Smith wants to do a job on Thompson in WBO 154-pound title fight
British junior middleweight Liam Smith has been clamoring for a career-defining fight for a very long time and when he faces American John Thompson in Manchester, England, on Saturday, his prayers will have been answered.
The pair will contest the vacant WBO junior middleweight title, which was stripped from Demetrius Andrade in July. Initially the unbeaten Smith (20-0-1, 10 knockouts) was matched against Frenchman Michel Soro but when the latter pulled out, Thompson, who had recently won the ESPN Boxcino Tournament, received the call.
“At 6-foot-1, Thompson is a very tall junior middleweight,” said Smith, who is rated No. 10 by THE RING at 154 pounds. “He’s got a good jab, boxes well at range and he’s proven that he can travel domestically. He entered that Boxcino tournament at late notice and still managed to win it.
“In terms of minuses, he unravels when he’s put under pressure. He makes mistakes and leaves his chin up in the air, which is why he was knocked out cold [KO 2 by Frank Galarza in Jan. 2014]. I’m 100-percent confident that I can hurt him the same way.”
The Galarza defeat was a major setback for Thompson (17-1, 6 KOs) but he has rebounded well. Two routine decision wins were followed by the second-round destruction of Brandon Adams at the aforementioned Boxcino tournament but Smith remains unconvinced.
He said, “I’m not Brandon Adams and Thompson won’t budge me with shots like that. I’m interested to see what he can do when he’s out of his home country, with a hostile crowd against him and he’s forced to go some hard rounds.
“I’ve had the experience in distance fights and performed very well. I’ve been 10 [rounds] and I’ve been 12, whereas he’s never been beyond eight. How Thompson performs when the going gets tough is a big question mark, which is still hanging over him.”
Like most ambitious young fighters, the 27-year-old Smith was pushing for a world title fight as soon as he made the transition from prospect to contender. He was moved slowly but picked up British and Commonwealth titles, plus bag loads of experience.
“I’m going into this fight on my best form and I’m coming off five stoppage wins,” said Smith in earnest. “I’m strong mentally and I’m enjoying my life outside of boxing. I get called miserable a lot but I’m not miserable; I just enjoy fighting.
“My family is also in a good place. [Older brother, junior lightweight] Stephen has a massive fight coming up [still to be announced officially against IBF titleholder Jose Pedraza] and [younger brother, super middleweight contender] Callum has a massive fight coming up [against Rocky Fielding for the vacant British title in November]. We’re on a high right now and my fight is a big part of the buzz surrounding us.”
As most readers will probably know, Liam Smith is one quarter of the Liverpool, England, institution known as the Smith Brothers. All four men are successful professionals who have either competed at world level or they’re on the cusp. While Smith acknowledges that this can be a burden, he also reveals an advantage.
“There is a touch of pressure because the family needs that world title,” said Smith, who is the second youngest of the group. “We’ve won titles at every level and that’s the only one missing. [Older brother, super middleweight] Paul has been there and fell short [lost twice in 12-round unanimous decisions to WBO Arthur Abraham] but I’m one-hundred-percent sure that I’ll win this fight.
“Being around Paul when he was over in Germany has given me great experience. I know what fight week feels like because I’ve been there with him and I’m more nervous around my brothers than I am at my own fights. Despite the fact that this is my first world title shot, I feel like I’ve been here before.”
It’s customary for an unbeaten fighter to sound confident heading into a world title fight but Smith was the very definition of resolute. The odds makers, at least on UK shores, have installed him as a heavy favorite and the Liverpool man is determined to make a statement on Saturday.
“I’ll take a win by any means possible but I’ll be looking to do a job on Thompson and stop him,” said Smith. “I’m going to be myself and I don’t plan on changing a thing. If what I’m doing doesn’t work, then I’ll revert to something else but I’m confident that being me will be more than enough.”
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers Association and has contributed to various publications. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Gray_Boxing