But Vlasov couldn’t stop Smith from standing.
Smith rallied in the championship rounds and won the vacant WBO light heavyweight championship with a majority decision over Vlasov, 115-112, 115-113, 114-114.
Two years after Smith lost a chance at a major championship, he won the belt in a fight that tested everything he had.
“It was definitely a close, tough and difficult fight,” Smith said in the post-fight interview on ESPN. “I gave it to Vlasov. He was a great fighter. He really put on a great show tonight and toughened it up. “
With the win, Smith (27-3, 21 KOs) earns a share of the belt in the 175-pound division and sets up a potential unification title fight against undefeated Artur Beterbiev, who has won all of his 16 fights. professionals per stop. .
At one point, it looked like Smith wasn’t going to stand a chance of holding the title at the end of the night. In the 10th round, Vlasov pushed Smith back, landing forehands as Smith looked for ways to affect the 34-year-old Russian, whose unorthodox style has caused problems for Smith throughout.
When Smith came out in the 11th, the power that carried the Long Island, New York native once again delivered when he needed it most. According to CompuBox, Smith landed 48.9% of his powerful punches in the last two rounds and threw 113 punches in the last three minutes, 35 more than Vlasov.
Smith injured Vlasov and had the veteran about to hit the canvas. However, just as Vlasov was about to fall, Smith hit Vlasov in the back of the head which canceled out the knockdown and gave the injured fighter some time to recover with just over 10 seconds to go. Despite the umpire’s decision, Judge Gerald Ritter gave Smith a 10-8 turn, indicating he believed the knockdown was valid.
“I think he had his head down, and I should have had the knockout,” Smith said. “I think I would have had the stop this round, but he pulled it off and did it on his feet. “
Earlier, in the seventh round, Smith also injured Vlasov (45-4, 26 KOs) in the middle of the ring, but he was unable to find the right combination to score a knockdown. For most of the night, Vlasov’s speed and activity surprised Smith as he appeared to be ahead.
ESPN unofficially scored the fight 115-113 in favor of Vlasov.
“Against Joe Smith’s aggressive style, I brought the whole fight forward,” Vlasov said in a statement released by Top Rank Promotions. “I felt confident that I was winning and doing rounds in the bank with the judges. I never felt I was late at any point in the fight. “
But the Russian did not help his cause in the last two rounds. In fact, he was tied on two of the official scorecards and was leading point to point as he entered the 11th pivotal rounds.
Smith’s resilience helped him win the fight, secure his first major championship, and stage a potential unification fight.
“I want the other belts,” Smith said. “I want the big fights out there. ”