Smith in Beast mode, halts Alvarez in nine

The Beast is back. New Yorker Joe Smith Jr. once again illustrated his fight-ending power in top class, knocking former world champion Eleider Alvarez through the ropes to score a ninth-round KO in a WBO 175lbs title eliminator at ‘The Bubble’ in the MGM Grand, Las Vegas, on Saturday night.

The victory echoed Smith’s 2016 KO of Bernard Hopkins, where he knocked the great Philadelphian out of the ring and finished his career. In the ninth, a vicious right-left combination sent Colombian Alvarez (25-2, 13 KOs) through the ropes where he was unable to beat the count.

A dominant Smith (26-3, 21 KOs) led on all three judges’ cards (80-72 and 79-73, twice) prior to the fight’s conclusion.

“Coming into this camp, I knew I had to work on my boxing. I wanted to be sharp, throw a lot of straight punches,” said Smith. “I watched his [second] fight with [Sergey] Kovalev, and Kovalev kind of set the way to beat him. So we watched that and worked off of it. I knew coming in today I had to box a little more because he’s got that great right hand. He caught me with it a couple times, but I can take a punch, too.

“Every time he hit me, I wanted to come and stop him in his tracks and I did that. I stuck to my gameplan, and it was a great fight. I feel this one is a big one. I really needed it. I wanted to prove I’m not just a knockout guy. I proved my boxing ability, too, and I showed that tonight.”

Smith’s heavy hands were in destructive form, but he showed fine boxing skills, too.
Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank.

Also on the card, former WBA Regular middleweight champion Rob Brant bounced back from a year-long layoff to retire Vitaliy Kopylenko (28-3, 16 KOs) on his stool after the conclusion of the fifth round.

It was Brant’s first fight with new trainer Brian ‘BoMac’ McIntyre who coaches world title-holders Terence Crawford and Jamel Herring among others. The stoppage victory was a fillip after the former champion’s issues with a torn biceps injury foiled a previous comeback attempt.

“My punch output was high, but I felt like I threw a lot of quality shots, especially with a veteran like Vitaliy,” said Brant. “I’m not going to try and pronounce his last name out of respect, but he’s a crafty veteran. He’s been around for a long time.

“I spent a lot of time in camp with them. It’s been a three-month camp with them. Between the advice they have given me and being around Terence Crawford and Jamel Herring, it teaches you to relax a little more.”

In other action, 140-pounder Julian ‘Hammer Hands’ Rodriguez (20-0, 13 KOs) KOed the previously unbeaten Anthony Laureano (13-1, 4 KOs) in the opening round as he continued to rebuild after a shoulder injury that kept him out of the title picture for two years.

“Previous to the shoulder injury, I was more of a brawler,” said Rodriguez. “I was coming in with bigger shots, but once I noticed the arm wasn’t holding up in that way, it forced me to focus more on my footwork, using my jab, and more of a different style. Now I feel like I have all the tools.”

Meanwhile, former UFC fighter Clay Collard (9-2-3, 4 KOs) improved to 5-0 on the year with a second-round stoppage of Maurice Williams (7-2, 3 KOs) at middleweight and former amateur star Duke Ragan debuted with a one-round win over Luis Alvarado (1-2, 0 KOs).

Bantamweight hope Robert “Biggie” Rodriguez (9-0-1, 5 KOs) dropped Abel Soriano (10-1, 7 KOs) three times in a first-round win while 140-pounder Israel Mercado (8-0, 7 KOs) trumped Adrian Valdovinos (5-1-1, 4 KOs) on the cards (60-54, twice, and 59-55).

Wendy ‘Haitian Fire’ Toussaint (12-0, 5 KOs) outscored Isiah ‘Loco’ Jones (9-3, 3 KOs) at middleweight. The cards were 80-72 and 79-73 (twice).

Main image: Mikey Williams/Top Rank.