Mikey Williams/Top Rank

Joe Smith Jr. (26-3, 21 KOs) will be looking to make a statement when he meets Maxim Vlasov (45-3, 26 KOs) this weekend in Tulsa, Oklahoma for the vacant WBO Light Heavyweight title. 

Originally, Smith and Vlasov were scheduled to fight in February, but the fight was postponed just days prior after it was announced that Vlasov had tested positive for COVID-19. Not only was it heartbreaking for Smith to lose the chance to fight for a title, but it didn’t make matters any easier that he had already scheduled his wedding to take place after the fight. 

“Thankfully, we were able to move forward with the wedding,” Smith told “Right after the wedding, I went right back to training.

“I was able to enjoy married life for a day or two and then right back to the gym.”

The 31-year-old Smith, a native of Long Island, New York, previously challenged for a world title in 2019, but he came up short against current titleholder Dmitry Bivol. And although he remains best known for his brutal knockout victory over the legendary Bernard Hopkins in 2016, Smith is riding a wave of momentum as he’s won back-to-back bouts over Jesse Hart and Eleider Alvarez. 

Those victories helped propel Smith back into the thick of things at 175 pounds. So, despite the unfortunate circumstances surrounding his fight against Vlasov and the stress that ensued following the bout’s initial postponement, his eyes remain fixated on the prize. 

“I was happy they got it done so soon,” said Smith. “When I got to the bubble, I was in great shape and ready to go. My wedding was planned for the week after and our honeymoon right after that. We had to reschedule the honeymoon.

“It affected my wife, her family, my family. My girlfriend—my wife now—she knows what’s at stake. She got right on the phone, started calling people and moving things around. We went through a lot of changes in just one week. Fight gets canceled, and then I get married. It was a stressful couple of weeks, but we got through it. Now it’s time to do it again, this time actually get to fight and win that world title.”

To accomplish his goal, Smith will have to get through a tough opponent in Vlasov. While the 34-year-old Russian hasn’t fought since 2019, he’s an experienced veteran who has only lost three times in a career that has spanned 48 professional fights. 

However, Smith is confident that he’ll once again be able to end things early once the bell sounds. And if he can, his focus will shift to a massive title unification bout. 

“Right now, all I have on my mind is getting this guy (Vlasov) out of there as early as possible and then enjoying my honeymoon,” said Smith. “I plan on going away right after the fight. We’re doing our honeymoon as soon as this fight is over.

“Once we get back, the goal is to hunt down [Artur] Beterbiev and become a unified world champion.”

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