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NEL TARLETON, Alan Rudkin, John Conteh and Paul Hodkinson are four famous champions amongst champions that the fighting city of Liverpool has produced during its long and illustrious association with prize fighting.
Today, the Smith brothers, Paul, Stephen, Liam and Callum are at the forefront of Merseyside and British boxing and find themselves on the cusp of creating history when 26-year-old Liam takes on Erik Ochieng for the vacant British light-middleweight title this weekend knowing a victory would see three of the four brothers hold British titles at the same time, a feat never before achieved since the introduction of the Lonsdale belt in 1909 by Hugh Lowther, the 5th Earl of Lonsdale.
The contest, part of a Matchroom promotion simply christened ‘WAR’ to signify the anticipated bloody battle between bill toppers Derry Mathews and Curtis Woodhouse, will take place in the claustrophobic surroundings of Liverpool’s Olympia, a venue that is almost always impossibly cold even during summer, forcing the crowd to generate their own heat as they boisterously roar their heroes to victory, creating a wonderful, imposing atmosphere that reverberates around the ornately decorated walls of the former Victorian circus.
Whilst Liam waits in the wings backstage contemplating his battle with destiny, his younger brother Callum, a 6’3” unbeaten super-middleweight prospect, will take the next step in his quest to emulate his siblings when he faces 22-year-old Patrick Mendy for the vacant English title on the nights undercard in a 10 round affair.
As part of the ever growing and increasingly influential Matchroom stable of fighters 23-year-old Callum, known as ‘Mundo’, has impressed everyone with his devastating performances inside the ring scoring five consecutive first round stoppage wins in the first seven paid outings of his career ever since he vacated the vest and head guard of the famous Rotunda ABC.
His most recent victim on the undercard of Ricky Burns-Ray Beltran in Glasgow, a Lithuanian by the name of Kirill Psonko, had taken fellow touted prospect Frank Buglioni eight rounds in July and was expected to give him some rounds. That was until he dropped him twice inside the opening three minutes leaving Psonko writhing in pain. Another easy night’s work for the former gloried amateur star, and all achieved without as much as breaking into a sweat.
“I know Frank from the amateurs, I used to room with him on England duty, he’s a big super-middleweight and the guy (Psonko) took everything Frank could throw at him. He was no mug and I genuinely believed going into the fight that he would take me some rounds after I had studied his style and what he brought to the ring. I thought I would get to him in the later rounds but not in the first!” said Smith.
Despite claiming that he is ‘no devastating puncher’ and that his knockouts have come due to superior timing and punch placement, Smith, his trainer Joe Gallagher and his backers Matchroom are in the tricky position of on one hand needing opposition that can take the young lion into the later stages of fights but without moving him up in class too quickly, wary that they have a seven fight novice, albeit a very good one, on their hands.
“I think I’ve had enough learning fights and proved that I am a lot better than the opposition that I have been facing,” argued Smith.
“They can’t step me up too far yet but on the other hand I do need rounds now. It’s a tough situation to be in but that’s why I’m with Matchroom and it is their job to get me the right fights at the right time.”
“I looked at what Matchroom were doing for my gym mate Scott Cardle. He was out 10 times in his first year and I’d seen other promoters waiting on dates but I want to stay busy and they are sticking with the plan.”
Every fight fan likes to see headline grabbing knockouts, but in the fledgling stages of a prospects career there comes a time his promoter and match maker need to find a suitably game opponent that can mess him around, show him a few well-worn tricks of the trade and to test his fighting heart.
“It’s good to get early knockouts because it puts you in the spotlight and gets people talking about you but I want to push my career on into title class sooner rather than later so I do need the rounds. I train hard for every fight, don’t get me wrong, but you need to train your body and do the rounds in the ring.”
Smith may be searching for an opponent who can extend him beyond the opening skirmishes of a prize fight but the 23-year-old has benefitted from world class sparring not only in the confines of Joe Gallagher’s gym but around the country against some of the best in the business.
“People say sparring isn’t the same as a real fight but it’s the closest to it and I’m getting great sparring in the gym, which I believe is the best in the country. I’ve had great sparring outside of the gym too with the likes of Carl Froch, Nathan Cleverly, Tony Bellew, Andy Lee and George Groves, all top kids, which is why I think I have developed as quickly as I have as a pro.”
Patrick Mendy, a 22-year-old resident of Reading, Berkshire via Gambia, West Africa, is a tricky proposition for Smith as he chases the first of what he hopes will be many titles in a glittering career on Saturday night.
Mendy’s 14-6-1 record might not represent a cause for concern to a hot prospect like Smith on bare statistics alone, but the young man has been matched tough against the likes of 17-0 Patrick Nielsen of Denmark and last time out at Wembley Arena he halted the winning streak of Russian hot prospect Dmitry Chudinov when he held the 27-year-old to a draw over eight rounds.
Mendy then, falls firmly into the role of divisional gate keeper for prospects hoping to move into title contention.
“He has boxed in good class so I expect to go into the later rounds,” said Smith.
“You could say he has been matched too tough too early and not been allowed to develop properly but that’s what a good manager would do and the reason I think a lot of amateurs are staying amateur for a while until they can get a good promoter who will look after them.”
“Saying that, in all the losses he has had he has won rounds. A few people thought he deserved to get the win over Chudinov, and he was supposed to be the next star, so it represents a big step up for me.”
As fans watch Smith’s career develop in front of the TV cameras live on Sky Sports, another highly popular and talented super middleweight, Frank Buglioni, is making a name for himself in the big smoke under the tutelage of Mark Tibbs on Boxnation.
And although it is perhaps too early to expect Smith and the explosive Londoner to face each other anytime soon, if the pair continue to win in style over the coming years there will inevitably come a time when the two former England amateur roommates will clash.
“A lot of talk has surrounded the common opponents between me and Frank recently. I shared a room with him when we were on England duty, and he is doing very well as a pro, 9-0 I think?”
“That could be a great fight in the future but at the moment I’m not paying too much attention to him or the other guys in the division. I’m just concentrating on my own game. Some of them might make it, some won’t but we shall see in a few years.”
Ahead of their chance to make British boxing history on Saturday night, the Smith brothers were honoured by Liverpool town hall chiefs for their success in the ring.
All four brothers were the guests of honour at a special civic reception with the Lord Mayor Councillor Gary Millar on Tuesday.Author: Danny Winterbottom
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