New York hardman, Joe Smith Jr gets a second crack at world honours, and he faces Russia’s Maxim Vlasov, with the vacant WBO Light Heavyweight title the prize for the winner at the Osage Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma this Saturday night.
Smith Jr (26-3, 21 KOs) and Vlasov (45-3, 26 KOs) were scheduled to clash back in February, but the latter tested positive for COVID-19 with the contest just days away.
The belt was vacated by Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez after his win over Sergey Kovalev, but the Russian saw his chance to regain the title go up in smoke with a failed drug test scuppering his return in January.
Smith first came to prominence in 2016, wiping out Andrzej Fonfara in a round. That win set up a meeting with the legendary Bernard Hopkins, and the 31-year-old finally ended the American’s long career with an eighth round victory.
He couldn’t build on that progress though, and Sullivan Barrera came off the canvas to record a comfortable July 2017 points win. Two fights later came a shot at Dmitry Bivol’s WBA belt, but Smith was soundly beaten on the cards.
2020 saw two wins on the bounce, firstly a split decision ten round win against Jesse Hart, and then a stunning ninth round stoppage of former WBO king, Eleider Alvarez in his last outing in August 2020.
Vlasov, 34, has mainly campaigned between Light Heavyweight and Cruiserweight, and he has only lost in good company.
A points defeat to Isaac Chilemba in 2011 was his first reverse, and he didn’t lose again for nearly four years, dropping a ten round decision to Gilberto Ramirez in January 2015. A dozen low key wins followed to earn a crack at the interim WBO Cruiserweight title.
Krzysztof Glowacki proved too much for the Samara native, and the Pole took a deserved points win. Three straight wins have followed, including a revenge points win over Chilemba in July 2019, and his last contest was in November of the same year. He won every round of ten against the previously unbeaten Emmanuel Martey in Russia.
Prediction: Smith will be hungry to finally realise his potential, and Vlasov should represent a perfect opportunity to do that. It should be a competitive affair, but Smith hits hard, and he can pound out a deserved points win to take the title.
Heavyweight prospect, Efe Ajagba sees action on the bill over ten rounds. The Texas-based Nigerian has done all that has been asked of him in his professional career so far, but will look to step up in class in 2021.
His opponent this weekend though can’t be classed in the step up bracket. Georgia’s Brian Howard is the man in the opposite corner, and the 40-year-old has been stopped in three of his four defeats.
Ajagba (14-0, 11 KOs) was last out in September 2020, outpointing Jonathan Rice over ten, while Howard (15-4, 12 KOs) was knocked out in four by Frank Sanchez in November 2020 in his last assignment.
Prediction: Ajagba should repeat that feat here, and halt Howard in the first half of the bout.
The card features three further Heavyweight attractions. Jared Anderson (8-0, 8 KOs) goes for yet another knockout win, and he should achieve this against Jeremiah Karpency (16-2-1, 6 KOs).
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Prediction: Karpency has only been stopped by decent opponents in Oscar Rivas and Sergey Kuzmin, but Anderson can take him out early on.
Sonny Conto (6-0, 5 KOs) is another Heavyweight hope in action, and ‘The Bronco’ should be able to see off Waldo Contes Acosta (6-3, 3 KOs) early on in their encounter.
Jeremiah Milton (2-0, 2 KOs) meets Jayvone Dafney (2-2, 2 KOs), and Milton can become the first person to stop Dafney early.
2016 Olympic Gold Medallist, Robson Conceicao (15-0, 7 KOs) makes an appearance, and the talented Brazilian takes on Mexico’s Jesus Antonio Ahumada (17–3, 11 KOs).
Prediction: Conceicao will be looking to make his mark in the near future, and should have too much for Ahumada in a comfortable points win.
At Lightweight, Albert Bell (17-0, 5 KOs), should be too good for Manuel Rey Rojas (20-4, 6 KOs) but the Mexican has been the distance with Felix Verdejo recently, and only been stopped once, so it’s likely Bell will need the scorecards.
Troy Isley (1-0) goes for win number two at Middleweight, and he should outscore LaQuan Evans (4-1, 2 KOs).
Duke Ragan (3-0, 1 KO) should be able to do the same against Charles Clark (3-6-1, 1 KO) at Featherweight.