Maxim Vlasov told anyone who would listen that he had Joe Smith Jr. all figured out well ahead of their WBO light heavyweight title fight.

After 12 brutal rounds in their ESPN-televised main event, the Russian ring veteran doesn’t feel he was too far off from his pre-fight take.

“This was a very hard-fought, competitive fight. I thought I was winning rounds and was well ahead.  Against the aggressive style of Joe Smith, I came forward the entire fight,” insisted Vlasov following a hard-fought 12-round majority decision defeat Saturday evening at Osage Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “I felt confident I was winning and was securing rounds in the bank with the judges.”

David Sutherland scored the contest 114-114, overruled by judges Pat Russell (115-113) and Gerald Ritter (115-112) who ruled in favor of Smith.

Vlasov (45-4, 26KOs) jumped out to a strong start, not showing any signs of ring rust to be expected with a 17-month layoff. Smith had to dig deep in order to turn the tide, outworked in several rounds though surging ahead late to outland Vlasov 226-to-214, more than one-third of which came in the final two rounds.

Despite the pre-fight notion that Smith was the puncher and Vlasov the boxer, the power edge belonged to Vlasov who landed 187-of-611 power punches (31%), compared to 174-of-508 (34%) for Smith. Both fighters had their moments in several give-and-take rounds before Smith appeared to surge ahead in the championship rounds.

That is not the argument that the evening’s losing fighter wants to hear.

“I never felt that I was behind at any stage of the fight,” insists Vlasov. “This was my opportunity to show the world I was a world champion and I did that and Joe Smith knows I did that.”

Vlasov ends a three-fight win streak with the setback, coming in his first major title fight. The 34-year-old from Samara, Russia suffered his last defeat in a 12-round decision to Krzysztof Glowacki in their Nov. 2018 WBO interim cruiserweight title fight before dropping back down to light heavyweight.

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox