The plan would go something like this: Joe Smith would fight Maxim Vlasov in Las Vegas on Feb. 13, get his hand raised in triumph on the Top Rank show, and leave the ring with the WBO light heavyweight strap on hand. He’d have it available to wear, if he so chose, at his wedding reception on Mar. 6, after he said “I do” to his fiancée Kelly.
The plan went awry two days before it could unfold for Smith (26-3, 21 KO), a 31-year-old from Long Island who has run a tree service company for the last few years as he edged up the light heavyweight ranks. Russian foe Vlasov tested positive for COVID and their fight got axed.
Smith was pretty crushed, trainer Jerry Capobianco told me the day the news broke. “And it’s such a shame, because Joe was so dialed in,” he said. “Mentally, physically, everything, I knew he was going to get it done against Vlasov.”
Quickly, Capobianco put aside his own disappointment, because he knew he’d need to be the one to remind the throwback fighter that he’s gotten over speed bumps before.
So while Team Smith waited for news from Top Rank to figure out when Vlasov (45-3, 26 KO) had healed from COVID sufficiently and a date and site could be firmed up to re-set the title tussle, the wedding got extra attention. The big day loomed and the days ticked down, and Capobianco had his suit and dancing shoes ready.
Then, a speed bump of a different sort: He woke up one morning, and his back sent word that it didn’t want to cooperate. This is a guy, a former fighter, who gets up at 4:30 AM to hit his job site, doing oversight on construction projects. He’s used to powering through aches and pains. This was different, the pain pulsed. It got so bad he was wondering if he’d be able to go to the wedding.
“But I had to, I was best man,” he told me, from his hospital bed on Sunday evening. “I went, powered through it,” he said. He looks happy in photos, but the back barked at him. He went to the hospital, had scans taken, and they told him he had herniated discs. They jabbed him with needles and found a pain-killer that took the edge off, enough so that he was OK to do a call to furnish an update.
“So I’m hoping to get out of here tomorrow, because we gotta get back to work,” Capobianco said. Smith didn’t bloat up and morph into a Bridgerweight in the last three weeks, so that’s good. “He knows what he has to do, he knows what the stakes are, and he’ll go out, do those six miles.”
The next date circled on the calendar is April 10. Smith will fight Vlasov in Tulsa, Okla., on a Top Rank card. Promoter Bob Arum on Sunday night confirmed that Oklahoma would host. States are opening up for business, and Top Rank has broken down their “bubble,” the fight site at the MGM, which will be remembered semi-fondly.
And what’s this, no honeymoon is on the calendar?
“They’ll do it a bit after the fight,” Capobianco said.