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23rd April 2020
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The 168lbs king Callum Smith turns thirty today. He’s filled these years with working towards a dream and put himself in a position of being able to live it. Currently ranked #7 on the pound for pound list, #1 in the world at super-middleweight and holds WBA (Super) and Ring Magazine world titles. He burst onto the scene in 2012 when he turned professional, beating Dan Blackwell and James Tucker to finish his first year in the paid ranks 2-0. Although turning over was always in his plans, it came sooner than first anticipated.
As a successful amateur, he was in the GB squad for three years before the 2012 Olympic games in London and was touted as one of the favourites to qualify. The GB camp viewed every competition he boxed in as progress for the games and drilled into him the importance of a home tournament. In Trabzon, Turkey, he boxed superbly against Azerbaijan’s Vatan Huseynli but was inexplicably shafted and lost 16-14 in the semi-final. Respected boxing writer Ron Lewis was ringside and stated “Smith was busier, landed cleaner shots and unfortunately qualification is out of his hands now.” Two of the judges were from Uzbekistan and Kyrgystan – fellow members of the Turkic Union with Azerbaijan’. Callum needed Huseynli to beat Turkey’s home favourite Bahram Muzaffer in the light-heavyweight final to gain qualification, but unfortunately this didn’t happen, and his Olympic dreams were stolen from him.
Reports from numerous sources including the New York Times, released details of an Azerbaijani firm making a substantial payment of $10 million to AIBA, which $4.5 million of was unaccounted for. Azerbaijan then went on to win eleven medals at the next three tournaments including five gold medals. Before the payment to AIBA, they had only won four medals in thirty-seven years with no gold medals. Between Smith and Michael Conlan’s situations, it was easy to see that corruption within the AIBA system was all too obvious. Smith’s ideal scenario was to go the London games, win gold and give himself a springboard for better opportunities when the time came to turning pro. Luke Campbell, Anthony Joshua and Josh Kelly are all examples of how it can help finances and marketability when first entering the pro’s. At the time, to become an Olympian and medal at the games was pivotal to his career, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. All it did was add fuel to the fire.
With 2012 behind him, he came into 2013 looking to fast track himself and add to his two wins as a paid fighter. He started the year by stopping Tommy Tolan, who was also knocked out by Callum’s brother Paul the year before. Another 6 wins by stoppage followed along with the English and WBC international title. He rolled into 2014 in the same fashion, stopping Francois Bastient and Tobias Webb to retain his WBC international title. He fought another four times that year and made his US debut on the Kell Brook Vs Shawn Porter undercard in Carson, California. At the end of that year promotor Eddie Hearn said of Smith, “Next year we will be pushing on towards bigger titles and push him into the world rankings”. True to his word that was most definitely the case, as he beat George Groves’ – former opponent Christophe Rebrasse to win the WBC silver belt in June.
His 18th bout was a fight for the British title and scouse pride, squaring off against the undefeated Rocky Fielding. Although Smith was the favourite, Fielding posed a lot of potential problems with his 21-0 record. Smith got the upper hand early on pushing back Rocky and landing heavy counters before the fight was stopped in the first round, which stunned everybody watching. It made a huge statement and gave him the momentum to go and stop the durable Frenchman Habdillah Mohoumadi in his next outing to obtain the decorated European title.
Now 22-0, he signed a contract to face WBC champion Andre Dirrell but he was made to wait due to complications from his opponent. First the fight was scheduled for LA but then Dirrell requested a change of the venue after everything was signed. The frustration and the waiting around was keeping him out the ring, so when the world boxing super series tournament was announced he jumped at the chance. Smith was seeded second, with George Groves as number one. Groves picked Jamie Cox, with Callum choosing the undefeated Swede Erik Scoglund which proved to be a harder fight than most experts predicted. Callum was up on the scorecards but the tough Swede kept coming forward. Smith stayed persistent and stuck to his boxing before flooring the Scoglund late on.
He was due to face off against the experienced ex world champion Jurgen Brahmer, but the German had to withdraw at the last minute due to an influenza infection. His replacement was the tournament’s reserve Nieky Holzken who had been best known for his numerous world kickboxing championships. He was still competing in both boxing and kickboxing at the same time until he was called in by Kalle Sauerland as a backup. Smith only found out about the change of opponent as he boarded the plane to Germany and his mood changed badly in a matter of seconds. The negative anxiety brewed as it did when Dirrell started putting a spanner in the works, it felt like Deja vu. He was expected to beat Holzken easily on paper but he knew that the Dutchman’s inexperience would bring a very unorthodox style and his whole preparation for Brahmer now counted for little. The fight was as Smith expected with Holzken bringing a nothing to lose attitude and landing some wild, yet solid shots. Smith and his trainer Joe Gallagher decided there was too much to lose and chose the box and move approach rather than looking to get him out early. He would now fight WBA (Super) champion George Groves in the final.
Just when he thought his bad luck changed for the better, Groves had to postpone the fight. He injured his shoulder in his semi-final against Chris Eubank Jnr and was forced to continue his rehab. Smith showed his character as he stayed fit and focused without yet knowing a definite date, even with talk of a potential replacement if Groves wasn’t deemed fit to start camp. Although a change of opponent is very common in boxing, it was all to familiar for the young scouser. His patience was eventually rewarded when Groves met the deadline and the bout took place in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Both men went in and showed their class from the get-go, with most people having it fairly even at the halfway stage. Callum had a good round in the sixth and looked like he was beginning to take a hold of the fight. In the 7th, Smith countered a solid right hand from Groves with a catch left hook of his own. Groves wobbled and retreated to the corner allowing Smith to unload with combinations to the body and head to finish him off and win the world boxing super series, the WBA (Super) title and the vacant ring magazine title. He now achieved his dream which he set out to do when he started his boxing journey at the Rotunda ABC. Now ranked the number one super-middleweight in the world he owned a target on his back, but that has only made him thrive for bigger and better fights.
You would think that fighting in Jeddah for a world title was special enough, but he was offered the chance to box at the mecca of boxing, Madison Square Garden. His first defence was against former middleweight world champion Hassan N’Dam on the Anthony Joshua Vs Andy Ruiz undercard. Mundo came from Merseyside and ended up on the biggest stage in boxing, so nerves would be expected for most fighters. Smith showed none whatsoever and probably produced the best performance of career. He blasted the French Cameroonian out in three rounds in a punch perfect masterclass. N’Dam was known for his durability having only been stopped once before in 40 fights which the made the victory all the more sweeter.
After not boxing in front of a home crowd for over two years he was due a homecoming fight back in Liverpool. In November last year he faced mandatory challenger and UK rival John Ryder. Ryder was known well to British fans as he won the British and commonwealth titles at middleweight. He revived his career after a few unexpected defeats when he won his title eliminator against Australian Bilal Akkaway in Las Vegas. Another easy night was predicted for Mundo but Ryder came all guns blazing and caused plenty of difficulties. Smith battled through and got the better of Ryder winning by unanimous decision.
With his mandatory out the way, the chances of unifying the division is now within his grasp. Fights with David Benavidez, Caleb Plant and Billy Joe Saunders all hold a version of the belts so any one of those would be great for his legacy. But the one he seeks out the most is the pound for pound king and WBA (Regular) champion, Canelo Alvarez. There has been a lot of talk about a potential fight at Anfield and it’s on Callum’s bucket list. It would be the biggest fight to ever take place in the city of Liverpool if it is ever to take place. Canelo offered Smith the fight, but the purse was not acceptable for the Brit. Canelo has a lot of opportunities across the world and to fight a six-foot three champion at the weight above is not going to be on his list of priorities. Hopefully down the line it can be something the fans get to see but realistically, a unification bout is looking he most likely.
For a man that is only just coming into his prime and achieved so much already in 27 fights, we all look to forward to whatever the future brings. The best is yet to
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