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Preview: Eleider Alvarez vs Joe Smith Jr staff picks and predictions

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A title shot is on the line when Eleider Alvarez faces Joe Smith Jr Saturday night on ESPN+. Who wins?

A shot at the currently vacant WBO light heavyweight title will be on the line on Saturday night (ESPN+, 7:30 pm ET), as former titlist Eleider Alvarez takes on the dangerous Joe Smith Jr in the Top Rank Boxing main event.

Who wins the fight? Our staffers make their choices.

Scott Christ

I want to believe this fight will be not just meaningful but entertaining, but I expect it to be more just meaningful. Smith is a dangerous puncher and I respect and like him, I think he’s someone who always has a shot. I picked him to beat Jesse Hart earlier this year and he did. But Alvarez is a better, more disciplined fighter than Hart. As a fan, entertainment-wise, my worry is that Alvarez knows very well that Smith is dangerous, but that Smith is only going to be as dangerous as Alvarez allows him to be, on some level. Sure, Smith can just land a good shot, that could happen, but the more likely way Smith wins this fight is if Alvarez makes mistakes that Smith capitalizes on.

Alvarez, though, only gets truly aggressive when he’s stopped having respect for return fire, or if he feels he really has someone’s number. He, too, capitalizes on mistakes, and Smith makes more than he does, generally speaking. I don’t expect Alvarez to get Smith out — though he could, when he wants to let his hands fly, Alvarez can do real damage. But I do think he’ll out-box and fluster Smith for the majority of the fight and win a clear decision. Alvarez UD-12

Wil Esco

I fully expect this to be a fun fight that won’t go the distance. As I’ve previously mentioned, neither man is much of a mover and they both like to let big shots fly. I expect both to land, but Alvarez is the more refined fighter so I think he’ll be able to box more efficiently on the outside when he needs to regroup for another onslaught of aggression. Joe Smith, he’s pretty predictable and hasn’t shown an ability to really make adjustments. Smith certainly has a puncher’s chance here, but I’m going to take Alvarez to weather the storm while inflicting some of his own damage, with Smith eventually wearing down enough to be taken out in the second half of the fight. Alvarez TKO-7

Patrick L. Stumberg

As glad as I am to see Smith still going strong after some rough defeats, I can’t see this going well for him. “Storm” has the better footwork and the faster, sharper hands, not to mention a recent predilection for melting people with his right. Smith will struggle to find the mark with his heavy swings, and even if he does manage to force a brawl out of Alvarez, the Colombian-Canadian never once hit the deck against Sergey Kovalev or Michael Seals. Smith’s chances of landing a game-changing blow during his brief windows of opportunity look slim.

Alvarez just seems too technical and seasoned to get bullied into a slugfest and too durable to get stopped by a stray haymaker. Alvarez pieces him up with jabs and right hands, dropping him at least once in the process to secure a crack at the WBO belt. Alvarez UD-12

Lewis Watson

Two genuine contenders at light-heavy with points to prove in the division. I really like this fight and it’s not far off a genuine 50/50. Both guys are 2-1 in their last three, and have shown their ability to find power when the chips are down in some of their biggest tests.

Smith has technical limitations but makes up for them with heart, doggedness and pure punching power. He bullied Hart in his last outing showing just what he can do when a fighter retreats on the back foot. Alvarez was a little reluctant to engage early in his rematch against Kovalev, and if his approach is similar against a guy who knows can bang, may see himself down at the midway point.

I fancy Smith to put enough work in over the distance to nick this one. I backed against him in January so this is my olive branch. Smith UD-12

And the staff winner is...

Sergey Kovalev v Eleider Alvarez Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Eleider Alvarez (3-1)!