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Can Smith beat the other 175 pound champions?

Joe Smith Jr.’s best moments in his WBO light heavyweight win over Maxim Vlasov on Saturday night were also sobering memories.

On two separate occasions, Smith had injured Vlasov and removed a punch or two from getting a major knockdown. However, Smith never had the acumen or discipline to find the right combination to impose massive penalties.

And even with a win, these technical flaws showed why Artur Beterbiev and Dmitry Bivol should be considered the best light heavyweights in the world. Smith won a majority decision over Vlasov that could have vibrated one way or another. All three scorecards were within three points and one judge had a tie.

Even Smith seemed to admit he had to be sharper, which is an accurate finding that Beterbiev may have on the horizon.

“I have to get back to the gym and keep working on my technique and my stuff,” said Smith. “I think I’ll start unifying belts.”

The seventh and eleventh rounds at Osage Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma, were prime examples of Smith’s mistake. In the seventh, Smith had injured Vlasov trying to land a large right hand over the top, an effective power shot in Smith’s career. But Vlasov was cage enough to keep his distance, stay out of range, and avoid another big blow. Vlasov survived the round.

Round 11 was another missed opportunity. Smith tore Vlasov open with large body shots, and Vlasov staggered again. Smith wildly missed with a hook and knocked Vlasov twice on the back of the head, apparently in frustration. Vlasov took the opportunity to go downstairs and take a minute to catch his breath after the referee believed he had gone down with an illegal blow.

Discipline aside, Smith never seemed to have the right blueprint to beat Vlasov, who looked sharper for most of the night.

Sheer strength and one-punch aggression are not enough for Smith to beat Beterbiev, an exceptional professional who has won all of his 16 fights by suspension. Another top light heavyweight, Bivol easily sent Smith in a unilateral unanimous decision in 2019.

Luckily for Smith, by the end of the night he did enough to steer the fight his way and win the Belt. But he’ll need a much better performance to challenge the best 175 pounders in the world. – Ben baby


Young heavyweights impress on undercard

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It only takes Efe Ajagba one punch to drop Brian Howard in round 3 of his top rank boxing bout.

Top Rank could have some exciting heavyweights up its sleeve.

Jared Anderson and Efe Ajagba showed that they are ready for better competition in their appearances on the Smith-Vlasov map. Anderson scored a second round TKO win against Jeremiah Karpency who withered after a few body punches. (It’s hard to blame Karpency, if we’re honest.) Then Ajagba provided the night with a massive right hand that Brian Howard’s lights instantly turned off in the third round of their fight.

Anderson, 21, took full advantage of his opportunities in the Top Rank bubble in 2020 and has been active despite the challenges of the pandemic. Ajagba could use a little more polish, but the 26-year-old has enough skill to push the middle-class heavyweights who are a big step up among the elite fighters at the top of the division.

Anderson and Ajagba’s recent outings should boost Top Rank to provide better competition for each fighter as they begin advancing in their respective careers. – Ben baby


Why Claressa Shields should be Savannah Marshall’s next opponent

It is obvious now. After trying to figure out fights for tripartite champion Claressa Shields for the past few years – including her switch to a pay-per-view card for women against Marie-Eve Dicaire last month – her next boxing opponent is clear.

It has to be Savannah Marshall.

Marshall defended her WBO middleweight title on Saturday by defeating Maria Lindberg in the third round. Marshall has recorded KOs or TKOs in her last six fights. Her opponent count wasn’t nearly as many as the fighters Shields fought as a pro, but Shields was about winning titles, fighting the best and most fascinating fights, and trying to become the best female martial artist ever.

Part of that goes to MMA, where she will make her PFL debut in June. The other part continues to enhance their boxing legacy.

Marshall is the only fighter – amateur or professional – to defeat Shields. That was almost a decade ago, on May 14, 2012, in the run-up to the 2012 AIBA Women’s World Cup. Shields was 17 years old at the time. Marshall was 20. They both grew as fighters. You are both undefeated and defending champions.

And they have been verbally going back and forth for a while – again on Saturday. It is time for this fight and there is little reason not to. – Michael Rothstein

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