Jerry Capobianoco, the trainer to Joe Smith, got the news at around 4:30 PM ET.
“The fight is off. Maxim Vlasov tested COVID positive.”
Light heavyweight Joe Smith (26-3 with 21 KOs) took the news OK, but, the Long Island trainer from a fighting family admitted that Smith is “crushed.” He was supposed to face off with the Russian Vlasov on Saturday night, topping the Top Rank/ESPN card at the MGM Bubble, in Las Vegas.
Now, the 31 year Mastic, Long Island, NY resident gets to go home, lick his wounds, and think about the check that he won't be cashing. The fighter is due to be married in three weeks, so at least he has that to look forward to.
He's been beyond diligent, Capobianco told me, in prepping for this fight, married to boxing, because he realized how big this fight against Vlasov would be.
Capobianco heard that Vlasov was tested, and then re-tested, to make sure it wasn't a false positive deal.
I messaged promoter Bob Arum, and made a disparaging remark about COVID. “WTF,” he responded.
In a release sent out by Top Rank, Vlasov said, “I am devastated with the postponement of my world title fight against Joe Smith Jr. I have been following strict protocols, I have done regular testing with negative results, and I have no symptoms. I am well prepared and had an excellent training camp. I look forward to the rescheduling of the fight and the opportunity to display my world class skills.”
The WBO 175 crown had been held by Canelo Alvarez, who took it off Sergey Kovalev. It went vacant when Canelo said he was going to do super middleweight for awhile.
You might recall in his last outing, Joe Smith Jr on Aug. 22, 2020 knocked Eleider Alvarez through the ropes at the Bubble. (See below in Mikey Williams photo.)
That bout was a title shot eliminator, and on the other side, 45-3 Maxim Vlasov (age 34) would meet 26-1 Umar Salamov, a fellow Russian.
The winner of that one would meet Joe Smith Jr; but COVID interceded.
In early November, it was reported that Salamov couldn't fight, he had contracted COVID. So the WBO shifted gears, and made the Smith v Vlasov fight for the crown. But COVID screwed this one up, just as it's messed with another light heavyweight titlist, Artur Beterbiev. The holds the WBC and IBF versions but he too contracted COVID, and that got him off track. He's to meet underdog Adam Deines March 20, knock on double wood.
I have an idea–Joe Smith Jr has been exceedingly patient. No aspersion to Salamov or Vlasov, but those guys got the virus. Maybe it was through a severe fluke. But Joe Smith, I'm told, has been above and beyond in staying smart in regards to keeping his guard up against COVID.
No family gatherings, no holiday galas at Thanksgiving or Christmas. Maybe, just maybe, the WBO should give the kid a break, and grant him that vacant title. Give Smith the title, even though lord knows he's not the sort he wants to learn he got a title via email. Then let Vlasov, or Salamov, or whoever, face him.
I touched base with Smith's promoter, Joe DeGuardia of Star Boxing. “This is devastating and disappointing, my heart goes out for myself, my team and most importantly for Joe,” DeGuardia said. “He was in the shape of his life, all the momentum is on his side…aand I fully believe he was going to deliver a sensation KO. He dedicated himself this past November, through Christmas, stayed away from people. He did all that all knowing that down the line he'd be able to get the light heavyweight championship of the world, he could win that title, then fight a unification, that's why. Most people don't know how hard this is. This was perfect timing, everything was good, so it's very sad for this to happen. I get it, these things you can't control, but we're not a happy.”
I told him my theory, that maybe the WBO should just reward Joe Smith Jr for his patience, and immune system, and name him the WBO titlist. DeGuardia said he needed to talk to officials, see how things play out. “But, I'm not putting words in Joe's mouth, if that happened, he'd have no problem defending against Vlasov and Salamov not the same night, but back to back!”
Here is the rest of the Top Rank release:
The Richard Commey-Jackson Marinez lightweight bout has been elevated to the main event and will headline the ESPN-televised tripleheader beginning at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT.
Click here to learn more about Commey, from NY Fights West Coast editor Abe Gonzalez.
In the new co-feature, action star Adam Lopez will defend his NABF featherweight belt in a 10-rounder against former world title challenger Jason Sanchez.
The ESPN telecast will open with Toledo heavyweight sensation Jared Anderson (7-0, 7 KOs) against Kingsley Ibeh in a six-rounder.
Undercard bouts, including the professional debut of former U.S. amateur star Troy Isley, will stream live on ESPN+ at 8:15 p.m. ET/5:15 p.m. PT.