Hours before Joe Smith Jr. punched his way toward a light heavyweight title shot, potential future opponent Maksim Vlasov was forced to go to drastic measure to remain active.

The former title challenger was reduced to accepting an exhibition bout for his latest ring appearance, which came over the weekend in Kazan, roughly five hours from his hometown of Samara, Russia. Vlasov (45-3, 26KOs) won what amounted to a 10-round decision over countryman Sergei Ekimov this past Saturday, in a fight that took place outside of the light heavyweight limit and without official sanctioning.

Vlasov was forced to fight under such circumstances as he awaits word on a long-ago ordered title eliminator versus Umar Salamov (25-1, 19KOs), with the winner due to face Long Island, New York’s Smith (26-3, 21KOs) for the vacant World Boxing Organization (WBO) light heavyweight title.

“[Vlasov] won in a so-called exhibition fight,” Oleg Bogdanov, Vlasov’s manager noted to BoxingScene.com. “It was without judges. You know it is not possible to him or to Umar fight in official fights before their elimination fight will take place.”

Original plans called for Vlasov and Salamov to meet in the chief support to Smith’s rescheduled bout versus Canada’s Eleider Alvarez this past Saturday in Las Vegas.

Smith and Alvarez were previously due to collide in July, only for the bout to be postponed when Alvarez suffered an injury thus forcing a five-week delay. Smith was ready, stopping the former 175-pound titlist in nine one-sided rounds to complete their side of the WBO four-man light heavyweight tournament bracket.

Both bouts were ordered earlier in the year, with all four boxers almost immediately agreeing to terms for their respective fights. Such plans were stalled due to the first wave of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic which has made it impossible for Vlasov and Salamov to travel. Vlasov remains at home in Russia, while Salamov—a 26-year old from Grozny who generally trains out of Las Vegas—has been in Kiev, Ukraine for the past several months.

“Top Rank wants to make the fight in the United States and we have to wait for when the US consulates will be open,” notes Bogdanov. “Both boxers’ visas have expired, and US consulates are closed all over the world.

“Umar is training in Kiev and now he wants to fight in an exhibition too, maybe with the same opponent (Ekimov). Umar and Max are eager to fight each other, and then go on to face Joe Smith—who both predicted would beat Alvarez. It will be an excellent fight when Smith gets to face either Umar or Max.”

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox