Callum Smith: ‘I’m confident that I can win the whole WBSS tournament’
Last weekend, fight fans witnessed the fearsome Oleksandr Usyk crush former long-reigning titleholder Marco Huck in the inaugural cruiserweight bout of the “World Boxing Super Series.” The fight was entertaining. The result was decisive. The tournament was off to a great start.
This Saturday, top contender Callum Smith will kick off the super middleweight section of the WBSS when he takes on Sweden’s Erik Skoglund at the Echo Arena in Liverpool, England. Both men are unbeaten. Both are approaching their prime. Both are determined to make a serious splash in the biggest fight of their respective careers.
Smith, who is rated No. 5 by THE RING at 168 pounds, burst onto the scene in 2012. After a brace of points wins, he notched up six first round knockouts in succession (a British record) and eight straight stoppages thereafter. While this violent highlight reel was developing, Smith annexed British and European championships.
And then things stalled.
The WBC’s No. 1 contender for almost two years, Smith (22-0, 17 knockouts) found a world title shot far more elusive than any of his previous opponents. A projected bout with then-WBC titleholder Badou Jack fell off the radar and, more recently, negotiations with American contender Anthony Dirrell took a turn for the worse.
“The promoters of the tournament told both of us that we could fight for the vacant WBC title in a quarterfinal but Dirrell didn’t want any part of it,” said Smith in an interview with Ring TV.com. “Initially, I was determined to fight him for the title but there were issues with dates and venues. It was meant to be April, then it was September, but nothing was ever confirmed. Finally, I had a meeting with my team and we decided to go for the tournament. It’s a no-brainer and I’m confident that I can win the whole tournament and become world champion.
“You never picture yourself being in a tournament like this. Not only do we have the tournament platform but it’s happening at my weight. That was another big factor in going in because (trainer) Joe (Gallagher) said to me, ‘You don’t want to be sitting at home watching this and wishing you were part of it.’ Next year it won’t be super middleweights, so this was my chance and it was too good a chance to turn down.”
Skoglund, despite being two inches shorter than Smith, has been campaigning at light heavyweight for the duration of a seven-year professional career, so making 168 pounds is sure to be arduous. Unbeaten in 26 fights, with 12 knockouts, the Swedish technician does have a slight advantage in professional experience but he lacks Smith’s amateur pedigree and hitting power.
“He’s a good fighter,” acknowledged Smith. “At light heavyweight, Skoglund normally has a big size advantage but I think he loses that against me. With that said, he’s accustomed to taking shots from bigger guys so I expect him to be durable.
“He’s a good stand-up boxer but he can also tough it out and have a tear-up. He’s had to dig deep in fights and he’s always came out the winner. He deserves respect but everything that he’s good at, I believe I can do better. I believe I’m a better technical boxer but, on paper, it is the toughest fight of my career. That’s why I’m trained to be in the best shape possible. I need to be at my best to win but anytime I’ve been up against it, I’ve produced the goods and turned in career-best performances.”
The other quarterfinal bouts are as follows: Chris Eubank Jr. vs. Avni Yildirim (October 7 in Stuttgart), George Groves (WBA titleholder) vs. Jamie Cox (October 14 in London) and Juergen Braehmer (former WBO light heavyweight titleholder) vs. Rob Brant (date and venue to be confirmed).
If Smith is victorious on Saturday, he’ll be back out early next year for the semifinal against Braehmer or Brant, with the projected final scheduled for May of 2018. Three potential fights, each one more difficult than the one before, with three grueling training camps. Despite being the tournament favorite, did Smith have any reservations about committing himself to such a breakneck schedule?
“I’m committed to three fights because it’s against top opposition,” said Smith without hesitation. “That’s what I want. I don’t want to win a fight and then sit around waiting for negotiations to start. I’ll be glad not to see a fight contract or read an email about a fight for a long time. If I win this fight, then I know who I’m fighting next and it’s straightforward. We’ll go into camp and get started all over again. There’s no negotiating, no arguing, no purse bids. That’s all been sorted beforehand and I can just go and do what I’m paid to do.
“It’s nice to be named the tournament favorite because there’s a world champion and a former world champion in there. There’s a lot of good fighters, so I must be doing something right. At the end of the day though, it’s a bookmaker’s opinion. I’ve still got to do a job and prove them right. The important thing is that I know my own capabilities and I know what my goals are. If I don’t achieve them, then I’ve only let myself down. I don’t really care what people believe or what they predict. I believe I’m good enough to win a world title and that’s the aim. It adds pressure but it’s pressure that I would put on myself anyway.”
Tickets for Smith vs. Skoglund are available from StubHub or The Echo Arena. The fight will be televised live and exclusive on ITV4 in the U.K. For more information on the tournament, please visit the World Boxing Super Series website.
Tom Gray is a U.K. correspondent/editor for RingTV.com and a member of THE RING ratings panel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Gray_Boxing.
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