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  Smith Jr. Defeats Vlasov &
Grabs WBO Light Heavy Strap

"A Working Class Hero Is Something To Be"

By William Trillo
Photos: Mikey Williams - Top Rank via Getty Images

When it was announced that Light heavyweights Joe Smith Jr. (27-3, 21 KO’s) and Maxim Vlasov (45-4,26 KO’s) would meet in a battle for the vacant WBO World Light Heavy Title those in the know marked their calendars, this was a cannot miss attraction. Of course, we had to wait a little longer than expected as Covid reared its ugly head postponing the original date, but when the two finally met in front of 500 fans in Oklahoma the fight produced everything we expected and more.

Tossing the “feel out” rounds into the trash can, Smith and Vlasov exploded into the bout with destruction on their minds. Before the first round was over Smith was bloodied over his right eye. That contusion was cause and effect of a sharp left hand applied early and often by Vlasov. The cut would become problematic for Smith Jr. for the remainder of the fight.

The Russian Vlasov proved to be a very awkward and tough foe. His herky-jerky style combined with surprisingly good boxing fundamentals kept the hard-working New Yorker Smith Jr. off balance in the early stages.

But, anyone who has seen Smith Jr. fight in the past knew it was a matter of time before his tenacity and power would begin to make a difference. Like clockwork the Smith Jr. attack began to break Vlasov down in rounds 4-6. Blood was beginning to spew from Vlasov’s mouth and body shots seemed to render him unable to remain in control.

The fight was at its midpoint and already it had lived up to the large expectations. Both men saw that Championship belt within their grasp and were ready to give every ounce of themselves in order to get it. At this point it was a toss-up, seemingly dead even.

It was nip and tuck over the next few rounds but suddenly in rounds eight and nine the body language of Smith Jr. gave the impression that he was running out of gas. Maybe there was no more fight left in him. It didn’t look good but again, anyone who has followed his career knew he was never going to throw in the towel.

Getting his second wind Smith Jrs. punch output began to increase and now it was Vaslov’s turn to show the obvious signs of wear and tear. A relentless body attack and that mouthful of blood was getting the best of him now. Smith pounded Vaslov until a misguided blow to the back of the head dropped Vaslov. The ref immediately called the blow a “Rabbit Punch” and gave the collapsed Vaslov almost five precious minutes to recover.

The fighters fought valiantly until the final bell rang. It was one of the most grueling and hard-fought battles seen this year. Still, it was near impossible to say who was going to come out victorious. This one was going to go to the scorecards and as expected, it was tight.

Final scores read 114-114 even,115-113 and 115-112 in favor of the new Champion Joe Smith Jr.

Once again it was Joe Smith Jr., the everyman’s fighter, who with hard work and a never say die attitude came out victorious and took one more step up to the top of the 175 ladder. From knocking former Champions through the ropes to winning fights no one said he could, Smith Jr. is living proof that "A Working-Class Hero Is Something To Be" (John Lennon).

After the fight the new champ said, “It’s a great feeling. It was definitely a close, tough fight. I give it to Vlasov. Great fighter. He really put on a great show tonight and toughed it out. I believe that round where I hurt him there… I believe he had his head down, and I should’ve got the knockout. I think I would’ve got the stoppage that round, but he pulled it off and made it out on his feet. I believe I got the victory tonight because they saw I landed the harder shots. He landed a lot of punches. It was a great fight. I want the other belts. I want the big fights out there. Now I gotta get back in the gym and keep working on my technique and stuff. I believe I’m going to start unifying belts.”

Top Rank Promotions Undercard Report

Ajagba Obliterates Howard

Efe Ajagba (15-0, 12 KOs) just crashed the heavyweight contender parade. The 2016 Nigerian Olympian sent Brian Howard into another orbit with a crunching right hand. Howard twisted, fell face first, and the bout was immediately stopped. Ajagba had not fought since last September's decision win over Jonathan Rice, but he re-established his place among the world's top young heavyweights. At 26 years old, time is on his side.

Ajagba said, “I felt good. I tried to pick the punches, use the jab. This guy is very slick sometimes. I tried to do the job. He was shaky, so when I went back to the corner after the first round, my coach told me to take my time, start with the body, leave the head.

“I trained for this fight, took my time, started with my boxing foundation, and came back strong. This camp was the best one for me, the best camp ever in my boxing career.

“It’s my time to shine, so I’m coming for the heavyweights.”

Jared Anderson (9-0, 9 KOs) KO 2 Jeremiah Karpency (16-3-1, 6 KOs), :34. Anderson, the 21-year-old prodigy from Toledo, added another speedy knockout to his highlight reel, this time using a body attack to end things early. He knocked down Karpency with a body blow at the end of the first round, then ended things with another right hand to the body early in the second round.

Anderson said, “I knew he was going to find a spot to fall. I respect him for getting in there and showing up today. It’s a man’s sport. I’m just grateful to be here, thankful for the opportunity.

“I {saw} the shot. His hands kept going up. I kept throwing my jab, looking for openings, feinting, moving around the ring, and it just came. It was a good shot, and he didn’t want to get back up.

“Everybody who says they’re the biggest and the baddest, come see ‘Big ‘Baby’ then.

“I want to thank Toledo, my city. A lot of them came out to Oklahoma, and I wanted to put on a show for them. I can’t wait for what is next.

Junior Lightweight:
Albert Bell (18-0, 5 KOs) UD 8 Manuel Rey Rojas (20-5, 6 KOs). Scores: 78-74 3x. Toledo's Bell used his length and reach to keep the shorter Rojas at bay and ultimately cruised to a one-sided decision. Bell, who outlanded Rojas 114-94, is ranked in the top 15 by two of the major sanctioning organizations.

Junior Lightweight:
Robson Conceicao (16-0, 8 KOs) TKO 7 Jesus Antonio Ahumada (17-4 11 KOs), 1:20. 2016 Olympic gold medalist Conceicao, from Bahia, Brazil, put forth a workmanlike performance and beat down Mexican veteran Ahumada. After a knockdown in the seventh, referee Gary Ritter saw enough and saved Ahumada from further carnage.

Trey Lippe Morrison (17-0, 17 KOs) TKO 3 Jason Bergman (2-3, 2 KOs), 1:27. Lippe Morrison, son of the late heavyweight Tommy Morrison, returned from a nearly two-year layoff and stopped veteran Bergman in a crowd-pleasing slugfest. Bergman appeared to knock down Morrison in the first, but the referee missed the knockdown call. In the third, Bergman rolled his ankle and could continue, and Morrison was awarded the TKO victory.

Duke Ragan (4-0, 1 KO) UD 6 Charles Clark (3-7,-1 1 KO). Scores: 60-54 3x. In his first fight away from the confines of the MGM Grand Las Vegas Bubble, Cincinnati's Ragan outboxed Clark and won every round on all three judges' scorecards. Through four pro bouts, Ragan has yet to lose a round.

Jeremiah Milton (3-0, 3 KOs) TKO 1 Jayvone Dafney (2-3, 2 KOs), 1:19. Tulsa native Milton had a successful homecoming, icing Dafney in the opening round with a right hand as Daffney was backed up against the ropes. A dazed Dafney could not respond, and the referee called the bout off.

Sonny Conto (7-0, 6 KOs) KO 1 Waldo Cortes (6-4, 3 KO), 1:41. Welcome back, Sonny! In his first fight in 15 months, South Philadelphia native Conto put Cortes down for the 10-count with a sweeping right hand. Conto has now won three straight by first-round stoppage.


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