Joe Smith Jr. mostly received rave reviews for how he fought while defeating Eleider Alvarez.
Smith was thoroughly beating Alvarez on all three scorecards before becoming the first opponent to knock out the Colombian contender August 22 in Las Vegas. His right-left combination sent Alvarez through the two bottom ropes, onto the ring apron, flat on his back and out for the count in the ninth round at MGM Grand Conference Center.
Maxim Vlasov, Smith’s opponent in their light heavyweight title fight Saturday night, still isn’t overly impressed with Smith’s performance versus Alvarez. Russia’s Vlasov believes the result of their bout was more the byproduct of what Alvarez didn’t do than what Smith did.
“I don’t think that Joe Smith did anything in particular to win the fight with Alvarez,” Vlasov said. “It’s not like he presented a new technique or did something outstanding or outrageous. I would rather say that Joe Smith was fighting more offensive. He was more aggressive during that fight. He was himself.
“So, it’s more like I would say that the mistakes that Alvarez did allowed Joe Smith to advance and to out-box Alvarez. And Smith is a very, very direct fighter. He’s a very simple fighter and predictable. He’s always the same, so that’s why I believe that the mistakes of Alvarez allowed Joe Smith to win the fight.”
Odds-makers favored Alvarez entering their 12-round WBO elimination match. Through eight rounds, though, an active, aggressive Smith was way ahead of the former WBO champ on the scorecards of judges Julie Lederman (79-73), Dave Moretti (80-72) and Patricia Morse Jarman (79-73).
Vlasov’s perspective notwithstanding, Smith (26-3, 21 KOs), of Mastic, New York, feels he displayed diversity in his game by beating the 36-year-old Alvarez (25-2, 12 KOs) so convincingly.
Vlasov was supposed to face fellow Russian Umar Salamov in another WBO elimination match for the right to fight Smith for a title Canelo Alvarez vacated last year. Vlasov (45-3, 26 KOs) and Salamov (25-1, 19 KOs) were supposed to meet November 20 in Minsk, Belarus.
Once Salamov tested positive for COVID-19 and their fight was postponed again, the WBO bypassed Salamov and ordered a Smith-Vlasov fight for its unclaimed light heavyweight title.
Smith, 31, and Vlasov, 34, were set to meet in February in Las Vegas. The fight was postponed when Vlasov tested positive for COVID-19.
Smith and Vlasov will meet in the main event of ESPN’s card Saturday night from Tulsa, Oklahoma (10 p.m. EST; 7 p.m. PST).
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.