It wouldn’t be a boxing tournament if things didn’t fall apart at some point.
Earlier this year, the WBO ordered Gilberto Ramirez vs. Eleider Alvarez and Maxim Vlasov vs. Umar Salamov as semifinals for a crack at the vacant light heavyweight belt formerly held by Canelo Alvarez. When Ramirez bowed out, Joe Smith Jr. took his place, ultimately crushing “Storm” in August. With Salamov waylaid by COVID, the sanctioning body has now ordered Smith to face Vlasov for the belt.
As both men are promoted by Top Rank and are presently situated in the States, there shouldn’t be any issue putting the fight together.
Smith (26-3, 21 KO) exploded up the 175-pound ranks with brutal knockouts of Andrzej Fonfara and Bernard Hopkins, only to suffer a precipitous fall in one-sided losses to Sullivan Barrera and Dmitry Bivol. He’s responded to those defeats brilliantly, however, and looked better than ever in dominant performances against Jesse Hart and the aforementioned Alvarez this year.
The 34-year-old Vlasov (45-3, 26 KO) spent much of his early career between 168 and 175 pounds, dropping decisions to Isaac Chilemba and “Zurdo” Ramirez along the way, before jumping to cruiserweight in 2015. He enjoyed a strong run at the weight, marred only by a loss to Krzysztof Glowacki in the WBSS, then returned to 175 last year with three straight wins.
This looks like a good one. Vlasov is incredibly durable, having stood up to and ultimately overpowered brutal punchers like Rakhim Chakhkiev and Olanrewaju Durodola, but Smith’s recent improvements show that he doesn’t necessarily need a knockout to win. Looking forward to them finding a date and location.