Eleider Alvarez meets Joe Smith Jr in a WBO Light-Heavyweight title eliminator as Top Rank return inside The Bubble at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Saturday.
With the belt currently vacant, after Canelo Alvarez relinquished it following his November 2019 stoppage win against Sergey Kovalev, the WBO ordered a four man tournament with Alvarez and Smith rated three and four in the WBO rankings respectively.
The victor of the bout will face the winner of the proposed all-Russian meeting between number one ranked Umar Salamov and number two Maxim Maslov for the vacant title.
Alvarez (25-1, 13 KOs) has some stellar names on his record and came to wider prominence in February 2017, when he knocked out former IBF Super Middleweight champion, Lucian Bute, in five rounds, and four months later he backed this up with a more impressive majority verdict win against Jean Pascal.
‘Storm’ would have to wait some 14 months for his next outing and it was an opportunity for the WBO world title against the fearsome Sergey Kovalev in Atlantic City.
Alvarez turned the odds upside down, behind on all cards before dropping the Russian three times in the seventh for a sensational knockout win.
Kovalev would make technical adjustments in a rematch, unusually sticking to boxing to widely outpoint his conqueror in their sequel to hand the Colombian a first pro defeat.
The 36-year-old returned in January this year, knocking out Michael Seals in seven to climb the WBO rankings once more.
Big punching Joe Smith Jr broke out in June 2016, when he stunned Andrzej Fonfara inside a round to win the WBC International title in what was one of the upsets of the year.
That win paved the way for the New Yorker to be the last dance partner of two-weight legend Bernard Hopkins, with ‘The Irish Bomber’ upsetting the odds to stop Hopkins in eight, when a flurry of punches forced the Philadelphian out of the ring.
Smith’s streak wouldn’t last though, as in his very next fight, he decked Sullivan Barrera in the opening round, but then had his jaw broken and was eventually beaten on the cards.
A quick first round knockout win on his return gave him his first shot at a world title, but Dmitry Bivol was much too well schooled for Smith (25-3, 20 KOs) and he defended his WBA Light-Heavyweight belt widely on the scorecards.
The 30-year-old has fought once since, in January this year, winning a split decision over former world title challenger Jesse Hart, aided by a seventh round knockdown to win the WBO NABO belt.
Prediction: This is a really intriguing battle, and both men have power to burn, with the pair also having big fight experience aplenty.
For me, Smith has the more psychological damage, and is battle-scarred, while Alvarez suffered his sole career reverse due to Sergey Kovalev adopting pure boxing skills, something Smith doesn’t really possess.
Smith will go for broke in the early stages, but Alvarez should negate this to take over from halfway, and he could possibly force a stoppage in the championship rounds, but more likely will take a win on the scorecards.
Former WBA Middleweight champion, Rob Brant (25-2, 17 KOs) is in action on the bill for the first time since losing his belt in a rematch with Ryota Murata in July last year in Japan.
He takes on California-based Ukrainian Vitalii Kopylenko (28-2, 16 KOs) over ten rounds. Kopylenko is coming off a split decision loss to Steven Butler in his last fight back in May last year. Brant should be able to take a clear decision here.
Someone’s “0” will go in a Super-Lightweight ten rounder between New Jersey’s Julian Rodriguez (19-0, 12 KOs)and Connecticut’s Anthony Laureano (13-0, 4 KOs).
Clay Collard (8-2-3, 3 KOs) is fast gaining a reputation as an entertaining, heavy-handed fighter to watch and he appears on another Top Rank behind closed doors bill against Maurice Williams (7-1, 3 KOs) at Super-Middleweight.
At Super-Welterweight, Wendy Toussaint (11-0, 5 KOs) and Isiah Jones (9-2, 3 KOs) go head-to-head.
The sole six rounder on the bill sees Robert Rodriguez (8-0-1, 4 KOs) clash with Abel Soriano (10-0, 7 KOs) and Duke Ragan makes his debut over four against Luis Alvarado (1-1) at Featherweight.