose and had trouble keeping Smith off him. Smith sensed Alvarez was hurt and tried to finish him, but Alvarez survived his onslaught.

Smith backed Alvarez into the ropes and landed a left hook about a minute into the fourth round. Alvarez nailed Smith with a short, left hook just before the bell sounded to end the fourth round.

Smith snapped back Alvarez’s head with a left uppercut that landed with 35 seconds left in the third round. A right uppercut by Smith landed several seconds earlier.

Smith’s right hand backed Alvarez into a neutral corner with about 1:20 to go in the second round. Alvarez landed a right hand about 20 seconds later that got Smith’s attention.

Alvarez connected with another short, right hand when there were about 30 seconds remaining in the second round.

Smith and Alvarez landed left hooks with about 45 seconds to go in the first round, but both boxers took those shots well. Alvarez blocked several of Smith’s right hands and tied up Smith just before the midway mark of the opening round. 

Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.