As a title eliminator is now set between Eleider Alvarez and Joe Smith Jr., the other side of the light heavyweight bracket now awaits its marching orders.
Alvarez (25-1, 13KOs) and Smith (25-3, 20KOs) are heading towards a light heavyweight collision in July, as part of a four-man tournament ordered earlier this year by the World Boxing Organization (WBO). Their bout is tentatively slated to take place July 16 at the MGM Grand Convention Center in Las Vegas, as part of Top Rank’s summer series on ESPN and its accompanying platforms.
The winner of their 175-pound semifinal clash will go on to face whomever prevails in the other WBO-ordered title eliminator between Umar Salamov and Maksim Vlasov, with the vacant WBO light heavyweight title to be at stake. Of course, that final pairing can’t happen until its preceding bouts are in the books, which means finding a home for the forthcoming showdown between Salamov and Vlasov.
“We are waiting [to hear] from Top Rank for our fight date,” Oleg Bogdanov, manager to both boxers told BoxingScene.com. “Both guys are training in Russia.”
The fight between the pair of Russian light heavyweights was ordered back in July, along with a tournament semifinal clash between Alvarez and Mexico’s Gilberto Ramirez (40-0, 26KOs). The latter bout went to a purse bid, which Top Rank won with a $350,000 submission as the lone bidder.
Ramirez—who is at odds with his now estranged promoter—declined to move forward with the fight, leading to his being replaced by Smith as the next highest contender in the WBO light heavyweight rankings.
As previously reported by BoxingScene.com, Canada’s Alvarez and Long Island, New York’s Smith have both agreed to terms for their fight. Technically, so have their tournament counterparts, although getting them in the ring is proving a bit more problematic at the moment.
Salamov (25-1, 19KOs)—who signed with Top Rank earlier this year—was born and raised in Grozny, Russia and also claims Las Vegas as his home particularly when training for a fight in the United States. The 25-year old knockout artist has been at home and unable to leave due to the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, as is the case for Vlasov (45-3, 26KOs)—a 33-year old from Samara, Russia.
“Umar was in Grozny and planning to go to Las Vegas as soon as the borders will be open,” informs Bogdanov. “Maksim was in training camp on the Black Sea coast.
“Both want the fight ASAP, of course.”
Vlasov has claimed three straight wins since a 12-round loss to Poland’s Krzysztof Glowacki in their October 2018 interim cruiserweight title fight. All three wins came in 2019 and after dropping back down to light heavyweight, including decision wins over former title challenger Isaac Chilemba last July and unbeaten Emmanuel Martey last November.
Salamov—who turns 26 this month—is riding a six-fight win streak since a 10-round loss to Damien Hooper in July 2017 on the road in Brisbane, Australia. His last four starts have all taken place in Russia, including a 3rd round knockout of Emmanuel Danso last September in the latter of two straight appearances in his Grozny hometown.
The four-man light heavyweight tournament was created by the WBO in effort to crown a new titlist. The belt was vacated by Mexican icon Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez (53-1-2, 36KOs), whom claimed the belt with an 11th round knockout of now-former three-time titlist Sergey Kovalev last November in Las Vegas. The reign lasted barely six weeks before relinquishing the title, with the three-division champ dropping down to 168 for the time being.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox