• April 14, 2024

Youngsters are punching their way through

00:40 ET

  • Ben baby

    Shut downESPN Staff Writer

    • ESPN Staff Writer
    • Previously college football writer for The Dallas Morning News
    • Graduated from the University of North Texas
  • Michael Rothstein

    Shut downESPN Staff Writer

    • Previously, University of Michigan handled for ESPN.com and AnnArbor.com
    • Also covered by Notre Dame for Fort Wayne Journal Gazette

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 that he had to be sharper, which is an exact finding that Beterbiev may have on the horizon.

Impact statistics

BlowsBlacksmithVlasov
Landed overall226214
Total thrown888863
percent26%25%
Jabs landed5227
Thrown bumps380252
percent14%11%
The power landed174187
Power thrown508611
percent34%31%
– Courtesy of CompuBox

“I have to go 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 Jr. had injured Vlasov and attempted 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 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 interruption. 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 swing 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 on its hands.

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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 over Jeremiah Karpency who withered after a couple of body punches (it’s hard to blame Karpency, if we’re honest). Ajagba then provided the night with a massive right hand which Brian Howard’s lights instantly turned off in the third round of their fight.

Anderson 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 Shileld’s next opponent should be Savannah Marshall

Savannah Marshall, left, defeated Maria Lindberg on Saturday and a megafight against Claressa Shields could be next. Dave Thompson / Matchroom Boxing

It is obvious now. After trying to figure out fights for tripartite champion Claressa Shields over 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.

Hahaha like @ Savmarshall1 had in 2018 when she & her team rejected a contract from my team @ SalitaProm 😂😂😂 I’ve said it before @EddieHearn I’ll show you how to beat another hype job 🗣 https://t.co/MMH40L8Hxd

– Claressa Gwoat Shields (@Claressashields) April 10, 2021

Marshall defended her WBO middleweight title on Saturday by defeating Maria Lindberg in the third round. She has registered KOs or TKOs in her last six fights. Her opponent count wasn’t nearly as many as the fighters Shields fought as a professional, 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. Both grew up 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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