Callum Smith says the pressure is on to beat Luke Blackledge in style when he defends his British Super-Middleweight title at the Manchester Arena on Saturday night.
Smith defends his British title for the first time against Blackledge and insist he’s 100 per cent focussed on keeping hold of the Lord Lonsdale belt – but the unbeaten Super-Middleweight talent knows the big one is just around the corner.
‘Mundo’ dismissed Hadillah Mohoumadi inside a round in Liverpool in April to land the mandatory spot in the WBC. The Liverpool star then flew out to Washington DC to see WBC king Badou Jack defeat Lucian Bute in the second defence of his crown – with IBF champion James DeGale seeing off Rogelio Medina on the same bill, with Smith waiting in the wings to meet the winner of their unification bout.
Smith knows Blackledge will give him a real test in Manchester on a big stage for the Lancastrian. Blackledge lost against Smith’s hometown foe Rocky Fielding in 2013 for the Commonwealth title having taken the fight at late notice. Since that defeat, the 26 year old has won eight in a row and picked up the Commonwealth title – so Smith knows that he faces a hungry fighter, and says that will raise his game as he shows the world what he’ll bring to the table when he gets his crack at the top prize.
“It’s important to have the British belt on the line in a proper fight,” said Smith. “Luke is a local lad, there’s going to be a bit of spite in there and it’s the last chance for me to prove that I am good enough to go and beat the winner of Jack and DeGale.
“The better the opponent the better you’ll see from me. A lot of fighters say that and I don’t think there’s many truer statements in boxing than that. It’s definitely the case for me. When I started off landing title fights and people were saying that this will be a tough test, I started to believe that and it would bring an extra level or two out of me.
“I’m proud to be British champion, people forget that, and I want to defend it. If I lose this I won’t fight for a World title, and I don’t deserve to. He’s coming to win, it’s a big night for him and he’s got a lot to gain.
“He lost to Rocky but there’s a lot of good wins on his record. He’s sparred World champions and always come out with praise from them for being tough. He’s coming to get a win that will change his career, but if I am as good as people say I am, then it’s not just about winning it’s about looking good doing it.”
After their wins in Washington, Jack and DeGale agreed to meet in a unification clash following their wins, but that’s not happening until January 14 in Brooklyn. Smith has boxed twice while waiting for the champions to set their date – at Goodison Park in May and then in London in September – and while he admits he’s not been at his best, he’s glad to have the rounds under his belt before a potential World title crack.
“It’s taken longer to get to the World title than it should have done but I know that it’s coming,” said Smith. “I’ve had some low key fights since I knew I had the mandatory shot so while it’s been a bit frustrating, I’ve always known the outcome in the end, a World title shot is on the way.
“In an ideal world I would have beaten Mohoumadi and then fought Badou Jack the next fight, but it doesn’t always work like that in boxing. I went to watch Badou and James fight in their fights in Washington and they agreed to meet in a unification so I knew that I was going to have to wait.
“I can’t really be that frustrated as I knew that the unification would take precedence. I’ve had three fights instead of the one, but I’ve always had that end goal in mind and I’ve now had three extra training camps to keep working and improving through so that’s a positive for me too. I’m a better fighter than I was last year and now I really feel that I will take my shot when it comes.
“I wasn’t great in my last two fights, I switched off a bit because there was no fear factor. After being in there for 40 seconds I knew I would win so I got a bit bored and allowed myself to make mistakes and switch off, then I’d be thinking that they should be out of there by now. Sometimes fighters find a way to hang in there and frustrate you so it was good to experience that.”
Smith and Blackledge clash as part of a huge night of action in Manchester as Anthony Joshua MBE defends his IBF World Heavyweight title against Eric Molina.