It was mission accomplished for Joe Smith Jr., or at least the first step of his intended journey.
The heavy-handed light heavyweight claimed his first major title, earning a 12-round majority decision over Russia’s Maxim Vlasov to win the vacant WBO 175-pound belt Saturday evening at Osage Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Long Island’s Smith—who recently wed this past February—was forced to put his honeymoon on hold to re-enter training camp for the rescheduled title fight.
The plan now is to take care of unfinished business before adding to his title collection.
“Once we get back (from the honeymoon), the goal is to hunt down Artur Beterbiev and become a unified world champion,” Smith told BoxingScene.com.
Smith (27-3, 21KOs) was originally due to face Vlasov in February, having timed his wedding to take place shortly after the bout. From there, the goal was to watch Beterbiev (17-0, 17KOs) defend his title in March and then challenge him immediately thereafter.
The plans were rearranged after Vlasov tested positive for COVID-19, thus canceling their Feb. 13th date. Smith instead moved forward with his wedding but not the honeymoon, while watching from training camp as Beterbiev scored a 10th round knockout of Adam Deines on March 20th to defend his lineal/WBC/IBF titles.
Saturday’s main event—which aired live on ESPN—proved to be a grueling affair, with many observers believing the decision (115-112 Smith, 115-113 Smith, 114-114) could have gone either way. Smith pulled it out by sweeping the final two rounds on all three judges’ scorecards, winning his first major belt on his second try. It comes as part of a three-fight win streak since dropping a 12-round unanimous decision to unbeaten and still-reigning WBA light heavyweight titlist Dmitry Bivol in March 2019.
Smith claimed upset wins over Top 10 contender Jesse Hart and former titlist Eleider Alvarez in 2020 to bolster his way to the title picture. The hard-fought win over Vlasov was less convincing than his prior wins, though ending the same as all of his other fights—with the understanding that there is always more to learn in his quest for light heavyweight supremacy.
“I want other belts, I want the big fights out there,” insists Smith. “I have to get back in the gym, keep working on my technique.
But I have to get out there, get those [other] belts.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox