JOE SMITH Jnr won the WBO light-heavyweight title after a 12-round battle with Maxim Vlasov at the Osage Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Saturday (April 10).

Smith finished with a majority decision, winning 115-113 for Pat Russell and 115-112 for Gerald Ritter. Judge David Sutherland had them level at 114-114. But his Russian opponent was left aggrieved at the result. “Against the aggressive style of Joe Smith, I came forward the entire fight,” Vlasov said in a statement. “I felt confident I was winning and was securing rounds in the bank with the judges. I never felt that I was behind at any stage of the fight.”

Smith insisted his hurtful shots tipped the fight his way. “It’s great, it’s a great feeling. It was definitely a close, tough fight. Great fighter, he really put on a great show tonight and toughed it out,” Smith said afterwards.

“I believe I got the victory tonight because I landed the bigger, harder shots but he landed a lot of punches. It was a great fight.

“I caught him in that last round, I thought I was going to get him out. [But] a victory’s a victory.”

Smith joins Dmitry Bivol and Artur Beterbiev as a light-heavyweight world champion and says he is willing to face his rival titlists. Beterbiev is the unified WBC and IBF boss and promoted by Top Rank like Smith. That fight might be a natural next step but he would be a formidable opponent for Smith.

“I want other belts. I want the big fights out there. I know I’ve got to get back in the gym and keep working on my technique,” Smith declared. “But I believe I’m going to start unifying belts.”