Light-middleweight star Liam Smith can expect a rousing reception when he enters the ring at The Echo Arena in Liverpool this Saturday (7th December) to defend his British title against Heywood’s Mark Thompson.
Third in line of the four fighting Smith brothers, 25-year-old ‘Beefy’ captured the crown with a thoroughly polished and professional display against Kenyan born Erick Ochieng on a rival promotion in September.
Formerly an ABA light-welter champion in 2008, the talented and tenacious Smith fully capitalised on opportunities to contest both the Commonwealth and British belts inside his first 16 pro fights. Now it’s time to start reaping the benefits.
Last weekend, as his preparations wound down, boxing writer Glynn Evans caught up with the straight talking Scouser to discuss his homecoming.
Was your last performance -when you unanimously outpointed Erick Ochieng to lift the British title - the best of your career?
It was a good performance but not me at my very best.
My most complete fight was probably when I beat Max Maxwell the fight before. That night, everything came off. My shot picking was excellent and I didn’t get caught with anything silly. I was gutted not to get the stoppage but Max is a tough experienced kid. Unfortunately, it wasn’t shown on tele so not too many people saw how good I was.
Ochieng was a very tough and awkward lad who it’s hard to look good against. But I had a lot of success with my jab and was very happy that the specific shots we’d been working on in the gym came off.
It was definitely the best night of my boxing life, my greatest achievement, and it was great to make a bit of history with the rest of the family.
In November 2012, one fella got 66-1 on Paul, Stephen and myself holding British titles simultaneously in 2013. By the time other family members got wind, the odds had dropped to 28-1. Plenty got on at that. As a consequence there was a lot of pressure riding on me after our Paul and Stephen had delivered (British titles) earlier in the year.
Talent wise, the domestic light-middleweight class is one of the more barren. Could that enable you to storm through and acquire a Lonsdale Belt outright sooner rather than later?
I don’t like to look past Mark Thompson but, yeh, I’d definitely like to have it sown up by next July at the latest.
We have to wait until the Board of Control’s Championship Committee meets again but I’d like another quick voluntary if I’m eligible. Guys like Navid Mansouri, who I’ve sparred with, and Kris Carslaw are probably still some way off being ready to make a challenge and I beat Sam Sheedy something like 19-1 in the amateurs.
But there’s also guys like Matty Hall and Bradley Pryce, tough, experienced pros who’ve got the heart and balls to give everyone a hard night. They’d be good fights with a decent profile that I could win but also learn from.
European champion Sergey Rabchenko is based in the UK and fights for Ricky Hatton. Would you be interested in challenging him some time soon?
I’d love it. I saw a couple of rounds of his recent defence with Bradley (Pryce) then my phone went so I missed the rest. But, yeh, after Christmas I’d like that.
Rabchenko’s a typically tough Eastern European, a rough fella who’s a hard night for any one. But technically, he’s nothing special. I don’t rate him. You’d need to be mentally strong but he’s definitely got a style that I could look good against.
Blackpool’s Brian Rose, your predecessor as British champion, has landed a mandatory challenge against WBO champion Demetrius Andrade in the New Year. How do you expect him to fare?
Brian’s a good lad so I hope to God he wins. I’m not saying he’s better than me because I genuinely don’t believe he is but, on paper, you’d have to say he’s the British number one.
But if I’m brutally honest, I imagine that he’ll lose on points. Andrade’s very talented, a 6ft 1in southpaw and I just think he’ll have too much ability for Brian. He was a (2007) world amateur champion, remember.
I’m not the greatest at predictions mind and I hope Brian can prove me wrong.
You recently broke the WBO rankings at number 12. How do you assess the current world champions?
You’d logically expect (WBC champ) Floyd Mayweather to vacate and drop back down to welter where the biggest fights are. After that, top of the pile in the division is ‘Canelo’ (Saul Alvarez) who doesn’t presently have a belt.
Erislandy Lara and Austin Trout meet this Saturday for the WBA belt, then there’s Carlos Molina who holds the IBF title. I don’t really perceive myself as world class just yet but if that was offered to me I’d bite your hand off.
Molina’s so basic. He’s very orthodox and can’t bang; nothing special. Rabchenko is mandatory for the WBC when Mayweather moves on. I’m ready for him or Molina right now. Timing and opportunity are everything.
How has your training program altered since you acquired the Commonwealth championship following that epic battle with Steve O’Meara last December?
It’s become a lot more tactical and game plan based, than technical. Early in your career, you’re never sure who you are going to fight so you just train to improve.
As champion, you usually get a set opponent and plenty of notice. For the Ochieng fight, from the start of camp to the end, every session, ever spar was specific to him. At title level, the mental side is far more important and you have to enter with a clever head.
On Saturday, you open your defence of the British title on home soil at the Echo Arena. What is it about Liverpool that makes it such a fabulous fight city?
We’ve always had great amateur clubs and loads of national junior champions. However, in the past, once some good young kids got to 17, 18 they’d find girls or go on the ale. Regardless of what talent you might have, you have to want to do it. You can’t ‘play’ with the boxing.
Success breeds success and inspires others. Manchester used to be dominant, Sheffield before that. Right now, everyone is flying in Liverpool.
Saturday’s opponent Mark Thompson has had plenty of notice and gets an overdue opening at British level. He’s likely to present a stiff challenge. What do you know of him?
I’ve known of Mark Thompson for a long time. He’ll come fit, he works very hard and he used to a strong welterweight. We don’t really know how strong he’ll be against men half a stone bigger. He knows he’s unlikely to be able to come again so I’m sure he’ll be fired up for it.
But, to be honest, it’s doing my head in listening to everybody telling me that his chance is ‘overdue’. He had a decent win against Kevin McIntyre in a British welterweight eliminator about four years ago but then he made his mistakes and went to jail. He’s got nobody to blame but himself.
Since returning he’s won just two out of four and the only reason he’s getting this shot is because I’m a nice fella! He doesn’t really deserve it.
We’ve heard that, over at ‘Arnie’s’, they’ve been working on body shots and uppercuts to unhinge me. If that’s all they’ve got, they’ll come up short. When have I ever shown susceptibility to body shots?!
Thompson’s coach Anthony Farnell told me himself that I’d beat Ronnie Heffron and I’d beat Frankie Gavin who he used to train. He knows they’re both far better than Thompson so how the hell does he think Mark can beat me?
Thompson’s very unorthodox and could be awkward but I’m British champion. I have to be able to deal with that.
There’s five title fights on Saturday’s bill. Why will Liam Smith by the name on everybody’s lips when the action has finished?
I’m not interested in trying to outshine anyone, I’m just interested in Liam Smith putting in a good, solid performance. I want to show why I’m a cut above every other light-middleweight in Britain and the Commonwealth. If I can do that, I’m sure everybody will talk about me.
I’m very confident that’ll produce a good win. I’m loath to predict a stoppage because I did that last time but failed to deliver. However, Thompson is far more basic than Ochieng. It’ll probably take three or four rounds before I really start to take over but I’d be very surprised if he’s still there at the end of round eight.