Can Joe Smith Jr beat Artur Beterbiev?
By Jim Maltzman: Joe Smith Jr did just enough to earn a 12 round majority decision victory over Maxim Vlasov last Saturday night to win the vacant WBO light heavyweight title and punch his ticket to a unification match against IBF/WBC champ Artur Beterbiev in the summer.
While the victory for Smith (27-3, 21 KOs) was controversial over Vlasov (45-4, 26 KOs), it won’t stop him from moving forward to face the unbeaten Beterbiev (16-0, 16 KOs).
Beterbiev-Smith is the fight that Top Rank and the boxing world want to see. Luckily for Smith, he scraped by Vlasov by 115-112, 115-113, and 114-114.
Boxing News 24 had Vlasov edging Smith, but many close rounds could have gone either way.
Smith was on his way to losing the fight with Vlasov through the first nine rounds, but he came on strong at the end.
The punching power of the 31-year-old Smith ultimately allowed him to snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat. Smith hurt Vlasov in the 11th round and finished strong in the 12th to seal the victory.
Smith has the power to beat Beterbiev
The punching power that Smith has is more than enough for him to defeat the two-time Olympian Beterbiev.
But what we don’t know is how well Smith will hold up under the big shots from Beterbiev, who can punch just as hard, but closer range.
Talentwise, Smith doesn’t match up with Beterbiev in terms of his defense and the inside fighting. Beterbiev has a high ring IQ, who will switch game plans if things aren’t working.
What we saw with Smith last weekend, he was slow in changing things up with Vlasov. We saw Smith throwing too many wide hooks and not enough straight shots down the middle.
When Smith started throwing punches straight into the face of Vlasov in the 11th and 12th, he had great success. Why did it take him so long? We didn’t see body punching from Smith until late in the fight as well, and that’s one of the reasons Vlasov had success.
When Smith started to attack Vlasov’s midsection in the last four rounds, he took over the fight.
Beterbiev has a lot of talent, and he’s great at adapting during his fights. But he is 36, and that’s not young unless your name is Bernard Hopkins.
Despite having a great record of 16 wins with 16 knockouts, he only has one solid win against Oleksandr Gvozdyk. The rest of Beterbiev’s opposition has been nothing special.
Did Vlasov deserve the win against Smith Jr?
“Joe Smith Jr, the newly crowed WBO light heavyweight champion, who defeated Maxim Vlasov last Saturday night in Oklahoma,” said Chris Mannix to DAZN.
“In the hard-fought fight, both fighters had their moments, but in the end, it was Smith was ahead on two of the judges’ scorecards while the third had it a draw.
“I’m conflicted here, Mannix,” said Sergio Mora. “It was a close fight that could have gone either way. I could totally see Vlasov winning that fight.
“Why score it 10-8? That just made it impossible for Vlasov to win going into the 12th round. That’s my only criticism, but other than that, it was a fantastic fight by two high-level champions.
“It was an exciting fight; I hope they do it again. But man, that one scorecard always leaves a bitter, sour taste in my mouth. That’s boxing for you.”
The judges’ scoring was influenced by the power of Smith’s shots, as he was landing some thudding blows. You couldn’t ignore the sound of Smith’s shots landing. If you’re one of the judges, that had to impress. Smith’s raw power is extraordinary.
Beterbiev is a different story, though. He’s going to be coming with a lot of power, and we saw how Vlasov beat up Smith’s face. He gets marked up easily, and he’d had facial injuries in the past against lesser punchers.
Canelo Alvarez didn’t want any part of Beterbiev when he moved up to 175 in November 2019. The Mexican star took on the depleted 36-year-old Kovalev and then fled the division after stopping him in the 11th.
Canelo could have fought Beterbiev, but he went the safe route by returning to the safety of the 168-lb division.
What will Beterbiev do to Smith Jr?
“A judge overruling a referee’s decision that was at worse a questionable decision, that was a little bit strange,” said Mannix.
“That being said, I have no issues with the judges’ scorecards. I scored it 115-113 for Vlasov, but I have always said that if a fight with several close rounds is decided that close by the judges, it could go either way.
“My scorecard could have been if I watched it, 115-113 for Smith. What I did find interesting was the strategy for Maxim Vlasov.
“We have not seen too many fighters take the fight to Joe Smith. Vlasov was the aggressor throughout this fight; he was throwing combinations, he was backing Smith up against the ropes, he was confusing him with that unorthodox kind of style.
“It made me kind of think that if we see Smith against Beterbiev, which Top Rank is hoping to make before the end of the year, maybe I’m not so sure that Smith has a good chance in a fight like that.
“If a fighter like Vlasov can take the fight to Joe Smith the way he did, what does Beterbiev, who is a bigger puncher and is a stronger fighter, is going to do to Joe Smith?”
If Beterbiev gets inside on Smith, it could be curtains for him, especially lands his left hook. Smith is going to need a chin, and he’ll need to cover up his midsection. Beterbiev is a ferocious body puncher, as we saw in his win over Gvozdyk.
Joe Smith Jr was looking dispirited
ESPN commentator Andre Ward noted that Smith looked liked he’d lost his motivation during the ninth and tenth rounds.
What changed things for Smith was when he hurt Vlasov with a big right hand in the 11th. From there, it gave Smith a shot of adrenalin, and he rallied.
“And referees would know a little bit better. But Vlasov was landing right hands to the body, and they were like spears,” said Mannix.
“He was spearing that right hand down there, and annoying, frustrating jabs. He was moving and getting out of the way and dispiriting Joe Smith by taking those big punches.
“Andre Ward said that the body language wasn’t there for Smith Jr going into the ninth and tenth rounds.
“I saw the exact same thing, and like you, I score it for Vlasov at the end. But it was an exciting fight, what can you say?”
Smith must keep his composure against Beterbiev because this isn’t the type of opponent he used to. Things aren’t going to go Smith’s way 100% of the time, and he’ll need to keep working and not get discouraged.
Top Rank was the winner, with Smith beating Vlasov
“Do you know who the big winner is for that fight? It’s Top Rank,” said Mannix on the Smith Jr vs. Vlasov fight.
“Because Top Rank has a high-profile fight [Beterbiev vs. Smith Jr] that should sell out Madison Square Garden that they can put on the schedule in the fall.
“If Vlasov had won, I’m not sure I would have wanted to be Bob Arum that Monday.”
“That would be a hell of a fight. Long island, strong Island, baby,” Said Mora of the Beterbiev vs. Smith match.
It would have been bad for Bob Arum of Top Rank if Vlasov had won because that’s not as big of a fight between him and Beterbiev.
With Smith winning last Saturday, Arum can stage the Beterbiev-Smith fight in the East Coast, and it’ll bring in a big crowd at Madison Square Garden.
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