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

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Liam Smith ques­tions Liam Williams’ heart ahead of their grudge re­match


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


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.


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

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