Maxim Vlasov wasn’t buying the hype of Joe Smith Jr’s newfound boxing skills when they were supposed to fight in February.

Nor does he believe that any significant improvements have been made in the past eight weeks.

“I don’t think anything has changed since February,” Vlasov insists of Long Island’s Smith, whom he faces for the vacant WBO light heavyweight title this weekend. “I don’t think Joe Smith has changed anything about his game, tactically.

“Even if he has, this is going to be a very hard fight for both of us.”

Their rescheduled bout takes place this Saturday, live on ESPN and its accompanying platforms from a sold-out Osage Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The moment comes less than two months after they were due to meet on Feb. 13th at MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas, only for Russia’s Vlasov (45-3, 26KOs) to test positive for Covid-19 just days before the event.

Both boxers returned back to camp, essentially to fine their respective game plans for one another. Smith (26-3, 21KOs) is an industry-wide favorite to prevail, the increased confidence stemming from his pair of 2020 wins over former super middleweight title challenger Jesse Hart and former WBO light heavyweight titlist Eleider Alvarez.

Smith turned heads in a 9th round stoppage of Alvarez last August, to the point where many consider this matchup to be a mere formality. A win on Saturday will position Smith for a three-belt unification with lineal and WBC/IBF light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev (16-0, 16KOs).

Vlasov would love nothing more than to have the same opportunity. For now, he will settle for the role of disregarded underdog intent on surpassing everyone’s expectations.

“I will show all of the skills and talents that I have developed over the course of my boxing career,” insists Vlasov, who has won three straight since a Nov. 2018 interim title fight loss to Krzysztof Glowacki. "Even if he has developed some new skills, I don’t think he can perfect anything new in such a short amount of time. I haven’t seen proof that his skills have changed.”

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox