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Joe Smith Jr and Maxim Vlasov battle this Saturday, winning face Beterbiev in 2021

Image: Joe Smith Jr and Maxim Vlasov battle this Saturday, winning face Beterbiev in 2021

By Jim Maltzman: Joe Smith Jr (26-3, 21 KOs) and Maxim Vlasov (45-3, 26 KOs) will be going to war this Saturday night on ESPN for the vacant WBO light heavyweight title with the winner to take on IBF/WBC champ Artur Beterbiev.

Smith Jr vs. Vlasov will be taking place at the Osage Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Smith, 31, is viewed as the favorite to win, but you can’t count out the highly experienced Vlasov. He’s faced a lot of quality opposition during his 16-year professional career.

The start time for the Smith – Vlasov main portion of the card is at 10:00 p.m. ET on ESPN+. The undercard start time is at 5:30 ET.

Smith believes he’s got an excellent chance of knocking out the 34-year-old Vlasov because he fights aggressively, and he’ll be looking to land his shots.

That’s what Smith is counting on and needs for him to get Vlasov out of there, but it might prove to be impossible.

The Russian warrior Vlasov has never been knocked out before during his 16-year pro career, and he’d been in there with a lot of big punchers, some of which were comparable to Smith.

In the chief support bout, heavyweight Efe Ajagba battles Brian Howard in a 10 round fight that has knockout written all over it.

Smith Jr wants Beterbiev next

“He had an OK performance,” said Joe Smith Jr to CompuBox TV about Beterbiev. “He had a long layoff. I wasn’t expected him to look his best, but that guy [Adam Deines] was in there for him to walk through.

Image: Joe Smith Jr and Maxim Vlasov battle this Saturday, winning face Beterbiev in 2021

“It took him a little while to do it, but overall, he looked OK. I believe I could come out on top in that fight,” Joe Smith said of the Beterbiev match.

“I believe I’m more fluid, I’ve got more speed and I’m a tougher guy than he is without a doubt,” said Smith in rating himself above Beterbiev.

“He’s been down more than once in his career, and he’s never fought a guy that hits as hard as me. Who wouldn’t?” said Smith about fans being excited about the idea of him and Beterbiev fighting.

“It’s too explosive guys and two huge punchers, who want to go in there and get the knockout. It’ll be a great fight if we get the opportunity to do that,” said Smith Jr.

Beterbiev didn’t look that great in his recent title defense against Adam Deines, but he eventually got the job done in stopping him in the 10th.

Smith Jr shouldn’t assume that it’s going to be an easy night’s work for him against the 36-year-old Beterbiev (16-0, 16 KOs) because he may surprise him.

If Smith can beat Vlasov and Beterbiev, his next move will be to take on WBA 175-lb champion Dimitry Bivol for the undisputed championship.

Bivol beat Smith Jr by a wide 12 round unanimous decision two years ago in March 2019. Smith was completely outclassed by Bivol in that fight, and the only success was when he hit him well after the bell in the 10th.

Bivol was staggered by the shot that he wasn’t expecting from Smith.

Joe intends on outworking Vlasov

“He’s a really busy guy, he comes forwards and likes to throw a lot of punches,” said Smith Jr. in describing his opponent Maxim Vlasov.

“He’s an awkward guy, and he makes it a tough fight for anybody. I gave it my all in training and prepared to come out on top, and I believe I will.

“It’s not going to be an easy task, it’s going to be hard work. Potentially, I got a chance to take him out of there because he’s aggressive and he throws a lot and he may leave himself open for me to land that good shot.

“We got to try and stay as busy as him and try and outwork him. I like to get in the ring with the best, and that’s what I plan on keep doing after I get past this guy.

“I’m going to get those two big fights [Artur Beterbiev and Dimitry Bivol] that are out there. Bivol, I’d like to get that redemption match.

“It makes you a better fighter [to face the best], but it’s hard to bounce back from a loss in boxing.

Image: Joe Smith Jr and Maxim Vlasov battle this Saturday, winning face Beterbiev in 2021

“You have to have the right people behind you to get the right fights. I had the right opportunities to get the fights I needed to jump right back in at the top,” said Joe Smith Jr.

Joe will have to let his hands go more for this fight than in his past fight because Vlasov will be looking to win rounds by activity. Vlasov knows that he can’t beat Smith if he throws the same amount of punches as he’s not as powerful.

Additionally, Vlasov is the visiting fighter, which means that the judges will likely give Smith any close rounds.

Smith Jr talks about his losses

“The only real loss I had was to Bivol,” said Smith. “The other two, those were injuries. I was winning both of those fights for the most part until with Barrera.

“In my first loss, I was winning the fight easily. I pushed the guy away and walked out of the ring. I had a broken that I suffered.

“The same with Barrera. It happened in training. I had to take the fight either way, so I went in there and gave it my best.

“And I was hoping to take him out, Barrera in the first round. I got him down, but he was a tough guy. He got back up, and I was like, ‘F***, it’s going to be a long night,'” said Smith.

It sounds like Smith is a little bitter still about his defeats Eddie Caminero and Sullivan Barrera.

Even if Smith did suffer injuries, that’s part of how fighters win. The sport’s object is to hurt your opponent enough to win, and that’ what Barrera and Caminero did against Smith.

Joe beat Fonfara at his own game

“I was like a 31-1 underdog in that fight,” said Joe Smith Jr about his fight with Andrzj Fonfara.

“It was a huge opportunity, but I had the right fights to get me that fight. He seen something in me that he thought he could take advantage of.

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“This guy was going to come in with his head straight up and swinging. They just told me to put my head down and let my hands go. I was, ‘Alright.’

“As soon as he came in, I put my head down and threw that punch and it was over. It happened just like I expected it to.

“I expected it to go the distance and be a tough fight. They told me, ‘You’re going to hit him and he’s going to go out,’ and that’s what happened.

“It was the same thing with Hopkins,” said Smith. “He thought I landed a lucky punch [in Smith’s win over Fonfara] and he thought he was going to outbox me, but I can box too. I showed that that night and I eventually got him out of there.

Fonfara went out there and showed no sense of caution, and Smith took advantage of his carelessness by stopping him in the first round in June 2016.

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