Maxim Vlasov realizes fans and media might not think he can beat Joe Smith Jr.

The veteran light heavyweight contender even surmised Smith is thinking too much about a future fight with Artur Beterbiev, the unbeaten IBF/WBC 175-pound champion. Handicappers have established Smith as slightly more than a 3-1 favorite over Vlasov, but the 34-year-old Russian warned that he is more than capable of upsetting Smith in a 12-round, 175-pound title fight that must be rescheduled because Vlasov tested positive for COVID-19.

“I would advise Joe Smith to not look forward so far,” Vlasov said during a virtual press conference. “He has to pass me first to plan his further fights. And as I said already, I understand that in this particular fight with Joe Smith, I’m the underdog, yes, and nobody [believes in] me much in this particular fight.

“But I’m gonna take everybody by surprise. And then, yes, I might think about [future] fights, what to do next and to fight with these obvious champions – these great fighters Beterbiev or [Dmitry] Bivol. But this is my next step. Right now, I’m fully focused on this fight with Joe Smith Jr.”

Bob Arum, whose company co-promotes Long Island’s Smith (26-3, 21 KOs) and Russia’s Beterbiev (15-0, 15 KOs), wants to match them later this year if the favored fighters win their upcoming appearances.

Smith was supposed to battle Vlasov (45-3, 26 KOs) in an ESPN main event Saturday night at MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas. Their fight was postponed indefinitely Thursday due to Vlasov’s failed COVID-19 test.

Beterbiev will make a mandated defense of his IBF belt against Germany’s Adam Deines (19-1-1, 10 KOs) on March 20 at Megasport Sports Palace in Moscow. Beterbiev is listed by most Internet sports books as at least a 33-1 favorite to defeat Deines.

Vlasov is 3-0 since he moved back down to the light heavyweight division following a 12-round, unanimous-decision defeat to Poland’s Krzysztof Glowacki in their November 2018 fight for the WBO interim cruiserweight championship.

The 6-feet-3½ Vlasov’s previous losses were 10-round, unanimous-decision defeats to Gilberto Ramirez and Isaac Chilemba in light heavyweight fights. Vlasov avenged his defeat to South Africa’s Chilemba by out-boxing Chilemba (26-7-2, 10 KOs) in their 12-rounder in July 2019.

Smith, meanwhile, has recorded impressive back-to-back victories over Jesse Hart and Eleider Alvarez in his past two bouts. He became the first fighter to knock out Colombia’s Alvarez (25-2, 13 KOs), who was sent out of the ring by Smith’s right-left combination in the ninth round August 22 at MGM Grand Conference Center.

“I understand that the fight will be tough,” Vlasov said. “But again, I’m happy to be here, I’m happy to fight this fight. And if anybody [underestimates] me, as I said before, I will surprise you all.” 

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