CAL­LUM SMITH

Cal­lum Smith tells Chris Walker about the frus­tra­tion of wait­ing for a world ti­tle fight and of the cer­tainty that he will de­feat Groves now it’s here

Boxing News - - Contents -

The un­beaten chal­lenger ex­plains how his frus­tra­tion will help him beat Groves

FOR a num­ber of years, Cal­lum Smith has been ac­com­pa­nied by a per­pet­ual air of frus­tra­tion. More a lin­ger­ing nui­sance than some­thing ca­pa­ble of de­rail­ing his ul­ti­mate goal of world supremacy, it re­sem­bles the fa­cade worn by a young­ster in Novem­ber as they im­pa­tiently wait for Christ­mas Day. The youngest Smith brother is adamant that glory still awaits him, but his lengthy voy­age to ar­rive there, longer than ev­ery­one ex­pected, has irked Smith. The wait could be over in a mat­ter of days.

On Fri­day night (Septem­ber 28), Smith faces Ge­orge Groves in the World Box­ing Su­per Se­ries su­per-mid­dleweight fi­nal in Saudi Ara­bia. ➤

The con­test comes al­most seven years af­ter Groves halted Cal­lum’s big brother Paul in just two rounds at Wem­b­ley Arena. Cal­lum, then still an am­a­teur, was there that 2011 night, watch­ing un­com­fort­ably with his brothers. De­spite the mis­ery of Paul’s de­feat, Cal­lum had to move on quickly. His am­a­teur am­bi­tions, to qual­ify for the Olympics, were at a cru­cial stage. They too would end un­hap­pily.

Fail­ure to qual­ify for Lon­don 2012 hurt Smith far more than any op­po­nent has ever man­aged. A life­long odyssey ripped at the seams due to er­rant judge­ment from ring­side of­fi­cials had Smith sup­port­ing his Team GB team­mates from the side­lines like an in­jured for­ward miss­ing the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal due to in­jury. Am­a­teur box­ing had taught Smith an aw­ful lot, but he felt the code ul­ti­mately let him down. His vested am­bi­tions mor­phed into pro­fes­sional ones and now he stands at the door Groves, the WBA cham­pion, aim­ing to ex­tin­guish an age of dis­il­lu­sion­ment rather than set­tling a fam­ily score.

“Of course it’s com­mon to think about the fight with our Paul, but that was a long time ago,” re­veals Smith to Box­ing News in his softly spo­ken Scouse tone. “There was no way back then that I ever pos­si­bly thought that me and him [Groves] might one day fight be­cause so many things hap­pen in box­ing and things change all the time. I hadn’t even had a pro fight at that point and was still a few months away from even turn­ing pro. Ge­orge had just beaten our Paul and was head­ing to­wards big fights. I was miles away from him in terms of where our ca­reers were, but he’s still around in big fights and I’ve done enough to earn my shot at his world ti­tle.”

Ob­tain­ing this op­por­tu­nity has been a stren­u­ous task for Smith. Turn­ing back the clock three years, the 2010 Com­mon­wealth Games sil­ver medal­list was one of the hottest fight­ers in Bri­tish box­ing. A sum­mer show­down with France’s Christo­pher Re­brasse was han­dled with care and then came the lo­cal bat­tle with city col­league, Rocky Field­ing, as the for­mer Ro­tunda ABC team­mates shared al­most three min­utes of vi­o­lence with Smith at his most vi­cious. Field­ing did not hear the bell to end the open­ing round. The same fate greeted Hadil­lah Mo­houmadi in 2016 as the French­man sur­ren­dered his Euro­pean strap with the ac­tion barely un­der­way. Box­ing is a sport with myr­iad lev­els and Smith was mov­ing through them with ease.

The fi­nal climb to the top dom­i­nated Smith’s fo­cus through­out 2017, but it was de­layed by a num­ber of com­pli­ca­tions. Smith, with trainer Joe Gal­lagher, was a ring­side spec­ta­tor in Jan­uary of that year as James

“GROVES USED TO GET CAUGHT, BUT HE’S CHANGED A LOT... THERE’S NO WAY THOSE IM­PROVE­MENTS ARE ENOUGH TO BEAT ME”

“I WAS BORED AGAINST HOLZKEN, I WANTED TO LET MY HANDS GO”

De­gale and Badou Jack par­tic­i­pated in a red-hot su­per-mid­dleweight uni­fi­ca­tion con­test in Brook­lyn.

Smith, hop­ing to meet the win­ner, ap­plauded wildly at the fi­nal bell, but the an­nounce­ment of the draw left the sit­u­a­tion with­out any real clar­ity. Jack would protest against the re­sult be­fore mov­ing up a di­vi­sion to en­joy suc­cess at 175lbs, while “Chunky” would nurse a nig­gling shoul­der in­jury be­fore los­ing his IBF strap to un­her­alded Min­nesotan, Caleb Truax, at the back­end of the year.

Smith would pur­sue An­thony Dir­rell for Jack’s left­be­hind WBC belt, but once again, Smith was de­nied, al­beit through no fault of his own.

“To go to New York with Joe was to cre­ate enough in­ter­est in the fight with who­ever won, but at the back of my mind I knew it had to be De­gale be­cause I knew Jack was mov­ing up,” Smith re­veals.

“If De­gale would’ve won then he would’ve got the WBC ti­tle and I was the manda­tory for it, so it would’ve been a straight­for­ward fight to make. But when he got in­jured later that year then that was that. Me and Dir­rell was a done deal at one point, I was go­ing over there to fight him and then they wanted to start chang­ing the dates and change where the fight was to be tak­ing place. It just didn’t look good at all. In the space of a few months a cou­ple of big fights had just gone.”

With his ex­pected el­e­va­tion to the grand stage on hold, Smith main­tained his grip on the con­ti­nen­tal scene with­out en­coun­ter­ing much re­sis­tance. The prizes Cal­lum craved, seem­ingly within reach, still taunted him, but his purses were set to be bol­stered with the un­veil­ing of The WBSS, an eight-man tour­na­ment de­signed to gen­er­ate top-tier com­pe­ti­tion, one win­ner and eco­nomic re­ward. Smith was drafted into the in­au­gu­ral sea­son but ad­mits the event’s prom­ises ini­tially ap­peared too good to be true.

“I was in­ter­ested,” he re­calls. “Who wouldn’t be? With ev­ery­thing that had gone on that year with big fights be­ing on the ta­ble then fall­ing through for what­ever rea­son, at least this looked like the chance to earn good money and fi­nally have the chance to walk away with a world ti­tle at the end. With the money that was be­ing of­fered, I did have doubts be­cause you see first-hand how hard it is to get fights over the line. Then you’ve got in­juries and fight­ers want­ing cer­tain ad­van­tages and you won­der how things ever get sorted. Look at the Su­per Six [tour­na­ment] that Carl Froch went in. How many things went wrong with that? There have been a few prob­lems with this one, but over­all I’m happy with how it’s gone up to now.”

The nui­sances Smith hints at pre­sum­ably re­late to the with­drawal of Ger­many’s Jur­gen Braehmer, who was set to be the Merseysider’s op­po­nent at the semi­fi­nal stage af­ter Smith had de­feated Erik Skoglund in the first round. When in­jury pre­cluded Braehmer the chance to steal Smith’s un­de­feated record it was left to Dutch kick­boxer, and un­her­alded sub­sti­tute, Nieky Holzken to try his luck.

Groves, who de­feated Chris Eubank Jnr one week ear­lier to reach the fi­nal, was watch­ing at ring­side as Smith toyed with an out­gunned Holzken over 12 rounds. In the end, it was an out­ing that bore lit­tle re­la­tion to the re­lent­less bom­bard­ment that had greeted Field­ing and Mo­houmadi.

“I was fight­ing to in­struc­tions, plain and sim­ple,” Smith ex­plains. “I was bored in there if I’m be­ing hon­est and I wanted to let my hands go a lot more and a lot sooner. Joe was in the cor­ner telling me to just stay out of trou­ble be­cause the fi­nal was around the cor­ner. He didn’t want me in no messy clinches or ex­changes where I might get cut or pick up an in­jury. Peo­ple per­haps got a lit­tle used to me just go­ing in there and knock­ing peo­ple out, but that can’t hap­pen ev­ery fight even though it would be nice. I’m go­ing in with Groves now and it was right not to take any risks.”

In Groves, Smith fi­nally gets the elite as­sign­ment he’s long pined for. Once a sharp-shooter ca­pa­ble of ex­plo­sive­ness from nowhere, Groves has ma­tured into a fighter re­liant on ex­pe­ri­ence and savvy, rather than the sharp­ness and elu­sive­ness that he dis­played un­der first pro trainer Adam Booth. What he’s lost in crisp­ness has been re­placed with an abil­ity to fight a lot smarter. The work car­ried out by cur­rent coach Shane Mcguigan has been of the high­est or­der, par­tic­u­larly when one con­sid­ers the two stop­page losses to Carl Froch and points re­ver­sal to Jack looked like mak­ing Groves an eternal nearly man. But vic­tory over Fe­dor Chudi­nov for the WBA strap pro­pelled the Ham­mer­smith man to the form of his life.

“Where his power was once a big thing for him, it’s no longer the thing to keep an eye on be­cause he has got a lot smarter the more his ca­reer has gone on,” Smith notes. “I’ve known Groves for years from go­ing to shows with my brothers and he was al­ways some­one you rated but be­lieved could get knocked out at any time. Travis Dick­in­son flattened him in the am­a­teurs, Kenny An­der­son had him ev­ery­where, Froch, Jack [who dropped him], he’s a fighter who you al­ways thought was go­ing to get caught at some point. That’s changed a lot re­cently and he de­serves credit for that, but there’s no way the im­prove­ments he’s made will be enough to beat me. This has come at the per­fect time for me and even though I’ve had to be pa­tient, it’s go­ing to be worth it be­cause I’m do­ing it in the fi­nal against a big name and ev­ery­thing is at stake.”

For once, Smith’s view is fixed on the im­me­di­ate rather than the dis­tant fu­ture. He’s been rudely awo­ken in the past when dream­ing of De­gale or Dir­rell, but a fight to sink his teeth into has fi­nally ma­te­ri­alised. He’ll soon find out if box­ing’s most cov­eted en­vi­ron­ment is ev­ery­thing he en­vis­aged. Smith’s cru­sade to Jed­dah has been a mis­sion laced with prom­ise and dis­con­tent as chances to show his true po­ten­tial have fallen through on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions. If vic­to­ri­ous against Groves, Smith’s long wait will have been worth it.

Photo: AC­TION IM­AGES/ JA­SON CAIRNDUFF

LONG ROAD: Smith at­tacks Tommy Tolan back in 2013. Back then, Smith was knock­ing out his op­po­nents for fun

AS­SURED PRES­ENCE: Smith is ready to rule the world

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