Smith Jr.: ‘I want the big fights out there’

Joe Smith Jr., the common man with the common name, finally reached boxing’s apex. Smith used a furious late rally to edge Maxim Vlasov by majority decision and win the vacant WBO light heavyweight world title Saturday evening at Osage Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The scorecards — 114-114, 115-113 and 115-112 — represented the nip-and-tuck nature of the bout.

Smith (27-3, 21 KOs), from Long Island, New York, swept the last two rounds on the cards to pull out the victory and joins promotional stablemate Jamel Herring as a Long Island-born world champion. He now sets his sights on the division’s other champions, including WBC/IBF king Artur Beterbiev. 

Vlasov (45-4, 26 KOs), from Samara Russia, saw his three-bout winning streak come to an end.

Smith said, “It’s a great feeling. It was definitely a close, tough fight. I give it to Vlasov. Great fighter. He really put on a great show tonight and toughed it out. I believe that round where I hurt him there… I believe he had his head down, and I should’ve got the knockout. I think I would’ve got the stoppage in {the 11th} round, but he pulled it off and made it out on his feet. I believe I got the victory tonight because they saw I landed the harder shots. He landed a lot of punches. It was a great fight.
 
“I want the other belts. I want the big fights out there. Now I gotta get back in the gym and keep working on my technique and stuff. I believe I’m going to start unifying belts.”

Vlasov disagrees with Smith’s assessment of the fight and believes the world title should be going home to Russia.

“This was a very hard-fought, competitive fight,” Vlasov said. “I thought I was winning rounds and was well ahead. Against the aggressive style of Joe Smith, I came forward the entire fight. I felt confident I was winning and was securing rounds in the bank with the judges. I never felt that I was behind at any stage of the fight. This was my opportunity to show the world I was a world champion, and I did that, and Joe Smith knows I did that.” 

Ajagba Obliterates Howard

Efe Ajagba (15-0, 12 KOs) just crashed the heavyweight contender parade. The 2016 Nigerian Olympian sent Brian Howard into another orbit with a crunching right hand. Howard twisted, fell face first, and the bout was immediately stopped. Ajagba had not fought since last September’s decision win over Jonathan Rice, but he re-established his place among the world’s top young heavyweights. At 26 years old, time is on his side.

Ajagba said, “I felt good. I tried to pick the punches, use the jab. This guy is very slick sometimes. I tried to do the job. He was shaky, so when I went back to the corner after the first round, my coach told me to take my time, start with the body, leave the head.
 
“I trained for this fight, took my time, started with my boxing foundation, and came back strong. This camp was the best one for me, the best camp ever in my boxing career.
 
 “It’s my time to shine, so I’m coming for the heavyweights.”

In undercard bouts:

Heavyweight: 
Jared Anderson (9-0, 9 KOs) KO 2 Jeremiah Karpency (16-3-1, 6 KOs), :34. Anderson, the 21-year-old prodigy from Toledo, added another speedy knockout to his highlight reel, this time using a body attack to end things early. He knocked down Karpency with a body blow at the end of the first round, then ended things with another right hand to the body early in the second round. 

Anderson said,  “I knew he was going to find a spot to fall. I respect him for getting in there and showing up today. It’s a man’s sport. I’m just grateful to be here, thankful for the opportunity.

“I {saw} the shot. His hands kept going up. I kept throwing my jab, looking for openings, feinting, moving around the ring, and it just came. It was a good shot, and he didn’t want to get back up.
 
“Everybody who says they’re the biggest and the baddest, come see ‘Big ‘Baby’ then.
 
“I want to thank Toledo, my city. A lot of them came out to Oklahoma, and I wanted to put on a show for them. I can’t wait for what is next.

Junior Lightweight: Albert Bell (18-0, 5 KOs) UD 8 Manuel Rey Rojas (20-5, 6 KOs). Scores: 78-74 3x. Toledo’s Bell used his length and reach to keep the shorter Rojas at bay and ultimately cruised to a one-sided decision. Bell, who outlanded Rojas 114-94, is ranked in the top 15 by two of the major sanctioning organizations.

Junior Lightweight: Robson Conceicao (16-0, 8 KOs) TKO 7 Jesus Antonio Ahumada (17-4 11 KOs), 1:20. 2016 Olympic gold medalist Conceicao, from Bahia, Brazil, put forth a workmanlike performance and beat down Mexican veteran Ahumada. After a knockdown in the seventh, referee Gary Ritter saw enough and saved Ahumada from further carnage. 

Heavyweight: Trey Lippe Morrison (17-0, 17 KOs) TKO 3 Jason Bergman (2-3, 2 KOs), 1:27. Lippe Morrison, son of the late heavyweight Tommy Morrison, returned from a nearly two-year layoff and stopped veteran Bergman in a crowd-pleasing slugfest. Bergman appeared to knock down Morrison in the first, but the referee missed the knockdown call. In the third, Bergman rolled his ankle and could continue, and Morrison was awarded the TKO victory.

Featherweight: Duke Ragan (4-0, 1 KO) UD 6  Charles Clark (3-7,-1 1 KO). Scores: 60-54 3x. In his first fight away from the confines of the MGM Grand Las Vegas Bubble, Cincinnati’s Ragan outboxed Clark and won every round on all three judges’ scorecards. Through four pro bouts, Ragan has yet to lose a round.

Heavyweight: Jeremiah Milton (3-0, 3 KOs) TKO 1 Jayvone Dafney (2-3, 2 KOs), 1:19. Tulsa native Milton had a successful homecoming, icing Dafney in the opening round with a right hand as Daffney was backed up against the ropes. A dazed Dafney could not respond, and the referee called the bout off.

Heavyweight: Sonny Conto (7-0, 6 KOs) KO 1 Waldo Cortes (6-4, 3 KO), 1:41. Welcome back, Sonny! In his first fight in 15 months, South Philadelphia native Conto put Cortes down for the 10-count with a sweeping right hand. Conto has now won three straight by first-round stoppage.

Photo Credit: Mikey Williams/Top Rank via Getty Images

Smith Jr.-Vlasov set for April 10

Joe “The Beast” Smith Jr. and Maxim Vlasov are headed to the Sooner State to fight for the vacant WBO light heavyweight world title Saturday, April 10 at Osage Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

They were originally scheduled to fight Feb. 13, but Vlasov tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the weigh-in, forcing a postponement.

In the 10-round co-feature, unbeaten heavyweight contender Efe Ajagba will take on Brian “MVP” Howard.

Promoted by Top Rank, in association with Joe DeGuardia’s Star Boxing and Tony Holden Productions, Smith-Vlasov and Ajagba-Howard will be broadcast live on ESPN and ESPN Deportes (simulcast on ESPN+) at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT. Undercard bouts will stream live and exclusively on ESPN+ at 5:30p.m. ET/2:30 p.m. PT, including a trio of big-punching heavyweights: Jared “The Real Big Baby” Anderson and Tulsa natives Trey Lippe Morrison (16-0, 16 KOs) and Jeremiah Milton (2-0, 2 KOs).

Smith (26-3, 21 KOs), the “Common Man” from Long Island, hopes his 2021 kicks off where 2020 concluded. Last August, he broke through inside the MGM Grand Las Vegas Bubble, knocking former world champion Eleider “Storm” Alvarez out and through the ropes. Smith has won three straight bouts since his first world title opportunity in March 2019, a unanimous decision loss to Dmitry Bivol. He became a household name in boxing in 2016 when he knocked living legend Bernard Hopkins through the ropes and into retirement.

“I am extremely motivated after all I have been though in my career,” Smith said. “I am proud of all I have accomplished, and I am confident I will bring the belt home on April 10 and move forward with my goal of unifying belts and proving I am the best light heavyweight in the world.”

Vlasov (45-3, 26 KOs), from Samara, Russia, is 3-0 at light heavyweight since moving down from cruiserweight, where he became a top contender and challenged for an interim world title. He had a banner 2019 at light heavyweight, knocking out the 14-1 Omar Garcia, avenging a previous defeat with a unanimous decision over Isaac Chilemba, and shutting out the 15-0 Emmanuel Martey over 10 rounds.

“I am ready to return to the ring and become the new WBO light heavyweight world champion,” Vlasov said. “The postponement was a minor setback, but it will be worth the wait when I have that belt around my waist.”

Ajagba (14-0, 11 KOs), a 2016 Nigerian Olympian, is one of world boxing’s most accomplished young heavyweights. At 26 years old, he’s already knocked out the likes of longtime contender Amir Mansour and former world title challenger Razvan Cojanu. He made his Top Rank debut last September and outlasted veteran Jonathan Rice via decision over 10 rounds. Howard (15-4, 12 KOs) is an 11-year pro who has split a pair of bouts since moving up to heavyweight. In August 2019, he knocked out 2008 Puerto Rican Olympian Carlos Negron in the first round.

Maxim Vlasov tests positive for COVID-19, fight with Smith Jr. postponed

Saturday’s Top Rank on ESPN main event between Joe Smith Jr. and Maxim Vlasov — for the vacant WBO light heavyweight world title — has been postponed after Vlasov tested positive for COVID-19.

Vlasov said, “I am devastated with the postponement of my world title fight against Joe Smith Jr. I have been following strict protocols, I have done regular testing with negative results, and I have no symptoms. I am well prepared and had an excellent training camp. I look forward to the rescheduling of the fight and the opportunity to display my world class skills.”

The Richard Commey-Jackson Marinez lightweight bout has been elevated to the main event and will headline the ESPN-televised triple-header beginning at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT. In the new co-feature, action star Adam Lopez will defend his NABF featherweight belt in a 10-rounder against former world title challenger Jason Sanchez. The ESPN telecast will open with Toledo heavyweight sensation Jared Anderson (7-0, 7 KOs) against Kingsley Ibeh in a six-rounder.

Lopez-Sanchez added to Smith-Vlasov undercard

Featherweight action star Adam “BluNose” Lopez and Jason “El Alacrancito” Sanchez are ready for a phone booth battle. Lopez will defend his NABF belt in a 10-rounder against Sanchez Saturday, Feb. 13, on the undercard of the vacant WBO light heavyweight world title bout between Joe Smith Jr. and Maxim Vlasov at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

In a six-round heavyweight special attraction, 21-year-old knockout artist Jared “The Real Big Baby” Anderson will take on Kingsley Ibeh, who went 2-0-1 last year inside the MGM Grand Las Vegas Bubble.

Lopez-Sanchez and Anderson-Ibeh will stream live on ESPN+ at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT, preceding the ESPN telecast (10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT) featuring Smith-Vlasov and Richard Commey-Jackson Marinez.

Lopez (14-2, 6 KOs), from Glendale, Calif., has earned his reputation as the “Glendale Gatti” with a series of action-packed fights. Following his controversial TKO loss to Oscar Valdez in November 2019, Lopez returned last June with a majority decision over Louie Coria in one of the year’s best fights. Sanchez (15-2, 8 KOs) challenged Valdez for the WBO featherweight world title in June 2019 and dropped a competitive unanimous decision. He has split a pair of bouts since then, most recently falling short via 10-round decision to Christopher “Pitufo” Diaz last June.

“On February 13, we’re back on the big screen,” Lopez said. “Mark your calendars, call off work, do what you have to do. You don’t want to miss this one. This is the year ‘BluNose’ gets his strap. Stay tuned, ladies and gentlemen.”

Sanchez said, “l’ve never been more ready. I just came back from a loss, so I am more determined and hungrier than ever. I will not take another loss, and that is my biggest motivation.”

Anderson (7-0, 7 KOs), from Toledo, Ohio, went 5-0 in 2020, including four Bubble knockouts. He most recently knocked out Luis Eduardo Pena in one round, the fifth first-round stoppage of his young career. Ibeh (5-1-1, 4 KOs), a former collegiate football player fighting out of Phoenix, became an instant ESPN favorite with his go-for-broke style. In his last two bouts, the 6’4, 275-pound Ibeh held unbeaten phenom Guido Vianello to a draw and bested the previously undefeated Patrick Mailata by majority decision.

In other matches streaming on ESPN+:

  • Former junior middleweight contender Carlos Adames (18-1, 14 KOs), from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, will make his long-awaited ring return in an eight-round middleweight fight against an opponent to be named. Adames last fought in November 2019 and lost a unanimous decision to Patrick Teixeira for the interim WBO junior middleweight world title.

  • Lightweight prospect Eric Puente (4-0), from San Diego, will fight fellow unbeaten Sergio Vega (2-0-1, 2 KOs) in a four-rounder. Puente, who is trained by Robert Garcia, won a pair of decisions last year after more than a year away from the ring.

  • A pair of highly talented former U.S. amateur stars will make their professional debuts in separate four-round bouts. Troy Isley, from Alexandria, Va., is scheduled to fight Bryant Costello (1-1, 1 KO) at middleweight, while Las Vegas-born bantamweight Floyd “Cashflow” Diaz will fight Fernando Macias (1-1). Diaz made headlines in 2010 as a six-year-old when his flashy mitt work routine was shown on an episode of HBO’s “24/7 Mayweather-Mosley.”

  • Jahi Tucker (2-0, 1 KO), the 18-year-old prodigy who turned pro last September, will face Eric Rodriguez (1-1, 1 KO) in a four-round welterweight tilt.

Smith-Vlasov, Commey-Marinez set for February 13

 Light heavyweight contender Joe “The Beast” Smith Jr., the consummate everyman, spent more than a decade as a union laborer on Long Island. He now owns and operates a tree service business, chopping and trimming trees when he’s not training.

At 31 years old, this far-from-average Joe will battle Russian veteran Maxim Vlasov for the vacant WBO light heavyweight world title Saturday, Feb. 13. In the 10-round lightweight co-feature, former world champion Richard “RC” Commey will fight Dominican slickster Jackson Marinez.

Promoted by Top Rank, in association with Joe DeGuardia’s Star Boxing and Patriot Promotions, Smith-Vlasov and Commey-Marinez will be televised live on ESPN and ESPN Deportes at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT.

“This is Rocky IV come to life,” said Top Rank chairman Bob Arum. “Joe Smith Jr. is boxing’s blue-collar hero, a relentless fighter who chops down trees outside the ring and chops down opponents when the lights are bright. Maxim Vlasov is a tough Russian who is going to meet Joe punch for punch in the center of the ring. This will be an early contender for 2021 Fight of the Year.”

DeGuardia said, “I am very confident that Joe Smith Jr. will be the new WBO world champion, but I also know that Maxim Vlasov is a strong and seasoned fighter who also wants to become champion. It will make for a great night of boxing on ESPN. Kudos to the WBO for recognizing Joe’s talents and mandating this fight, and to Bob Arum and Top Rank for their continued excellence during this pandemic.”

Smith (26-3, 21 KOs) is best known for sending living legend Bernard Hopkins through the ropes and into retirement in 2016, but a world title has thus far proven elusive. He received a shot at the WBA light heavyweight world title in March 2019 and nearly knocked out Dmitry Bivol in the 10th round, but Bivol hung on to win a unanimous decision. Smith rampaged in 2020, dominating Jesse Hart over 10 rounds and knocking out former world champion Eleider Alvarez in an August title eliminator. Those victories propelled Smith to the WBO No. 1 ranking and a second crack at world title glory.

Smith said, “I have worked very hard to get a second opportunity at a world title. I feel I have improved, and on February 13, I am going to make my dream come true and become world champion.”

Vlasov (45-3, 26 KOs), a 15-year-pro, has been a world-level operator at super middleweight, light heavyweight and cruiserweight. He moved down to light heavyweight in early 2019 and soon joined the ranks of the top contenders. In a six-month span, Vlasov stopped Omar Garcia in four rounds, topped longtime contender Isaac Chilemba by unanimous decision to avenge a 2011 defeat, and shut out the previously undefeated Emmanuel Martey over 10 rounds.

“This is a great chance, and perhaps my last opportunity, to finally become a world champion,” Vlasov said. “Smith is a strong and relentless fighter, so I expect a very serious challenge.”

Commey (29-3, 26 KOs), from Accra, Ghana, has been a lightweight since turning pro in his home nation in February 2011. He fell just short in his first attempt at a world title, dropping a split decision to Robert Easter Jr. in September 2016 for the vacant IBF title. Commey won the IBF title in February 2019 with a second-round stoppage over Isa Chaniev, then defended it in June with an eighth-round knockout over former world champion Ray Beltran. His title reign ended that December, when Teofimo Lopez emerged with a star-making second-round TKO. Commey has not fought since the Lopez fight and is re-energized for another world title run.

Commey said, “It’s been a long and frustrating wait to get back into the ring, and February 13 can’t come soon enough. I’ve kept myself in shape, but once I heard the date, I stepped up my training. All I’ve been thinking about is winning back my title. I am not looking past Jackson Marinez, as I know he is a tough, slick fighter, so he has my full attention. The road to redemption begins now.”

Marinez (19-1, 7 KOs), from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, entered 2020 largely unknown to fight fans. That all changed in August, when he outboxed the unbeaten Rolando Romero over 12 rounds. The official judges disagreed with most boxing observers, and Marinez lost a unanimous decision. Trained by Robert Garcia in Riverside, Calif., Marinez gets a shot at redemption and would enter the world title picture with a victory over Commey.