No, we are not “back to normal.” But we seem to be edging that way, right? That's how it felt, anyway, at times when I was watching the Joe Smith versus Maxim Vlasov light heavyweight title contest Saturday evening on ESPN.
Not totally, because I still cringed when I saw that some patrons chose to not wear face covering inside the arena at the Osage Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma, despite the casino requesting they do so…but hey, on the bright side, it felt good, overall, to watch the clash and appreciate the sounds of the 500 or so fans who watched and rooted onsite.
Maybe 50 of them were from the Long Island region, and who knows, their encouragement might have been that extra push which propelled the 31 year old union man Smith to the win in a thisclose battle after out-hustling his foe in rounds 11 and 12. For me, Joe Smith won the weekend, with his display topping the Top Rank card…But other folks might have a different take, because Showtime ran some bouts as well, on Saturday. Because, yes, we are edging more toward normalcy, to a degree, every day.
“Jaron ‘Boots’ Ennis was the clear winner of this weekend,” said Abe Gonzalez, the West Coast Bureau Chief of NY Fights.
“There is no question in my mind that he is ready for that next step in his career. Let’s be honest, he isn’t getting a title shot this year but in 2022, I don’t see how he isn’t fighting for one. HIs combination of speed, power and ring IQ is scary good. The only thing that needs a little work is his overall public profile. His team really needs to build off of this momentum and start polishing that star potential he clearly possesses. If I was a booker or Showtime, I would slightly overpay Danny Garcia and have them do an all Philly showdown in the fall at the Wells Fargo Center. The whole city would come out for that one and if successful, you can book Ennis against Spence in the summer of 2022.
“I want to quickly recognize the work of legendary cut-man Jacob ’Stitch’ Duran during the Joe Smith vs Maxim Vlasov fight on ESPN Saturday. Things began to look grim for Joe Smith Jr. when he was cut on his left eye early in the fight. The cut was in a bad spot and quickly became something Smith was paying attention to. Duran was able to keep the cut from becoming a mess and allowed Smith to remain focused on the fight. I thought that was one of the main factors in Smith winning on Saturday, night therefore “Stitch” deserves some credit for that victory.
“On a last note, Efe Ajagba once again proved that he could provide a highlight reel type of knockout that would be seen all over social media.
“One thing is for sure, he will part of a savage knockout in the future. Whether that is him being knocked out or knocking someone out, it will certainly be something to watch.”
“Jaron Ennis, whose “boots” were made for walkin'…all over Sergey Lipinets, won the weekend,” said David Phillips of NY Fights. “Sure, Sergey might have been in a higher weight class than when he was the junior welterweight IBF champion, but in his first true step up fight, Ennis made me believe the hype. I do think he might be a little too easy to hit at times, but that may have been because he knew Lipinets couldn't hurt him. When he wanted to move, bob and weave, he showed the talent to do so. Hell, all he did was show talent, skill and promise. And on that third item, he delivered more than promise, he brought affirmation.”
“Maxim Vlasov won the weekend,” said Matt Andrzejewski of NYF. “Did he beat Joe Smith Jr? Some say yes, some say it was close and could have gone either way and others say Smith did in fact edge it out. But the fact is Vlasov performed better than most expected. Light heavyweight is still a deep weight class and Vlasov puts himself firmly in the mix for big fights down the road. Let's say Smith and Beterbiev fight at the end of the year. Vlasov would be a natural to slot in on the undercard to face the winner.”
“Boots won the weekend,” said film-maker and boxing guy Jay Bulger.
“Jaron Ennis is a future P4P #1. If he fights Spence, he will crush him.”
“Logan Paul won the weekend, did you see that stunner he took from Kevin Owens at WrestleMania? He sold it like a billion dollars,” said Ryan Songalia of RING. “You can’t buy that kind of star power. Biggest exposure of any boxer this past weekend.”
“Ebanie Bridges (below) won the weekend,” said journo Ryan O'Hara.
“She exemplified that she had the heart of a champion fighting through the gruesome injury to her left eye despite coming out on the raw end on the scorecards. And let’s be honest, we have seen male fighters quit over lesser injuries, including a bruised hand. As for an honorable mention, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Jaron “Boots” Ennis following his impressive sixth-round destruction of Sergey Lipinets. While I believe that Ennis will be a future pound-for-pound star, I still think it would be too early to put him against the likes of Errol Spence Jr. You still have to err on the side of caution. Lipinets never really looked comfortable as a welterweight and his previous bout against Clayton was eye-opening. But nonetheless, Ennis got him out of there. I’d be interested in seeing Ennis take on former titlist Keith Thurman. There are a lot of questions surrounding “One Time” and whether he still has that fighting spirit left. After all of the delays and injuries, that can take a toll. Let’s make the fight happen.”
“There are so many different choices from this weekend alone, it’s hard to pick one,” wrote reporter Carlos Toro. “Ebanie Bridges won over so many people with her performance even in defeat. Jaron Ennis was who we thought he was and that is a welterweight star in the making. Even Conor Benn and Eimantas Stanionis excelled in what was their respective toughest tests so far as pros. However, I do want to give a special shout-out to Joe Smith Jr. Heading into the weekend, Smith may have been the favorite against Maxim Vlasov, bur stylistically, Vlasov presented so many problems for Smith and that was evident on Saturday night. But as Smith seemed to lose steam at the end of the 10th round, Smith dug deeper than he’s ever had to in his career and put out two stellar final rounds to steal the WBO light heavyweight title on the scorecards. He showed the heart, grit and courage all champions past, present and future show when faced with great adversity and it ended with him becoming a world champion. To the victor goes the spoils and that is both a title and a possible showdown with fellow champion Artur Beterbiev in what is a great fight on paper.”
“To me, a very obvious answer to who won the weekend, Boots Ennis,” said Anson Wainwright of RING. “If anyone says different, they must have been on the moon. We all knew he was good; he may be better than we thought. An eye-opening destruction of a seasoned, well respected former champion and he took him apart. Give me more Boots, can't wait to see him fight again.”
“Efe Ajagba making SportsCenter Top 10…. Do not forget the heavyweights,” commanded Evan Korn, from Top Rank.
“My vote goes to Joe Smith, winning his first world title on Saturday night against a very tough awkward opponent in Vlasov who was also a top-ten 175 pounder,” said ace publicist Bernie Bahrmasel.
“A 12-year professional, Smith has overcome numerous obstacles throughout his career and just like in the fight on Saturday night continued to persevere. New York City has another world champion, a true ticket seller in the area –all very good for boxing.”
“While Boots is the obvious choice, especially from SHO PR, haha, let's give an honorable mention to Jerwin Ancajas,” said Greg Domino, with the Showtime crew. “He has the most title defenses of any current world champ and looked excited doing it on Saturday night. Perhaps he has silenced the critics and put himself in position to mix it up with the “four kings” at super flyweight sooner than later.”
“Was working on SHO fights and haven’t seen others, so I have to pass on voting to be fair,” said the esteemed industry vet Gordon Hall, of Showtime. “I will say for pure enjoyment the Ancajas vs Rodriguez fight was an all out slugfest with over 1500 punches thrown over the 12 round title fight and very entertaining. (Click here for the David Phillips report on the Ancajas win.) As far as Ennis, we have all been waiting for a fight that we could clearly say was a step up and Lipinets, though a smaller fighter, was that test to date. He passed the test with an A+ but what impressed me was his ability to either go right or lefty for extended periods of time and still be extremely sharp with punches and power in either hand. Time will tell but he certainly looks like he could be a great one and has good disposition. I am happy to hear Joe Smith, Jr. won as his story is a good one and appears he came back in later rounds to get the victory. Will look to watch.”
“In a big boxing weekend, several winners deserve to be called out in NYFights,” said PR guru Gayle Falkenthal. “Honorable mention to the heavyweight prospects who all put on a show Saturday in Oklahoma with the kind of knockouts both casual and hardcore boxing fans love. You can criticize the level of opponents all you want, but the health of the heavyweight division is the health of boxing as a whole.
“Conor Benn (below) shut up a lot of doubters with his own sizzling knockout win over the proven and durable Sammy Vargas. Most of us were barely in our seats to see what Benn could muster before it was over. It took Vergil Ortiz Jr. and Danny Garcia seven rounds, and it took Amir Khan all 12 rounds plus suffering his own knockdown to beat Vargas. Benn is a fiery personality and wants all comers. He even taunted Vargas in Spanish at the weigh-in. A whole lot of upside for the son of a beloved British champion.
“Boxing pundits like our tribe can stop asking whether Jaron Ennis is the goods. Boot up on Ennis, he's got speed, timing, footwork, and plenty of power. He still has some things to learn, but who isn't all about watching him continue to progress from a strong starting point? Together with Ortiz Jr. and Benn, Ennis is part of a trio of rising welterweight stars not all that far behind the Four Princes in their division.
“Joe Smith Jr. gets the top spot this weekend. It wasn't the performance he probably envisioned for himself, but he's going home with the WBO World Light Heavyweight belt he's wanted for so long. After falling short in his first title attempt, and coming awfully close to seeing it slip through his fingers again, Smith Jr. had to dig down beyond any trench in hard soil he ever dug as a union laborer to win the final two rounds on all three judges' scorecards to secure the decision win. Now Smith Jr. will score a big payday in a unification fight against another Russian, likely Artur Beterbiev. Two hard-punching, come-forward light heavyweights in a USA vs Russia battle-worthy of a modern Rocky movie? Sign us up. Never mind for now that Dmitry Bivol beats the brakes off either of them to unify the division down the road.
“Honorable mention to Maxim Vlasov. Like many others, I scored the Smith Jr. fight as a narrow win for Vlasov. He left Oklahoma disappointed, but he's got a whole new fan base who appreciate his effort and look forward to seeing him again. Vlasov still has plenty to offer.”
“Ebanie Bridges won the weekend,” said New England boxing lifer Ted Panagiotis.
“She broke the internet with her weigh-in attire (see above), then got her face broken by Shannon Courtenay, but I don't think she's complaining. She showed that the book doesn't always match the cover, and despite losing a close fight (the cards were way off and not indicitive of the fight itself), she shut alot of people up on Saturday. Also, hats off to Joe Smith, Jr. He would have been my first choice, however I know that he will end up being the consensus, and I felt Bridges deserved some respect on her name.”
“Very close between Joe Smith Jr, Conor Benn and Boots Ennis but I’ll go with Mr. Smith who rallied in the final stretches of a fight he was losing to win his first world title and set up a possible seven figure pay day with Artur Beterbiev,” said writer/real estate man Vladimir Lik. “Benn and Ennis looked spectacular in step-up bouts but neither are challenging for a title next while Smith walked away crowned as a world champion. We knew Smith had the heart of a lion but grappled with whether or not he is elite and he proved on Saturday night that against all odds of a bad cut and likely behind on the cards, he pulled it out in his own Rocky moment!”
“The fans won this weekend,” said USA Boxing rep Sonya Lamonakis, of Gleason's Gym. “Boots outboxed and put his opponent down. Joe Smith got the win, fight was close but last two rounds gave it to him. The Baby Faced Assassin and the Blonde Bomber gave us a great bout. Shannon edged it out but Ebanie showed grit. Savannah Marshall is strong and skilled. I’m looking forward to her and ‘Ressa (Shields).”
“There were more impressive performances than Joe Smith’s but he still won the weekend,” said ex BWAA President Jack Hirsch.
“The way Smith rallied those last two rounds to achieve his dream of becoming a world champion was inspiring. Honorable mention should go to Maxim Vlasov, the man he defeated; you can make a valid argument Vlasov won the fight.
“Boots Ennis introduced himself into the big time in the welterweight division, dominating Sergey Lipinets as he did. Ennis showed he will be a force for years to come. Conor Benn’s sensational one round stoppage of Samuel Vargas was his introduction into the big time. It was a great leap forward for both Ennis and Benn, but Smith’s match was so exciting and compelling that the weekend was won by him more than any of the others.”