Joe Smith Jr. and Maxim Vlasov to Fight for Vacant WBO Light Heavyweight Title

Former title challengers Joe Smith Jr. and Maxim Vlasov will fight for the vacant WBO light heavyweight title this weekend.

Updated: Feb. 11, 2021 • 5:00 PM ET

Las Vegas will host this weekend's WBO light heavyweight title fight.

The vacant WBO light heavyweight title will be on the line this Saturday, as former title challenger Joe Smith Jr. will take on durable veteran and title challenger Maxim Vlasov in Las Vegas.

Smith has won two straight fights, most recently defeating former champion Eleider Alvarez by ninth-round TKO in August. He challenged for the WBA light heavyweight title in 2019, but lost a unanimous decision to Dmitry Bivol.

Smith caught the attention of many boxing casuals when he became the first man to stop Bernard Hopkins back in 2016. Moving up the ranks leading up to the fight with Hopkins, Smith entered the bout on a 16-fight winning streak.

Including Hopkins, Smith also has key wins over Jesse Hart and Andrzej Fonfara, but he knows Saturday could be the biggest night of his career.

“It’s going to mean a lot,” Smith said via Boxing News 24. “Becoming a world champion is everything I’ve been working for. That’s why I take the big fights, and hope for the title. So this time around, I believe I can bring it home.”

Smith hopes his years of hard work will pay off.

“You just got to believe in yourself, and maybe with a little bit of help with others believing in you,” Smith said. “Just work hard every day and your dreams will come true. When I first started, I didn’t expect to fight for a world championship, and here I am once again fighting for one.”

Vlasov has won three straight bouts, but hasn’t fought since November 2019 when he defeated Emmanuel Martey by unanimous decision. The Russian had a long run of success at cruiserweight and challenged for the interim WBO title in 2018, but lost that fight by unanimous decision to Krzysztof Glowacki. Once again looking for a major title, this time at light heavyweight, Vlasov has fought from middleweight all the way up to cruiserweight.

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Vlasov is embracing the opportunity to show the world he’s still at the top of his game.

“This is a great chance for me, a great opportunity,” Vlasov said. “Just taking into account what a great career I’ve had, and I’ve had so many fights. It’s a great opportunity for me, and I will do my best. I don’t think Joe Smith did anything, in particular, to win the fight with [Eleider] Alvarez. It’s not as if he presented any technique or did anything outstanding or anything outrageous.

“I think Joe Smith was more offensive and more aggressive during the fight. The mistakes Alvarez did allowed Joe Smith to advance and outbox Alvarez. Smith is a very, very basic fighter, a very simple fighter and predictable. So he’s always the same. So that’s why I believe the mistakes of Alvarez allowed Joe Smith to win the fight.”

Smith is a sizable favorite for Saturday’s fight and if he wins, it could set up a unification series at light heavyweight. A Vlasov win would be the first significant upset of 2021.

 

• The main card can be seen live on ESPN at 10 p.m. ET this Saturday.

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