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Talking Boxing

Interviews, opinions, features and news from the greatest sport in the world!

December 5, 2016

Breakout

Enzo Maccarinelli

Smith feels like he has been treading water since winning the European super middleweight title.

by John Wharton

For any fighter, winning a European title and achieving world mandatory contender status would constitute a successful year, but Callum Smith (21-0, 16 KOs) isn’t just any fighter.

For a long time now the 26-year-old super middleweight has been tipped as the country’s hottest prospect and, after two consecutive one round victories over Rocky Fielding and Hadillah Mohoumadi, 2016 was expected to be his breakout year.

The win over Mohoumadi added the European title to his British belt, and a world title fight was in his grasp. Fate, however, was conspiring to thwart his plans. In April, IBF and WBC champions James DeGale and Badou Jack defended their titles on the same bill in Washington D.C. and paved the way for a unification bout. Making the fight proved more difficult than expected and the fight has now been made for next month. The ramifications for Smith were that his title shot was put on the back burner. Surprisingly, the Scouse fighter is philosophical about the delay.

"It’s been a strange year for me 2016," Smith told Talking Boxing. 

"I’ve won the European title and I'm the WBC mandatory contender, but I feel like I’ve just been treading water since then. I’ve had a couple of marking time fights but I’m lucky I’m from a boxing family. I’ve been around the sport long enough to know that things don’t always go how you want them to, and sometimes you just have to wait."

Waiting has been a constant theme throughout this year, and Callum has seen brothers Liam and Stephen involved in big fights and is eagerly awaiting his chance to be in the spotlight. As for the match-up between DeGale and Jack, the Liverpudlian doesn’t have a preference of who he’d rather face, but he admits that both fights have differing appeals.

"I think it’s a good fight," he said. 

"They’re both very good fighters and they’re both world champions. In some ways, you could say it’s a 50/50 fight. Jack has had some good wins recently and has certainly improved since he was knocked out by Derrick Edwards. DeGale has had some good results but maybe the performances haven’t been as good as he’d like, but he’s still world champion.

"I’m not too bothered who I have to face. If DeGale wins, it’ll be a massive domestic fight. We all know British boxing fans love an all-British world title fight, especially in this division. If Jack wins, I might get the chance to achieve what most boxers dream of when they’re kids and win a world title fight in Las Vegas. No matter who wins, I’m ready to face either of them."

Before that world title dream can be achieved, Smith will make the first defence of his British super-middleweight title this Saturday when he faces Luke Blackledge (22-2 7 KOs), on the undercard of Anthony Joshua’s second IBF world heavyweight title defence against Eric Molina at The Manchester Arena.

Mohoumadi performance aside, Smith’s performances this year haven’t been up to his usual standard. In May, he was a late addition to Tony Bellew’s WBC world cruiserweight title fight at Goodison Park, where he faced lowly-regarded Argentinian Cesar Hernan Reynoso. Smith floored his opponent three times before forcing a sixth-round stoppage, but looked laboured in doing so. In September, Smith again looked laboured as he stopped Hungarian Norbert Nemesapati in six rounds, in a defence of his WBC silver title. Despite the world title shot in the offing, Smith will not be underestimating his opponent in any shape or form.

"Luke is known for giving fighters problems, that’s why he gets good work as a sparring partner for the likes of Arthur Abraham and Tyrone Zeuge. He’s fit and he always comes to win. He’s changed trainers and he isn’t as reckless as he used to be. He’s got a good engine and it’s a big night for him. If he beats me it’ll kickstart his career, and if I underestimate him I could come unstuck.

"For me it’s not just about winning. I’ve got to look good in doing so. It’s my last fight before I fight for the world title. I can’t look bad on Saturday and then start calling out the best fighters in the world. I need to perform, and I need to make people sit up and take notice of me. I need to look like a world class fighter."

Trained by Joe Gallagher, the roster at Gallagher’s Gym is impressive. It includes former world champions such as Liam Smith, Anthony Crolla, Scott Quigg and (new addition to the gym) Paul Butler. While Paul and Stephen Smith have both fought for world titles. Like Callum Smith, Hosea Burton holds a British strap at light-heavyweight. Whilst, in the same division, Callum Johnson holds the Commonwealth crown. Scott Cardle is the British lightweight champion and hot prospect Marcus Morrison is also flying the flag for the Bolton gym.

It has seen many successes over the past five years and has gone from strength to strength, but 2016 has been something of an ‘Annus Horibilis’ for the camp. Scott Quigg, Anthony Crolla and Liam Smith all lost their world titles and brother Stephen lost two world titles. You could be forgiven for thinking morale in the gym would be at an all-time low, but Smith refutes that.

"The mood is actually very good. If you look at it on paper, it looks like we’ve had a bad year with the three lads losing their world titles but those losses have come to Canelo [Alvarez], [Jorge] Linares and [Carl] Frampton. All of them are very, very good fighters and when you’re at that level, no trainer is going to come out of it with a 100% record.

"Liam is hurting but when he gets over it, he can take pride in what he did against an outstanding fighter like Canelo. I believe that if you lose to the best, it shouldn’t get you down as it just shows exactly what you have to do to succeed at that level.

"The gym is bouncing. Paul Butler has just joined, Crolla has got the rematch with Linares, Liam will want to regain his title next year and Scott Quigg will be back, at featherweight. This year has taught us that you never stop learning and you never stop trying to be better."

The past 12 months may not have been the year he was expecting but ‘Mundo’ is remaining optimistic. He has seen brother Liam involved in a big event and is eagerly awaiting his chance to show what he can do, and is confident the next 12 months will exorcise the frustrations of 2016.