Callum Smith: I do want the Canelo fight
If things had gone to plan Canelo Alvarez vs. Billy Joe Saunders would be history by now.
The pair would have duked it out in Las Vegas, and either Canelo would have picked up yet another world title belt, or Saunders would have defied the odds and sprung the colossal upset. As it turned out, the world – not just the boxing world – was rocked to its core by a global pandemic. The sport was flat on its back and the 10-count was a slow one. Finally, however, boxing is struggling to its feet, and Canelo, The Ring’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, is eyeing his ring return.
No problem. Just give Saunders a new date and we’re good to go, right? Wrong! Saunders has pulled out of the proposed September 12 date because he wouldn’t be able to prepare properly. The unbeaten British southpaw, holder of the WBO super middleweight title, told The Athletic, “I’m not ready [in] September. I’m nobody’s steppingstone. I’m not another belt for Canelo.”
A replacement is required, so step forward another formidable British charge, The Ring Magazine super middleweight champion, Callum Smith.
“Before the lockdown it was a two-horse race between Callum Smith and Billy Joe Saunders, that was what Eddie Hearn was saying, that’s what DAZN were saying,” stated Smith’s trainer, Joe Gallagher. “One of the horses is now out of the race, declaring that he won’t be ready, so that should leave Callum Smith as Canelo’s opponent.
“The fans have been missing out on big fights. There was no Cinco de Mayo event this year, and wouldn’t it be great to get Ring Magazine champion versus Ring Magazine champion lined up for September? Callum Smith is the No. 1 at 168 pounds and Canelo is No. 1 at 160. This would be the best fighting the best, and what a way to return to big time boxing.”
And while Saunders in on record as saying that he wouldn’t be ready for Mexican Independence Day weekend, Smith insists that he would have no problem with the target date.
“I had a few weeks off at the start of lockdown and enjoyed the family time because we miss out on that luxury when we’re in full training,” said Smith, who also holds the WBA 168-pound title. “The first few weeks were nice, but then I got back to training and slowly got myself back to normal. If I do get a date in September, then I’m not just getting off the couch. I’ve already got a strong training base and I’m ready to go into a tough camp right now.”
But while general conditioning is not a problem, there are other things to consider. Hypothetically speaking, Smith would be going into the biggest fight of his career after a period of time in quarantine (upon arrival in the U.S.), he could conceivably struggle to secure proper sparring, and there would be no crowd on fight night.
“It’s not ideal, we’re fighters, we prefer a crowd, and we thrive on being in a pressure-packed environment,” acknowledged Smith. “The thing is, we’re all in the same boat, and if you don’t want to fight without a crowd, you might have to sit out for a long time and that could be damaging to your career. A lot of fighters won’t want to do that, and I think it’s a case of just biting the bullet and getting on with it.”
“Callum fought in huge amateur tournaments with no crowd in attendance, so he’s accustomed to that atmosphere,” added Gallagher. “It would be weird, but Callum would have a huge opportunity in front of him, and as weird as it is for him, it’s also weird for Canelo.
“It would also help the event in terms of TV. It would have massive appeal, and it would bring subscribers to DAZN. It’s a fascinating matchup, it’s a piece of history, and it would be a great fight and a great event. We’ll be able to secure sparring, so will Canelo, and if it was a two-horse race and one’s out, then do the right thing and make the fight happen.”
“Really, DAZN needs to make a stand and say we’re not accepting a Ryota Murata or an Anthony Dirrell. Are people going to re-subscribe to DAZN to watch Canelo fight them? DAZN need to put their foot down and say, ‘No, you’re fighting Callum Smith and that’s it!’ We want that to happen, we want Sky Sports and Eddie Hearn to get behind it. Let’s try to get this fight made for the fans.”
The other issue is money. Canelo-Smith didn’t get out of first gear earlier this year, and the revenue will automatically be lower now. Gallagher had no hesitation in accepting that fact but stated that all parties must be willing to accept a pay cut.
“(Canelo’s team) will be looking to pay as little possible now because they’re losing out in terms of crowd revenue and things like that,” said Smith. “But DAZN needs to be happy with the quality of the opponent. They need to be able to sell the fight and make their money too. If it’s not a respectable opponent, then they’ll take a hit [in terms of subscribers]. They’ve got to find a balance, and there might come a point where Golden Boy have to pay the money to keep everyone happy; to keep Canelo happy and keep DAZN happy. That’s their problem and we’ll probably never hear about what gets said.
“I took a bit of stick from people who said I turned the Canelo fight down. I didn’t turn it down, I turned the first offer down, which I believe everyone in my position would have done. I expected negotiations to start and then we could have agreed on terms. That didn’t happen and they started negotiations with Billy Joe Saunders, which let me know that was the fight they preferred. But I do want the Canelo fight and I won’t shy away from it. I’m not saying he’s avoiding me, and I know there’s a lot that goes into deciding an opponent, but that’s for Canelo, Golden Boy and DAZN to sort out. If they want to pick up the phone, then I’m here to talk.”
Tom Gray is Associate Editor for Ring Magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing