Joe Smith Jr has had some big highlight nights over the years, but has never won a world title. The light heavyweight “Common Man” will look to change that on Saturday, when Smith (26-3, 21 KO) takes on Maxim Vlasov (45-3, 26 KO) for the vacant WBO light heavyweight title in Tulsa, live on ESPN+ and ESPN.
The 31-year-old Smith broke out in 2016, upsetting both Andrzej Fonfara and Bernard Hopkins — retiring a legend with the latter win — and had a world title shot in 2019 against Dmitry Bivol, which he lost.
In 2020, Smith had arguably his true best year as a pro, beating Jesse Hart and Eleider Alvarez in ESPN main events, and looking like a better, more complete fighter than ever.
He spoke about some of his big fights as he looks ahead to Saturday’s chance to finally take a world title home to Long Island, New York.
“That was a night I will never forget. The crowd was really loud, and there were a lot of Fonfara fans there, that I was able to make my fans. I knew I could beat him, I really believed it. We realized that he left himself open when he punched, and that’s what I looked for.”
“I wanted to be the first guy to knock him out, but I must say, he is one tough guy, man. I hit him with some clean hard shots, and he was still there, punching back. When I had him against the ropes, I hit him with a right hand that I saw basically had him out on his feet, before I hit him with a left hand that sent him out of the ring.”
“The Bivol fight taught me a lot about myself. I realized that to win at that level, I needed to have better movement and be more fluid. I needed to stay busier and be more focused the whole time, not just looking for one big shot. I wish I would have started faster in that fight. ... If I just pushed myself harder from the beginning, I think I could have won that fight. Maybe winning this title will help me get back to that fight again.”
How to Watch Smith vs Vlasov
“He was one of those guys that was making someone else’s problems his. He was telling me he was going to knock me out, and that he had more knockouts than me, and I think at the time he only had one more knockout than me. He said at the bell he was going to come right to me and fight, so the bell rang and I ran to the middle of the ring and he started dancing around me like a ballerina and I said, ‘Dude, I thought you were going to come to fight.’”
“I don’t mind being the underdog. You have to know your skill and know that you can always win. Going into that fight was different because it was at the Bubble, and there were no fans, but I didn’t mind it because there were no distractions at all. ... Anybody is a dangerous opponent. I was confident in both (Hart and Alvarez) fights, but there is always that thought in your head that this guy can beat you. Anybody can lose, but as long as you work hard and do what you need to do, you will win. That’s what I think. I can beat anybody anywhere, anytime.”