It’s “‘Rocky IV’ come to life,” says boxing promoter Bob Arum, and it stars none other than Shirley’s own Joe Smith Jr. as the hard-punching, blue collar hero.
Smith’s light heavyweight championship bout against Russian veteran Maxim Vlasov in Las Vegas on Saturday, Feb. 13, will be televised live on ESPN at 10 p.m. The winner goes home as WBO champion.
“He’s just a humble, family-oriented kid,” said Smith’s uncle, Hal Rovner of Medford. “He is where he is today because he is just completely dedicated. Whenever something difficult is put in his path, it just motivates him to work harder.”
Sounds a lot like Rocky Balboa.
“Joe Smith Jr. is boxing’s blue-collar hero, a relentless fighter who chops down trees outside the ring and chops down opponents when the lights are bright,” Arum recently told Boxing Schedule, referring to Smith’s local tree service business. “(Vlasov) is a tough Russian who is going to meet Joe punch for punch in the center of the ring.”
Arum predicted the bout — at the MGM Grand Las Vegas — will contend for Fight of the Year in 2021.
Smith, nicknamed “The Irish Bomber,” has won 26 of his 29 fights, including 21 knockout victories. In January 2020, he became the WBO-NABO light heavyweight champion with a split decision win over Jesse Hart. He is fighting Vlasov (45-3), a 15-year pro, for the vacant WBO title.
In his last bout, Smith, 31, successfully defended his title with a knockout win against Colombian Eleider Álvarez. The fight that put Smith on the map was his successful WBC title defense against legend Bernard Hopkins in 2016.
The eighth-round TKO was Hopkins’ final fight; it was the only bout in his 28-year career that he was unable to finish. Six months later, Smith lost his WBC title belt to Sullivan Barrera of Cuba.
Smith knows a win over Vlasov will open the door to more opportunities and even bigger fights against other current champions.
“I’m feeling my best right now. My 30s are doing good for me,” Smith, whose mom Marie will be in attendance at Saturday’s fight, told The Sun.
Here on Long Island, Smith’s uncle said he’ll be hunkered down for the fight in front of the TV at home with his wife Celeste and their sons, Josh, 21, and Zach, 17.
“We’ll be rooting for him,” Rovner said. “Joe’s going to come through.”