Sunday, April 02, 2023  |


Liam Smith ready to stand and deliver against Canelo Alvarez

Smith (right) comes face-to-face with Canelo Alvarez. Photo: Tom Hogan/ Golden Boy Promotions
Fighters Network

The defending champion is a huge underdog.

It comes across as a paradox but it’s an infrequent reality that is as old as the sport itself. Think Sonny Liston-Floyd Patterson, think Mike Tyson-Trevor Berbick or, if you want to use a time machine and venture back to the very recent past, think Anthony Joshua-Charles Martin.

When WBO junior middleweight titleholder Liam Smith climbs into the ring at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington to take on challenger Canelo Alvarez this Saturday, a lot of critics are expecting “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” without the chainsaw.

Alvarez, THE RING middleweight champion (title not on the line), is the proven commodity, whereas his opponent, at least in the U.S., is a relative unknown. Smith is well aware of the cameo role he has been hired to play, but the Englishman vows to tear up the script and do plenty of improvising on fight night.

“It’s not the biggest fight of (Canelo’s) career now, but when he loses it will be and his team will do everything possible to make the rematch,” said Smith, who is rated No. 8 by THE RING at 154 pounds.

“Yes, I’m champion and it’s my biggest fight, but it’s a fight I’ve asked for since I became champion. People actually congratulated me when I took the fight and told me I deserved credit. Why do I deserve credit when I’m the champion? If I’m knocking back fights, then I don’t deserve to be champion. I was never going to turn down any of the big names.”

Liam Smith Joe Gallagher. Photo: Tom GrayCritics have unfairly suggested that Smith (23-0-1, 13 KOs) is in this one for the money. The same was also said about IBF welterweight titlist Kell Brook, who threw everything, including the kitchen sink, at Gennady Golovkin last weekend. Brook, who moved up two weight classes to fight the unified middleweight titleholder, fought his heart out but ultimately succumbed when Golovkin dropped the entire kitchen on top of him in the fifth round.

Smith, like Brook, is a game, talented and spiteful fighter. He is also extremely ambitious and flying out to Texas to surrender his world title without a fight has never been on his itinerary.

“People think I’m taking the fight for money but that’s nothing to do with it,” Smith said with disdain. “I should be getting more money and the only reason I’ve taken this fight is because a win takes me to the top.

“I’ve improved a lot physically and mentally. I try things in the ring now that I probably wouldn’t have tried before I reached this level. I think you can see the improvements, even though my title defenses haven’t been against world-class opponents. I’ve still gone about the job like a champion should.”

Smith won the vacant WBO title by scoring a spectacular seventh-round knockout of American John Thompson last October. His two subsequent defenses came against huge underdogs in Jimmy Kelly and Predrag Radosevic, both of whom were dispatched with relative ease.

In terms of opposition faced, Canelo (47-1-1, 33 KOs) is from another planet. Smith acknowledges that fact without complaint and gives the impression that he has diligently studied the Mexican’s illustrious career.

“The (Miguel) Cotto fight was his best performance,” said the 28-year-old titleholder, of Alvarez’s unanimous decision win last November. “You can say (Canelo) looked a million dollars early on in his career but that was a good version of Cotto, who was just that bit too small. Cotto actually did well in that fight and I thought the judges were very harsh.

“I’m not going to sit down and watch the (Erislandy) Lara fight or the (Austin) Trout fight because that’s Canelo coming forward against two southpaws. The Cotto fight is the best fight for me to watch in terms of gauging his rhythm and the things he does. I think I can do everything that Cotto did but I can also hold my own, size-wise, and I’m a younger, fresher man.”

Smith made it clear that he will not be watching Canelo’s most recent outing; a sixth-round, one-punch, knockout of Amir Khan in May. Studying that fight, according to Smith, would be a useless exercise due to the size and style disparity between him and his countryman.

This entire interview was actually conducted in Khan’s gym in Bolton, England, where Smith trains under the watchful eye of THE RING Trainer of the Year for 2015, Joe Gallagher.

Both fighter and coach are acutely aware of the fact that Canelo has not been 154 pounds or under since he was outpointed by Floyd Mayweather in September of 2013.

“A lot of people are saying he’ll kill himself to make weight but it goes two ways,” offered Smith. “(Canelo’s) never been a full middleweight; he’s been operating at 155 pounds, so it’s only one pound. However, when you’ve lost 20 or 30 pounds during training, that last pound can definitely hurt you.

“There’s obviously been a reason why he’s been at 155 pounds. You can understand him fighting Cotto at 155 because that was for a middleweight title, but he also fought Lara, (James) Kirkland and (Alfredo) Angulo at 155. The Lara fight was strange because Lara held the WBA junior middleweight title and Canelo didn’t fight him for it for the sake of one pound. If losing that extra pound does take a lot out of him, then I’ll exploit it.”

Liam Smith Joe GallagherAt one point, almost every fighter in the gym was discussing Canelo losing that extra one pound and when the verbal battle went to the cards, the scales were a runaway winner. Former WBA junior featherweight titleholder Scott Quigg and former IBF bantamweight titleholder Paul Butler, both of whom have ample experience in this struggle, predicted that Canelo Alvarez will go through hell to reach 154 pounds.

So, while we wait on the weights, what about the tactics? Smith was understandably coy about disclosing strategy, but did offer one or two soundbites.

“I’m going to have to box clever,” he said after some deliberation. “I will constantly be doing things that work against (Canelo). I’m going to box and move in parts but when Canelo has his bursts and wants to rest, I won’t allow that. Amir and Cotto let him rest because they’re smaller men who wanted to stay safe without engaging.

“When Canelo wants to admire the flurry he just threw against me, I’m going to walk in and make him throw again.”

It was clear that Team Smith believe they are more prepared for a grueling 12-round battle than Canelo is. Smith is more comfortable at the weight. He is fully focused on the job at hand and not looking ahead. He is hungry and desperate to break free of the pack. Canelo, in sharp contrast, is marking time with this fight and that, in itself, is a dangerous outlook.

The Liverpool man wants a stoppage but expects to get a fair shake “as champion” if the fight goes to the scorecards.

“With the style I’ve got, you know I’m always trying to stop someone,” said Smith. “If I was trying to go to the cards, then I wouldn’t take the risks I take. I wouldn’t stand in front of people and let them throw shots at me.

“This will be a great fight because the styles are going to gel. Canelo’s at his best when he comes forward and is letting his hands go and I’m at my best when I’m doing the same. I don’t see how we can make for a bad fight. It’s whoever gets their game plan working and if Canelo doesn’t hurt me and hurt me early, it’s going to be a long night for him.”

Does the underdog get the Hollywood ending? He is definitely not in town to make up the numbers.

Tom Gray is a U.K. Correspondent/ Editor for and a member of THE RING ratings panel.  Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Gray_Boxing

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