Joe Smith Jr wants Beterbiev or Bivol after Vlasov fight
By Jim Maltzman: Joe Smith Jr says he wants to fight 175-pound champions Artur Beterbiev and Dimitry Bivovl should he get by Maxim Vlasov in their battle for the vacant WBO light heavyweight title on February 13th.
Smith Jr (26-3, 21 KOs) is highly confident that he’ll defeat #3 Vlasov (45-3, 26 KOs) to claim the vacant WBO belt at The Bubble, MGM Grand, Las Vegas, Nevada. The fight card will be shown on ESPN+.
The 31-year-old Smith Jr and Vlasoev will be fighting for the WBO 175lb that Canelo Alvarez vacated a year ago after he captured the belt from Sergey Kovalev.
Smith will be looking to capture his third straight win since losing to Dimitry Bivol by a 12-round unanimous decision in March 219. Since that loss, Smith has chalked up victories against Jesse Hart and Eleider Alvarez.
The former cruiserweight Vlasov, 34, will be step up for Smith, and it’s going to be exciting to see how he handles the steel-chinned Russian. Although Vlasov has lost three times in his career, he’s never been knocked out.
Artur Beterbiev on Joe Smith Jr’s target list
“I actually prefer to be the underdog but it’s great that people are seeing that I’m a top contender. I think everybody is starting to see that they can’t underestimate me,” said Joe Smith Jr to Secondsout about being the favorite against Vlasov.
“And I can see that he’s an aggressive fighter, he’s busy, he’s tall, he’s rangy, but I believe I can overpower him and outwork him. And I think that’s definitely going to play a part because I’ve been in tough fights before, and probably more than he has.
“He’s had a couple of tough fights,” said Joe Smith about him having more experience than Vlasov. “I believe I’ve fought the better competition and I’ve been more active, and I feel I have the advantage that way as well.
It’s going to mean a lot. 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. My next goal is to unify titles. I would like to fight the other champions out there.
“The competition of the guys that he’s fought hasn’t been great quality, you know?” said Smith Jr about Artur Beterbiev.
“He last fight was pretty good against Oleksandr Gvozdyk. That was his biggest win, I would say. I would definitely look forward to getting in there with him if it happened,” said Smith about Artur Beterbiev.
At the rate that Beterbiev (15-0, 15 KOs) has been getting injured since last year, Smith Jr may never get a crack at him.
The 35-year-old Beterbiev has been having a challenging time getting back in the ring since his career-best victory over former WBC champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk in October 2019.
Beterbiev is currently scheduled to defend his IBF/WBC titles against fringe contender Adam Deines on March 20th.
Avenging loss to Bivol is a top priority
“I think [Dimitry] Bivol is a great technical fighter inside the ring, and I would say above the rest,” said Smith when asked who is the best fighter at 175 other than himself.
“I see Bivol as my only true loss. The other ones were injuries. It would mean a lot to get in thee and defeat who’s beaten me in the past.
“I know I’m capable of beating him when I’m 100% and focused at this point because I feel like I’ve improved a lot,” Smith Jr said of Bivol.
“I guess he’s stayed still because I haven’t seen too much about him lately,” Smith Jr said when asked if Bivol has improved since he fought him.
“But you’ve seen in my fights that I’ve pretty much-dominated everyone I’ve fought since then,” Smith Jr said about having improved since his loss to Bivol in 2019.
Smith didn’t fight that badly against Bivol despite losing by a wide 12 round decision. At one point, Smith shook Bivol up when he nailed him with a big right hand a fraction of a second after the bell had sounded to end the 10th.
If Smith had landed that same shot while the round was still going, he likely would have stopped Bivol because he was out of it.
Sergey Kovalev needs to retire, says Smith Jr.
“Personally, I think he needs to retire. With each fight, he hasn’t been the same,” said Smith Jr in talking about Sergey Kovalev. “He’s looking worse and worse in my opinion.
“Yes, I feel like I’m in my prime, and I want to make the best of it in the next could of years, and try and get the biggest fights possible and call it a day.
Number one, I want to win a world championship, but the main reason we do this is to make a living and be something.
I just want to pay off my house, put money in the bank, enjoy my life and go on vacations, and just live comfortably. That’s my main goal to have the money to make sure my family is set and good and comfortable,” said Smith Jr.
Many boxing fans feel that Smith Jr does about Kovalev, 37, needing to retire from the sport. Kovalev is taking losses nowadays, suggesting that he’s past it and needs to hang up the gloves.
Smith Jr ready to beat Vlasov and bring the title home
“You just got to believe in yourself, and maybe with a little bit of help with others believing in you,” Smith continued. “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.
“With each and every fight, the belt is that much closer. After I fought Andrzej Fonfara, who was the number one contender at the time, and I knocked him out in the first round, I was like, ‘Wow, I can actually do this.’
“I hope so. I plan on bringing it [vacant WBO light heavyweight title] home. And I plan on having the belt on my shoulder next time I see you,” said Smith.
If Smith can beat Vlasov to capture the WBO title, Top Rank will look to match him against Beterbiev or Bivol next in a unification. Beterbiev would be a good option if he can stay healthy enough to make it through training camp.
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