Callum Smith to target Canelo, GGG and rival titleholders if he passes mandatory test against John Ryder
He’s at the peak of his powers and owns plenty of hardware, but there’s the overwhelming feeling that Callum Smith has so much more left to accomplish.
The Liverpool-born super middleweight is The Ring Magazine champion, the WBA titleholder and an Ali trophy winner. He came of age with a seventh-round body shot knockout of countryman George Groves in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia last September in the WBSS final. It was a historic triumph that rubber-stamped him as the finest 168-pounder in the world.
Over the last year, however, Smith has clocked in for work just once. Big fights against the likes of Canelo Alvarez were mentioned but failed to transpire, and the 29-year-old boxer-puncher was forced to stay busy with a shuddering third-round stoppage of veteran Hassan N’Dam on the Anthony Joshua-Andy Ruiz undercard in June.
“It wasn’t the fight I wanted, but I said beforehand that it was all about the performance because the win was expected,” said Smith in a recent interview with The Ring. “The performance is what makes people stand up and speak about me and it went exactly to plan. I scored three knockdowns and the last one was something we worked on in camp, which is always good.
“You never know how you’re gonna feel when you get in there after a long layoff, but it was a good camp and I had a lot of good sparring. I felt sharp going in there, it was my first time fighting as a world champion and I’m confident in my own ability. I know how good I am, but I need to impress because everyone is looking at the performances. There was some added pressure, but I thrive on pressure.”
Next up for Smith (26-0, 19 knockouts) is a WBA mandatory assignment against John Ryder at the Echo Arena in Liverpool on Saturday. The 31-year-old lefty from London is a solid operator, but he’s a natural middleweight who moved up in 2017. At 6-foot-3, Smith is enormous for a 168-pounder, and he’ll enjoy a six-inch height advantage and a six-inch reach advantage. Ryder (28-4, 16 knockouts) has his work cut out for him and that’s putting it mildly.
“He’s a good fighter, he’s a hungry fighter and he’s on a good run of form,” said Smith in earnest. “He’s coming off a few good wins, and he seems to be a better fighter at super middleweight. He’s earned his shot, it’s a mandatory defense and he’s worked hard to get here. I’ve got to expect the best possible version of him, or even better than what we’ve seen previously. But my mentality is to focus on myself, and if the best version of me turns up, I believe I’m good enough to beat anyone. I’m expecting a big performance from John, but a big performance from myself beats any version of him.
“This should be a special night for me. I love fighting at home and I haven’t done it for a few years now. When I turned professional, the goal was always to bring a world title back to the city and I’m living the dream now, so to speak. The Liverpool fans have been supporting me from day one. Some of them were there for my debut, but they never got a chance to see me win my world title. Now they’ll have a chance to see me up-close in a title defense and it’s my way of thanking them for all the support over the years.”
With Smith residing in the super middleweight division, he remains a tantalizing superfight opponent for Canelo and Gennady Golovkin. Both of those fighters have prevailed in recent weeks: Canelo in a historic WBO light heavyweight title triumph over Sergey Kovalev earlier this month, and Golovkin in a fight of the year candidate against Sergiy Derevyanchenko, which saw him pick up the vacant IBF middleweight belt in October.
“I thought (Golovkin-Derevyanchenko) would be competitive stylistically, but I didn’t think it would be as close as what it was,” acknowledged Smith. “I thought it would be similar to Derevyanchenko-Jacobs; a good competitive fight where Jacobs was always a step ahead. I thought Golovkin would be the same. Derevyanchenko is a tough fight for anyone with his physique and his style; he’s always on you, but I didn’t expect it to be that close. Whether that’s credit to (Derevyanchenko) or Golovkin’s age, we’ll have to wait and see with Golovkin’s next performance.
“(Canelo-Kovalev) didn’t live up to what people were expecting. It wasn’t the best of fights, but it was two top fighters in against each other and that’s always good for boxing fans. The finish was what a lot of people were waiting for, it was a spectacular finish and you’ve got to give Canelo credit, whether Kovalev is over the hill or not. Canelo’s just gone up to 175 pounds and beat a genuine world champion at that weight, so you’ve got to take your hat off to him.”
Boxing history is replete with examples of established world champions never securing the ultimate showdown, that multi-million-dollar superfight that makes the world stop. But with Smith, one has the feeling that it’s just a matter of time. He’s the No. 1 super middleweight on the planet, he’s in his prime, he’s unbeaten and he’s Ring Magazine champion. You can’t be much bigger in your division, so someone’s sure to flip open the checkbook and start filling in the zeros sooner or later. The main thing is to keep winning.
“I want the big fights, the big names, the exciting fights that motivate me,” reiterated Smith. “I’ve always said that people will see the best of me when I’m in against the best in my weight category, whether it’s one of the other champions or your Canelos or Golovkins. I’ve ticked the box of becoming a world champion, so now it’s about being involved in massive fights. I’ve got a good team around me and the best people to make these fights happen. I’m not looking past John Ryder, but a win opens up some massive doors for 2020. Not only will people get to see how good I am, but I get to prove to myself how good I am. I’ve achieved what I have so far, but I don’t feel that I’ve shown my full ability just yet.
“I’d love to unify and see how many of the belts I could get. As a little boy, they’re what I wanted. The three champions: (Billy Joe) Saunders, (David) Benavidez and (Caleb) Plant, they’re all good fighters and very tough fights, but they’re fighters that I believe I have the beating of. Canelo and Golovkin don’t hold belts in my weight division, but the man on the street knows them, they’re bigger names and they’re bigger hyped, high-profile fights. If one of those five fights can be made, then I’ll be happy. I’m not at a weight where all fights lead to one fight. There are a lot of fights there for me and it should be easier to make just one of them, so that’s the plan for 2020.”
Smith vs. Ryder plus undercard action will be broadcast live on DAZN in the U.S. and on Sky Sports in the U.K.
Tom Gray is Associate Editor for Ring Magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing