PROVEN

How Cal­lum Smith won the world ti­tle and came of age against Ge­orge Groves in Saudi Ara­bia, writes John Den­nen

Boxing News - - Proven -

THAT WAS THE ONE I AL­WAYS WANTED SO I CAN FI­NALLY BE HAPPY. I CAN RE­TIRE NOW, I’VE FUL­FILLED MY PO­TEN­TIAL”

CAL­LUM SMITH has proved his point. He felt he was one of the best fight­ers in the coun­try. He thought he was the best in the divi­sion. This year he had to go all the way to Saudi Ara­bia to con­firm it. It was how­ever by no means

guar­an­teed. Sit­ting in Jed­dah, only days be­fore chal­leng­ing Ge­orge Groves for the WBA su­per­mid­dleweight world ti­tle, in the fi­nal of the World Box­ing Su­per Se­ries, Smith couldn’t be sure he’d ever get an­other chance like this.

“I re­mem­ber sit­ting think­ing it’s taken me so long to get this world ti­tle. I’ve been here there and ev­ery­where to just fi­nally get the one shot,” Smith told Box­ing News. “I was think­ing I’ve got to take this shot. I’ve got to take ad­van­tage of it, other­wise I’ve made good money but I couldn’t re­tire with­out win­ning one. I know it would eat away at me for the rest of my life be­cause po­ten­tial-wise I knew I was good enough to be­come a world cham­pion. If I re­tired with­out win­ning one I would have mas­sively un­der­achieved.

“Get­ting close to this one I did ques­tion it was so hard to get this one maybe I might not get an­other one af­ter this.”

Yet by the time he weighed in, tow­er­ing over Groves in their fi­nal face off, the pres­sure was melt­ing away from him. “Nor­mally as the days get closer your nerves get worse, mine were dis­ap­pear­ing closer to the fight. Af­ter the weigh in I re­mem­ber just think­ing I’ve had the best camp I’ve ever had, I’m in the best shape pos­si­ble and if he does beat me, good on him. I knew I’d given my­self the best op­por­tu­nity on the night. I was more ner­vous for [Nieky] Holzken and [Erik] Skoglund than I was for Groves, which is weird be­cause it was a much big­ger fight and a much tougher fight,” he said. “I re­mem­ber the [Rocky] Field­ing fight was a big lo­cal derby and there was a lot of eyes on it and on the night for that one, I was the same. I had less nerves for that one than I had some of the jour­ney­man fights. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s just when I know I’ve pre­pared well. I feel more pres­sure in the fights where I’m ex­pected to go in and knock them out early. I think that’s where I feel more pres­sure than the fights where I know it could be a tough fight and there’s a few peo­ple pick­ing me to win, a few to lose. I just feel the pres­sure comes off me then.”

Groves how­ever was a tougher fight, the hard­est chal­lenge he could have faced. So much so that for the first time in his ca­reer Smith was not ex­pected to win. That both­ered him.

“Go­ing off the form guide I un­der­stood why peo­ple prob­a­bly leaned to­wards him. But it was more the fact that peo­ple weren’t just pick­ing him, they were writ­ing me off. Peo­ple were just judg­ing me as if that was my best against Holzken and I knew it weren’t. I had shown be­fore­hand that that weren’t my best but it was like peo­ple had for­got­ten about the other fights I’d ever had and just judged me on them too,” Smith said. “Just dis­re­gard­ing me as if I was no good. It was that that gave me a point to prove.

“So that was kind of an­noy­ing me but the only way to prove them wrong was to do what I done and I was al­ways con­fi­dent. The bet­ter the op­po­nent, the bet­ter me and I think I showed that.”

Groves had re­cov­ered from a shoul­der dis­lo­cated in Fe­bru­ary, putting his fight with Smith back to the end of Septem­ber. Smith was re­lieved though that he was get­ting to chal­lenge for the WBA world ti­tle. Fight­ing Chris Eubank Jnr as a re­place­ment for the fi­nal had arisen as a pos­si­bil­ity but Smith was ea­ger for ³

Groves to take all the time he needed to re­cover.

“The aim was to be­come a world cham­pion but it was to be the best in the divi­sion as well,” Smith said. “I be­lieved I was the best but I knew I had to prove it to be in a po­si­tion to say it. Groves was the fight I al­ways wanted and it wasn’t to be beat him per­son­ally it was just be­cause he was the num­ber one.”

But there was a hint of per­sonal an­i­mus. Groves had stopped Paul Smith, Cal­lum’s el­dest brother, as far back as 2011. For the most part Cal­lum had re­fused to dwell on it. “I never ever think about that fight, I was an am­a­teur when it hap­pened,” he said. But in the days be­fore his tilt with Groves, he watched back his brother’s first round with the cham­pion. “It was the first time I think I’ve prob­a­bly watched it. It was only then it re­freshed a lit­tle bit,” Smith ad­mit­ted. It would be good, he thought, to get “a bit of re­venge.”

Groves had also re­lit the fire that burned in the youngest Smith. “In camp you know how big the fight is and it kind of made me train that lit­tle bit harder and Groves made a few com­ments. He said I die a death af­ter three rounds or some­thing and my con­cen­tra­tion goes. I re­mem­ber just go­ing to the gym the next day and say­ing, ‘We’ll see who dies af­ter three rounds.’ It brought a lit­tle bit more out of me again. Es­pe­cially com­ing from a fighter who’s known for hav­ing stamina is­sues him­self, I was think­ing a bit rich com­ing from you. I never felt the pres­sure in the camp but I knew how big the fight was. I knew I had to take the op­por­tu­nity.”

“I knew he’s heavy handed,” the Liver­pudlian added. “I’d like think my brother had a very good chin and he was the only one to knock him out. I knew from even back then that Groves was very heavy handed. I had to be switched on… When I’ve got re­spect for some­one’s power, it keeps me switched on and it makes me box a lot bet­ter.

“I had re­spect for his power, go­ing in I think he had re­spect for mine. Or he does now.”

Smith was alert to the Lon­doner on the night. From the open­ing bell Cal­lum moved out to take the cen­tre of the ring while he boxed with con­trol and pre­ci­sion. When the open­ings came, Smith also hit with spite. “He was more dan­ger­ous when I thought I hurt him,” Smith said. “He’s at his most dan­ger­ous when he is un­der at­tack. [In the third round] his legs stiff­ened a bit and then I went for him but then the minute he threw back I thought, ‘He’s still all there, you’re not as hurt as I thought you were’.”

Groves was jab­bing, his shoul­der hold­ing up as he landed lead lefts to the body. But cru­cially Smith used his size and judge­ment of dis­tance to neu­tralise that jab.

“His jab’s his best shot and that sets his right hand up. So when he couldn’t get his jab off as much, it kind of took ev­ery­thing else away from him.”

The fin­ish, when Smith de­liv­ered it, was ex­pert, even if it sur­prised Cal­lum as well. “The first time I tried the counter left hook it landed, that wob­bled him badly. I re­mem­ber just think­ing, ‘Get rid, get rid of him… This is it… It’s your chance to be­come a world cham­pion’,” he re­called. “I just un­loaded. I was go­ing head hunt­ing. I was land­ing but none of them were land­ing re­ally clean.”

So he threw a body shot just to open up his guard. Re­plays show it as an almighty right hook to the ribs that brought Groves down. Smith didn’t even think about the punch it­self. He just threw. Even as Groves slumped to his knees, he didn’t re­alise how much dam­age he’d done. “Even when he went down I thought it was the head shots,” Smith said. “Look­ing at it, it was a good body shot be­cause I didn’t throw it to fin­ish the fight, just to go back up­stairs again be­cause it was the head where I’d hurt him.”

Smith was ex­pect­ing the fight to con­tinue, he was primed to charge back in while Groves was vul­ner­a­ble. Then he saw the cham­pion with a slight shake of his head nod to his trainer Shane Mcguigan. It sig­nalled enough. This con­test was over.

Smith dropped to his knees, over­come with a con­fu­sion of re­lief, de­light, tri­umph. “I think that’s why it made my re­ac­tion a lit­tle bit bet­ter,” he said. “I thought the fight was go­ing to still carry on so when it weren’t I was like, ‘Wow, it’s done.’ It was a weird re­ac­tion, I wanted to cry, I wanted to laugh, I wanted to jump and cel­e­brate, ev­ery­one went in the ring and I couldn’t be­lieve it was over.”

His broth­ers and trainer Joe Gal­lagher mobbed him. “That’s the one I’ve al­ways wanted so I can fi­nally be happy. Like I said, I can re­tire to­mor­row and I’ve ful­filled my po­ten­tial. I’ve done what I set out to do,” he said. “I’ve been work­ing to­wards this since I started box­ing. Ev­ery­thing, even the am­a­teurs, the aim was al­ways to be a world cham­pion. It’s when I look at it like that’s when I re­alise what I’ve achieved. I’ve fi­nally done it. “No one can take that away from me.” But Smith is only 28 years old. His prime years stretch ahead of him. He has to dis­cover just how good he can re­ally be. As for his new dreams, the list is ex­ten­sive. By beat­ing Groves he be­came the top su­per­mid­dleweight in the world. Now he wants to unify the divi­sion, head­line at An­field and even be­come a two-weight world cham­pion.

“We can see what chap­ter two, Cal­lum Smith 2.0 is,” he said with a smile.

Photo: AC­TION IM­AGES/ AN­DREW COULDRIDGE

NEW CHAM­PION: Smith poses with his haul of tro­phies af­ter de­feat­ing Groves in Septem­ber

CHANG­ING OF THE GUARD: Smith senses the ԴQLVK DQG MXPSVon Groves [left] EHIRUH KLV WHDP DQG IDPLO\ UXVK into the ring to FHOHEUDWH Pho­tos: AC­TION IM­AGES/ AN­DREW COULDRIDGE

FOL­LOW THE LEADER: Smith goes into 2019 as the No.1 in his divi­sion

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