Joe Smith Jr and Maxim Vlasov are set to meet in Saturday night’s ESPN main event, headlining Top Rank’s first show outside of their Las Vegas bubble in over a year, as the show heads to Tulsa.
Smith (26-3, 21 KO) had a big 2020, while Vlasov (45-3, 26 KO) has been on a good run since moving down from cruiserweight. The pair are fighting for the vacant WBO light heavyweight title, so who wins the strap?
Scott Christ (18-6-1)
Of all the fights we’re picking this weekend, this is the closest I got to an upset. It’s not that I don’t think Smith is better than Vlasov, I do, especially right now, as Smith’s last two outings have been arguably the two best of his career. And he’d had some strong wins before, too.
Smith just seems like the kind of guy where an off night can really sink him, and if he has one, Vlasov has the size and ability to out-point him and fluster him into making even more mistakes. Smith’s no technician, but he’s not as pure a slugger as he was a few years back, either; you’re not going to turn him into Dmitry Bivol ever, but he’s made improvements since losing to Bivol, which says a lot about his humility and character. I’m going with the ol’ “Common Man” to finally win his first world title. If he shows up with the same fire he had against Hart and Alvarez, there’s not much I think Vlasov’s really going to be able to do other than stay out of trouble. Smith UD-12
Wil Esco (19-5-1)
Am I finally done writing off Joe Smith Jr? I suppose so. I’ve never really been enamored by Smith’s craft, but his workmanlike approach has paid dividends and gotten him this far against some tough guys. As for Vlasov, I think he’s tough but I think he’s going to have some trouble with the pure physicality that comes along with fighting Joe Smith Jr. I’m really not going to pretend like this fight really couldn’t go either way, but I’m just not going to just summarily dismiss Smith anymore. So for this pick I’m going to do the opposite of what I’ve normally done in Smith fights, and hope for a better result. Smith TKO-8
How to Watch Smith vs Vlasov
Patrick L. Stumberg (17-7-1)
Vlasov has more going for him here than you might think; he’s plenty durable, having stood up to cruiserweight bruisers like Rakhim Chakhkiev and Krzysztof Glowacki in the past, and his movement and punching styles are wonky enough to potentially give the hard-charging Smith fits. Still, he’s too willing to mix it up for his own good, especially considering Smith’s marked technical improvements these last few fights.
If Vlasov stays on his bicycle and utilizes his height advantage, this is winnable, but I’m not convinced he has the mindset to do so or that Smith will even allow it if he tries. While Vlasov’s chin should be sufficient to last him the distance, Smith’s ability to maintain a high pace and land the heavier blows will win him a reasonably comfortable decision. Smith UD-12
Lewis Watson (19-5-1)
Smith fooled me once (Jesse Hart), didn’t fool me twice (Eleider Alvarez) and he’s sure as hell not gonna take another stab at fooling me for the second time. Or is he? Wait, who’s fooling who? I mean, Vlasov is a tough, tough guy. He’s experienced and has danced with some heavy hitters up at cruiser throughout his lengthy pro career. He’s touched the canvas before and Smith will come into this fight knowing he can hurt the Russian.
Smith was a real consideration of mine for Fighter of the Year in 2020 and his popularity is growing quickly. Vlasov isn’t just a slugger – his technical ability and length should ask enough questions of Smith to put on a real show. But when it comes down to it, Smith is drama waiting to happen and I think he’ll explode in pockets. A knockdown or two – possibly shared – could spice this one up further, with Smith winning it late. Smith KO-10