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Weekend Betting Angle – Smith vs Vlasov, Benn vs Vargas and more

IBHOF inductee and boxing gambling expert Graham Houston weighs up Saturday night’s betting opportunities, focusing on the vacant WBO light-heavyweight title fight between hard-hitting New Yorker Joe Smith and crafty Russian Maxim Vlasov.

There are a number of interesting betting opportunities this weekend. We’ll start with a deep dive into the weekend’s most intriguing fight, Joe Smith Jr vs Maxim Vlasov for the vacant WBO light-heavyweight title, and then take a quick look at some other fights on the betting board.

Smith vs Vlasov takes place at Tulsa, Oklahoma.  It should have taken place earlier this year but was postponed when Vlasov tested positive for Covid-19.

What we have in Smith is a rugged, heavy-handed fighter who takes it to his opponents and looks to land right hands. He jabs as he moves forward. If he gets the other man backed up on the ropes, Smith puts punches together in bursts. He can be outboxed but he’s difficult to discourage and he’s won his last two fights when the betting underdog. So it’s not surprising that Smith is the clear favourite this time, with Betfred offering 1/4 (-400).

Vlasov is a tough guy, long and lanky. He fought in the 168-pound division, went all the way up to 200 pounds and has now settled down at 175. He’s awkward but clever, moving his arms and upper body in a way that can be disconcerting for opponents, and he usually fights off the front foot, looking to land quick punches in a relaxed manner.

I believe Smith, 31, is an improved fighter. He will never be a boxing artist, but he has upped his punch output and doesn’t rely simply on landing one big shot. He’s only been stopped once, when his jaw was broken in an early bout. A few years ago, Smith fought with a broken jaw for something like the last eight rounds when losing a decision to Sullivan Barrera.

Smith (26-3, 21 KOs) was completely outboxed when challenging Dmitry Bivol for the WBA title two years ago but had his big moment when he rocked the Russian fighter with a right hand late in the 10th round. The bell sounded before Smith could follow up and his window of opportunity closed.

Bivol was far too mobile and skilful for Smith. But Vlasov doesn’t have Bivol’s speed. Smith might be able to get to Vlasov and wear him down. Smith did a good job of keeping the pressure on Jesse Hart and ex-champ Eleider Alvarez in his last two fights.

Vlasov, 34, is a seasoned fighter — he’s been boxing professionally for 16 years, starting as an 18-year-old middleweight, and he has a very respectable 45-3 (26 KOs) record. He avenged one of his losses when he won a unanimous decision over Isaac Chilemba. 

While Vlasov has been dropped, he has always got up, including twice coming off the canvas to win. The referee ruled that Krzysztof Glowacki dropped Vlasov in a World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight bout but it look more of a slip.

The records show Vlasov being inactive since November 2019 but he did box a 10-rounder last year in which no decision was rendered. It was basically a 10-round exhibition with no headguards, regular-sized boxing gloves worn. I didn’t record the actual date, unfortunately.

It helps Smith, who is from Long Island, New York, that the fight is in the US, but it’s hardly a hometown appearance and, in any case, Vlasov is accustomed to boxing in the States.

Tactically, Smith can fight only one way, which is straight ahead. Vlasov is the taller, longer-armed boxer, with more dimensions. I think Vlasov will be looking to use the ring in this fight, seeking to make Smith miss and catch him with counters. But Smith can be relentless. What Smith does, he does well. He looked in tremendous shape at the weigh-in. 

Vlasov can be cagey but it’s not as if he’s impossible to hit, and if Smith lands cleanly he is surely going to hurt the Russian boxer. And even if Smith can’t stop Vlasov he might be able to force him into a defensive type of fight.

I’m thinking that Smith’s raw power and aggression should prevail over Vlasov’s craftier boxing, but the odds simply on Smith to win aren’t appealing. Vlasov is no pushover. For those who expect a long fight, the over 9.5 rounds proposition is fairly priced at -120 (5/6). But it really is a coin toss on the over/under. If you like the idea of the fight not going the distance, you’re looking at odds of 4/6 (-150) at Betfred. Really, these bets have equal merit. I slightly prefer the over 9.5, if only because the price is a bit better.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the other fights on a busy Saturday night (or early Sunday morning, depending on your geographic location).

Conor Benn vs Samuel Vargas: The seasoned Vargas represents a slight uptick in terms of quality of opposition for the exciting and undefeated Benn. Although Vargas has been stopped three times, those losses were against elite-level welterweights (Errol Spence Jr, Danny Garcia and Vergil Ortiz). A fighter’s resistance to punishment obviously can be eroded by stoppage defeats, and although Vargas is tough and gritty I think Benn has the chance of getting a punch-accumulation type of inside-schedule win. 

Last time I looked, BoxRec had the fight listed as a 10-rounder but Matchroom’s website shows a 12-round bout, and “12 rounds” was announced at the weigh-in. I think a Benn stoppage win in a 12-round fight isn’t a bad bet at 8/11 (-138). The fight not to go the distance is listed at 8/13 (-160). If an underdog play on Vargas appeals to you, the price of 1/7 (+700) might be enticing. But Benn has shown remarkable improvement in his relatively brief career and he is known to be a hard worker. I would lean towards Benn winning inside 12 rounds.

Shannon Courtenay vs Ebanie Bridges: This women’s bantamweight title fight has attracted interest. Australia’s Bridges is the older woman. She’s marketed herself as a blonde bombshell who can really fight. We’ll soon find out. Courtenay has fought at a higher level. She looks faster, more of a complete boxer and a sharper puncher although Bridges, a former bodybuilder, looks very strong. I think the over 7.5 rounds at 11/10 (+110) is worth a look because those two-minute rounds in women’s bouts go by in a flash. The bet I prefer, though, is Courtenay by KO, TKO or DQ, priced at 4/6 (-150) at Betfred. Courtenay hits quite hard and she doesn’t hang about when the bell rings.

Jerwin Ancajas vs Jonathan Javier Rodriguez: This 115-pound championship bout takes place at the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut and clearly the Filipino southpaw Ancajas has to be favoured. This will be his ninth title defence. He’s a skilled boxer-puncher. However, Mexico’s Alejandro Santiago held him to a draw in 2018 and I thought Ancajas was a bit lucky to leave the ring with his title that night. Now he meets another Mexican challenger in Rodriguez, who is actually his IBF mandatory. Rodriguez isn a bit of an unknown quantity but he’s on a winning run and he’s clearly a good puncher. Rodriguez’ KO win over two-time world title challenger Felipe Orucuta was an excellent result although marred by his opponent requiring emergency brain surgery. (Thankfully, Orucuta made a full recovery although his boxing career is over.) I’m not calling for an upset special but I do think Rodriguez will give a good account of himself. Thus, the over 7.5 rounds looks a pretty good play and we’re getting what I consider a reasonable ticket price of 10/11 (-110). That actually is my favourite play of the week.

Main image: Mikey Williams/Top Rank.