Joe Smith Jr will get a second crack at a world title, as the hard-hitting light heavyweight largely dominated tonight against Eleider Alvarez, scoring a ninth round TKO to secure his shot at the currently vacant WBO 175-pound title.
Smith (26-3, 21 KO) arguably won every round of the fight before catching Alvarez (25-2, 13 KO) with a clean right hand early in the ninth round, knocking the Colombian-Canadian to the apron. Alvarez was down a while, tried to get up, but was stopped by referee Tony Weeks.
Alvarez, who is a former titleholder, had his best moment in the seventh round, landing his right hand and clearly hurting Smith. But Smith probably even won that round, because he came back to finish strong and had been winning it before Alvarez’s one shot, too. Alvarez had been clearly hurt in the fifth round, and was being battered by Smith for the bulk of the bout.
Work rate was big for the 30-year-old Smith in this fight, but he also really out-boxed Alvarez, who at 36 may want to consider his future in boxing after a performance like this at a higher level.
“I knew I had to work on my boxing, I wanted to be sharp and throw a lot of straight punches,” Smith said. “(Sergey) Kovalev kind of set the way to beat him, so we watched that and worked off of it. I knew I had to box a bit more because he’s got that great right hand. He caught me with it a couple times, but every time he hit me, I wanted to come back and stop him in his tracks. I stuck to my game plan and it’s a great night.”
The win is obviously a big one for Smith, who also beat Jesse Hart in January of this year. Both wins may be considered minor upsets, and this bout sets him up to face the winner of an eventual fight betwee Umar Salamov and Maksim Vlasov for the vacant WBO belt.
“I really needed the win,” Smith told Bernardo Osuna. “I wanted to prove that I’m not just out a knockout guy. I’ve got boxing ability, too, and I showed that tonight and then got the knockout.”
Smith previously fought for the WBA title in 2019, losing a wide decision to Dmitry Bivol, but has bounced back strong and feels he’s better equipped to take a belt this time around.
“I’m going to be more prepared. I’m going to stay focused in the gym and work hard every day. I’ve got a lot more experience now, and I feel I’m ready for a second shot, and I’m going to bring it home.”
Rob Brant RTD-5 Vitalii Kopylenko
Brant, a former secondary middleweight titleholder, got pummeled in his last fight, a trip to Japan for a rematch with Ryota Murata where Murata thrashed him inside two rounds. So he’s moved his training down to Omaha with Brian McIntyre, and he came back after 13 months looking really sharp here. Kopylenko (28-3, 16 KO) is no star, but he’s a competent, solid fighter, and Brant just picked the 36-year-old Ukrainian apart, closing Kopylenko’s left eye enough that referee Jay Nady stopped the fight after five rounds. Brant, 29, had clearly won every round up to that point, though Kopylenko was game the entire time.
Brant (26-2, 18 KO) was also coming back from biceps surgery, and credited his new team with helping him adjust his approach and fight a bit smarter and more relaxed.
“It felt amazing with the new coaches behind me. They’re great at reminding me how to do things, what to do, hwo to relax is the biggest part. I’m a high volume guy so I can wear myself out. And [Kopylenko is] a very crafty veteran, been around for a long time, so it was good.”
Brant is still aiming for a third fight with Murata, too.
“The second international travel is open and Murata and I can go back to work,” he said. “I go to sleep thinking about Murata, I wake up thinking about him. That’s what I want.”
Julian Rodriguez TKO-1 Anthony Laureano
This was a half-decent looking matchup on paper, but Laureano (13-1, 4 KO) didn’t make weight on Friday, didn’t look good on the scales, didn’t look good in the pre-fight instructions here, and then looked awful in the fight, as Rodriguez (20-0, 13 KO) dropped him three times. Laureano, 25, just had absolutely nothing in the ring other than the determination to get up twice, and he could have gotten up the third time but Russell Mora stopped it, as he should have. It was a smashing.
“I was completely focused on the task,” Rodriguez said of the pre-fight drama. “I used to be more of a brawler with bigger shots, but once my shoulder wasn’t holding up, I focused more on my footwork and using my jab, and now I feel like I have more tools.”
The 25-year-old Rodriguez said he’s ready for anyone at 140, telling Top Rank to “line ‘em up.”
Clay Collard TKO-2 Maurice Williams
The Legend of Clay Collard only grows, as he improves to 5-0 on the year and continues to clearly lead the race for 2020 Fighter of the Year. Collard (9-2-3, 4 KO) more or less had his way in the first, picking apart the 27-year-old Williams (7-2, 3 KO), and then stepped on the gas in the second, dropping Williams and then finishing him off not long after.
The 27-year-old Collard deserved this win, mostly because Oklahoma’s Williams was not nicknamed “The Zodiac.” There was also a marvelous bit after the fight where Tim Bradley complained that Collard is being “protected” against easy club-level opposition.
“I came back after the first round and my coach said, ‘He’s awkward, slow down,’ so I slowed down a little bit, watching what he was doing, and I caught him with that left hook,” Collard said.
Asked about his status as a sudden folk hero in boxing circles, Collard was as laid back as usual.
“I’m still the same Clay doing the same thing. I’m working hard and staying in the gym and looking for the next fight,” he said. “I do like all the love and I really appreciate it, and it means the world to me because that’s why I do this. It’s been great, but I’m still the same Clay.”
Duke Ragan TKO-1 Luis Alvarado
Ragan recently signed with Top Rank, and this was his pro debut. He’s a Cincinnati featherweight, turns 23 next month, and while there wasn’t a lot to learn from this minute and 54 seconds, we do know he can catch a low-level opponent with a clean right hand and put him into another dimension. The 27-year-old Alvarado (1-2, 0 KO) did get up, but had absolutely no idea where he was, stumbling around and looking for his corner, not once looking at the referee, who had no choice but to call it off there.
Expect to see Ragan (1-0, 1 KO) plenty more in the coming months and years, and given his slightly advanced age (23 is young, but not really for a pro debut anymore), if he can fight, he might get fast-tracked, which thankfully we’re seeing more of with prospects in recent years instead of spending 20 fights trying to make something more of fighters than they’re ever going to be.
- Robert Rodriguez TKO-1 Abel Soriano: This was the second Vegas “bubble” appearance for Rodriguez, a 21-year-old southpaw bantamweight from California, and he showed a little vulnerability against Soriano early. And I mean really early, because then he smashed Soriano (10-1, 7 KO) with a body shot, which pretty much ended the fight. Soriano, 26, did get up, but he was forced to take a knee moments later, and then dropped and finished right at the end of the first round. Rodriguez (9-0-1, 5 KO) is a Robert Garcia fighter and starting to look really promising, he’s decimated two guys in the last two months on ESPN airwaves. Low level, sure, but he’s got a laser focus on doing damage.
- Israel Mercado UD-6 Adrian Valdovinos: Mercado’s a 25-year-old lightweight from Pomona, Calif., looked good here landing the cleaner, harder shots against the 20-year-old Valdovinos, winning on scores of 59-55, 60-54, and 60-54. Mercado (8-0, 7 KO) did have to finish a fight for the first time, but he’d gone into the sixth before. This was also just his second fight since 2018 and his first in exactly one year, last fighting on this day in 2019. He’ll want to get more active, obviously, though this year wasn’t really his fault. Valdovinos (5-1-1, 4 KO) is really young and might be worth remembering despite the clear loss. At 6’1” he’s a huge lightweight, and if his MANSTRENGTH! comes along and he fills out a bit more, he’d be big even up through welter. He wasn’t hopeless or anything, just raw and didn’t use his height.
- Wendy Toussaint UD-8 Isiah Jones: Toussaint is a 28-year-old Haitian-American junior middleweight, rather tall for the weight at 6’0” listed, has some decent skills, but every time I see him he fails to really jump off the screen or anything, and obviously he’s on the older side for a 12-0 (5 KO) prospect without some big amateur background. This was the third fight in Top Rank’s “bubble” for the 26-year-old Jones (9-3, 2 KO), who is now 1-2 in those outings. Toussaint, a Star Boxing prospect, moves forward with his “0,” winning on scores of 79-73, 79-73, 80-72.