Joe Smith Jr. took a significant step toward a light heavyweight title shot by stopping former titleholder Eleider Alvarez by ninth-round TKO on Saturday night in the main event of a Top Rank card at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas.
After chopping away for eight rounds, it was a straight right hand from Smith at the beginning of the ninth round that stunned Alvarez, followed by a left hand that sent him to the canvas and almost through the ropes.
Alvarez tried to get up but didn't make it in time, and referee Tony Weeks put an end to the fight 26 seconds into the ninth round.
From the early stages of this bout, the hard-punching Smith (26-3, 21 KOs) worked in volume. Instead of just throwing his vaunted right hand, he kept up a steady work rate and just kept chipping away at Alvarez, who seemed surprised by the fluidity and quickness of Smith.
Smith added the left hook off the jab, and instead of just focusing on hurting Alvarez with one big punch, he wore him down with punches that came from all different angles and directions. There were strong right hands, hooks to the body and the uppercut when fighting inside.
Smith landed 125 punches out of 369, while Alvarez landed just 51 out of 153.
Alvarez (25-2, 13 KOs) couldn't keep up with Smith's activity, and for much of the fight, he was on the defensive. By the fourth round, Alvarez's nose was bloodied, and in the fifth, a series of punches had him visibly hurt. In the seventh, Smith made a concerted effort to focus on the body.
While Alvarez landed a couple of right hands that got the attention of Smith in the eighth, it wasn't nearly enough to turn the tide of the fight, which came to a sudden and violent ending.
"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 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 game plan, and it was a great fight."
With this victory, Smith will now face the winner of the Maxim Vlasov-Umar Salamov fight for the vacant WBO 175 pound title.
"I feel this one is a big one," said Smith of the victory. "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."
Brant shines in TKO over Kopylenko
Former WBA middleweight titlist Rob Brant scored a fifth-round TKO victory over Vitaliy Kopylenko when Kopylenko couldn't continue due to swelling under his left eye that prevented him from seeing.
At the end of the fifth round, Kopylenko's corner told referee Jay Nady that he couldn't continue, and the fight was waved off.
Brant (26-2, 18 KOs) dominated the first round by using his left jab to keep Kopylenko (28-3, 16 KOs) at a distance and landing his right hand over the top.
Brant, who lost the title by second-round TKO in a rematch against Ryota Murata in July 2019, did more of the same in Round 2, and Kopylenko started to show swelling under the eye, courtesy of Brant's right hand.
Before the start of the fourth round, trainer Brian "Bo Mac" McIntyre told Brant to use his left jab to set up the over right hand, and he did exactly that, targeting Kopylenko's left eye.
At the end of the fourth, McIntyre told Brant, "You are boxing beautifully."
Kopylenko had trouble seeing from the left eye, but when his corner asked him before the fifth round if he wanted to keep fighting, he said, "Yes, I do."
"My punch output was high, but I felt like I threw a lot of quality shots, especially with a veteran like Vitaliy," said Brant after the fight. "He's a crafty veteran. He's been around for a long time."
It was a good performance by Brant, who is looking for another title opportunity in 2021.
Collard stops Williams in Round 2
Clay Collard continued his memorable summer by scoring a second-round TKO of Maurice Williams (7-2, 3 KOs). It was the third victory since June 18 for Collard, who also fights in MMA.
After a relatively slow start in Round 1, in which Williams alternated between the orthodox and southpaw stance, Collard started to rev up his attack by letting his hands go and moving in on Williams, who had no fought since June 2019.
At the beginning of the second round, a short counter right hand dumped Williams on the seat of his pants. Later on, as Collard went after him with a torrent of punches, a left hook to the chin stunned Williams to the point that referee Tony Weeks stopped the fight while Williams was still on his feet, dazed and disorientated.
"I'm just a fighter. I like getting out there as often as possible and entertaining the fans," said Collard. "I appreciate all the love and support from the fans, and I enjoy putting on a show for them."
Collard, best known for his exploits in MMA, notched his fifth boxing victory of 2020.
"Listen, I'll fight as often as possible," said Collard. "I love fighting on these Top Rank shows, and I look forward to the next one. This has been quite the ride."
Rodriguez displays power in victory
Julian Rodriguez made quick work of Anthony Laureano, sending him to the canvas three times en route to a first-round TKO victory.
From the sound of the bell, Rodriguez stepped right to Laureano and didn't hesitate to start landing a left hook to the body to assert his dominance over Laureano, who was simply not equipped to deal with the oncoming onslaught.
The first knockdown came from a four-punch combination that was punctuated by a right hand. A bit later, another barrage of punches had Laureano back on the canvas. Finally, a series of left hooks to the head forced referee Russell Mora to stop the fight at 2:50 of the round.
For the 25-year-old Rodriguez, it was an impressive display of power punching in which he showed variety and accuracy.
Ragan wins in pro debut
Featherweight Duke Ragan (1-0, 1 KO) made a successful pro debut, landing a picture-perfect right hand to the chin of Luis Alvarado (1-2, 1 KO) which spun Alvarado's head as he was in the process of hitting the canvas.
The fight was called off at 1:54 of the first round by referee Jay Nady.
Ragan comes into the professional ranks as a highly decorated amateur who recently signed a promotional contract with Top Rank. While this fight didn't go long, Ragan displayed a solid fundamental form and good power.
Rodriguez demolished Soriano in Round 1
Bantamweight Robert Rodriguez sent Abel Soriano to the canvas three times in the first round, forcing referee Russell Mora to wave things off at 2:59 of the round.
Rodriguez (9-0-1, 5 KOs) scored the first knockdown with a left hand to the body. Then, a barrage of punches, capped off by a right hand to the body, sent Soriano (10-1, 7 KOs) down again. A clean right hook to the head ended the fight a short time later.
This was Rodriguez's second impressive performance inside "the bubble." On June 18, Rodriguez defeated Adrien Servin by second-round TKO.
Mercado outpoints Valdovinos
Israel Mercado defeated Adrian Valdovinos by unanimous decision in a battle of young, undefeated junior welterweights. Mercado won by scores of 59-55, 60-54 and 60-54 in a fast-paced, six-round bout.
While he gave up five inches in height to the 6-foot-1 Valdovinos, Mercado used his advantage in speed and consistently beat Valdovinos to the punch from midrange.
Mercado was just a bit quicker off the trigger than Valdovinos, who could never really got on track Saturday.
Toussaint wins decision, stays unbeaten
In the opening bout of the night, Wendy Toussaint (12-0, 5 KOs) remained undefeated by outpointing Isiah Jones (9-3, 3 KOs) over eight rounds by the scores of 80-72, 79-73 and 79-73.
There wasn't much sustained action in this match. Jones circled the ring for much of the bout, while the taller Toussaint controlled the center of the ring. Jones rarely let his hands go, and Toussaint became more assertive and started to land long right hands and the occasional left hook in the middle rounds.
It felt more like a sparring session, but Toussaint pressed the action and landed the large majority of meaningful punches to earn the victory.