‘HE WANTED OUT’
Liam Smith tells Chris Walker that he is determined to once again sample the biggest stage in the sport, but he knows he must get past fierce rival Williams first
Liam Smith questions Liam Williams’ heart ahead of their grudge rematch
THE DECISION TO STAY WITH FRANK WARREN HAS PROVED A GOOD ONE... PRETTY MUCH EVERYTHING I’VE WANTED FROM BOXING HAS BEEN DELIVERED
THE late Glyn Leach knew boxing. The long-time editor of Boxing Monthly was not perhaps a scholar of statistics or dates, but the inner workings of a sport where the cogs rotate whichever way they wish were something the sagacious scribe had an intimate knowledge of.
The business was like cherished kin to Leach and he was familiar with the majority of its participants; learning the fabric of a fighter always fascinated him. One boxer he did not quite fathom was Liam Smith, and the Liverpool super-welterweight was the focal point of one of my final conversations with Leach before his untimely death during the summer of 2014.
“Angry b ***** d” and “lone wolf” were just two of the vivid descriptions handed to me by one of boxing’s most authoritative voices, and each was intended as a compliment to Smith. Liam’s decision to chase glory under the guidance of Hall of Fame promoter Frank Warren while his three brothers plotted their career maps with rivals Matchroom, impressed Leach greatly. “Beefy’s” admirable independence has since generated a world title reign, a marquee showdown with Canelo Alvarez and a starring role in a bitter domestic rivalry – one that continues on November 11, as Smith looks to resolve his feud with Welshman Liam Williams.
“The decision to stay with Frank has proved to be a good one,” states Smith in his boyish Scouse chirp with the aforementioned stack of evidence supporting his claim. “He got me the world title fight that he always said he’d get me and he also went out and got me the fight with Canelo which, apart from the result, was one of the best weeks of my life and I’d do anything to live that whole entire build-up again. Obviously there’s a part of me that misses fighting on the same shows as my brothers because everyone knows just how close we are, and the fact I’ve never fought on the same show as our Callum isn’t ideal, but this is my career and I’ve got to put myself first. Pretty much everything I’ve wanted from boxing has so far been delivered to me.” The second instalment of the Smith-williams saga falls seven months after their first meeting, when the latter was retired by cornerman Gary Lockett following a cut caused by Smith’s head in the ninth session of a thrilling encounter. Williams was ahead on the official scorecards with just three rounds remaining and although mutual respect was briefly apparent in the immediate aftermath, the animosity of the initial dispute has returned ahead of the sequel, with Smith taking several shots at Williams’ supposed lack of courage, regarding the nature of his withdrawal.
“He wanted out and deep down he knows it,” Liam declares and, whatever the truth of the issue, he certainly believes it. “I’ve been watching the fight again and Boxnation put something out on Twitter a few days ago hyping the fight, and he’s doing all he can to show Lockett that he’s hurt and he wants out. A cut doesn’t hurt, in fact, let me rephrase that, a cut hurts the second it happens and then that’s that. Once the damage is done then it just becomes a bit of distraction, but you get on with it. Watch the video where he’s in
➤ the corner getting worked on and all he’s doing is squinting and pulling faces, letting the corner know that he’s hurt so they pull him out. You give your corner enough ways to pull you out, then they’ll do it and Liam Williams wanted his corner to pull him out.”
The fight, a gruelling affair, was, for the most part, dominated by Williams, who made a rapid start and raced into a commanding lead against an opponent who seemed uncharacteristically lacklustre. Smith had been ridiculed viciously on social media in the hours leading up to the fight due to his failure to make weight, and the slog endured in getting his broad frame close to the 154lb limit showed in the bout’s first half. The widespread expectation of a competitive match belatedly came to fruition in the second half, as Smith did all he could to chop down the numerical advantages on the judges’ scorecards. When Williams sustained the brutal laceration at the end of round nine, Smith’s resilience and ruthlessness had paid off.
“Listen, people can say it’s a butt and it doesn’t look good when you watch it back, but whether it’s a butt, elbow or even a kick, it was an injury that he could’ve got on with,” Smith insists, still wholly sincere. “Look at the cut I had, and I fought from round three with that, and I had absolutely nothing going for me in that fight. I couldn’t win the [Interim WBO] world title [due to missing weight], I was behind on the scorecards and I was boxing s**t. How easy would it have been for [trainer] Joe [Gallagher] to just say, ‘You’ve got a bad cut and nothing is going for you so let’s leave it for another day; shall I pull you out?’ There’s not a chance I was pulling out. I’ve seen Tony Bellew have a worse cut in the second or third round against [Roberto] Bolonti, or look at our Paul when he fought [Tony] Dodson. You see cuts like his in boxing all the time, but the tide was turning in the fight and I think Williams knew it and his team knew it and that’s why they pulled him out.”
Candid as ever, being true to himself comes naturally to Smith. It was another trait of which Leach was fond of and, in an unforgiving era of political correctness, you will never find Smith retracting statements or deleting posts to prevent damage to his image. His strongminded approach to the rematch, which has included attacking the heart of Williams at every opportunity, is typical of Smith - and the manner in which the first fight ended has given the 2008 ABA champion even more confidence.
“He could’ve been fighting Miguel Cotto in Madison Square Garden,” Smith points out. “That’s what he gave up when he allowed his corner to pull him out, and if you pull out with everything that he had to gain from that fight then he’ll pull out whenever it gets tough. I look at that and think I’ve only got to get to him and it’ll come back to him. I can honestly tell you now that if Joe would’ve pulled me out in the same situation then I would’ve just walked out the ring and never stepped foot in his gym again. Look when he had [Anthony] Crolla against [Jorge] Linares, and Crolla was well down on the cards and had been beaten up and Joe was so close to pulling him out. He knew what the fight meant to Ant and that it was in Manchester so he let him go out to hear the final bell. You’ve always got to go out fighting and I don’t think Liam Williams
A CUT HURTS THE SECOND IT HAPPENS AND THAT’S THAT”
understands that yet.”
With conflict looming, Smith has put in the hard work, and a frantic 15-month period that began with the sickening body attacks of Canelo leaving him stricken on a Dallas canvas will culminate with Smith hopeful that he can return to that prestigious echelon. After being elevated to the most daunting of platforms, where the spotlight blinds those who are not prepared, Smith is desperate to return there.
“It’s everything you work your entire life for and you watch him and think you can exploit him, but Canelo showed me everything that’s required to be the very best in the sport,” Smith reflects. “When you fight over there, in a fight that size, the attention is on a different level to anything I’ve ever experienced. You’re getting all questions thrown at you from the media and there’s a woman there who moves you along to the next reporter. It really was a massive deal. So many people who I admire were sitting ringside that night watching me fight and I don’t want their only memory of me being stopped by Canelo. They’ve only really had one impression of me but if I win this fight and hopefully get myself another world title shot I can get back over to America and show them just how good a fighter I know I can be.”
The alarming disparity between facing Canelo as a big underdog in Texas and meeting Williams as the favourite in an allbritish clash niggled Smith at first. While the Williams fixture was never intended to be a mere exercise in rebuilding Smith’s confidence, there is an admission from the former WBO belt-holder that the appeal of HBO and American stadiums brought into stark contrast the reality of what was waiting for him in Manchester this past spring.
“It was like when I fought John Thompson a couple of years ago and became world champion and you look at all the other fights that are out there,” Smith recalls. “You’re getting private messages off the likes of Shane Mosley and then you’re fighting Jimmy Kelly. That sounds disrespectful but when the world title comes you expect a big fight every few months, but I had to defend it a few times and wait for the big one with Canelo. It’s just trying to understand the business. Fighting Williams after fighting Canelo was like fighting Kelly after I’d just won the world title. It was a comedown and I don’t know if that was maybe the reason for a slow start, but I won’t be making that mistake this time around.”
The Canelo failure has been a constant annoyance for Smith ever since he left the home of the Dallas Cowboys last September. The nuisance provided by Williams was briefly extinguished earlier this year, but it has returned to again deter Smith, and there are numerous scenarios in their imminent meeting that could well see the series drag on into a third meeting. Smith, however, is determined to slam the door firmly shut on the quarrel and hopefully open a new one that leads back to the Promised Land Alvarez briefly allowed him to sample, albeit with contrasting results.
IT’S EVERYTHING YOU WORK YOUR ENTIRE LIFE FOR... BUT CANELO SHOWED ME WHAT’S REQUIRED TO BE THE VERY BEST IN THE SPORT
BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG PITY: Smith takes in the Dallas atmosphere before losing to Canelo
UNFINISHED BUSINESS: The damage to Williams’ eyebrow [left] is obvious as Smith celebrates
MASTER AT WORK: Alvarez attacks Smith, who will be stopped in nine