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British & European boxing buzz: Callum Smith headed to a big fight, Terry Flanagan to fight for vacant title

Credit: Lawrence Lustig

Callum Smith will unleash months of frustration at the Barclaycard Arena in Birmingham on Saturday night – and says another win will prove he’s ready for a massive fight this summer. Smith has been out for nearly six months with a hand injury following his comprehensive win over former title challenger Nikola Sjekloca in November in Liverpool.

The 25 year old is ranked at four in the WBC and will announce a big fight in the coming weeks in his hometown in June, and Smith believes victories in Birmingham and on a big night in Merseyside this summer will lead to him closing in on a World title shot.

“All being well I will be out again in Liverpool in a big fight.

“The opponent is better than anybody I have fought previously and I think it is another good step up from Sjekloca. It is a good fight and it is the kind of fight I want to be involved in. I do believe I can become a World champion and I am not going to get there by beating people I am expected to beat comfortably.

“I have to test myself and to improve you do have to test yourself. I think it is the perfect fight at the right time and I will be looking to put in another good performance and do a job on him.

“My hand had been bothering me since July and it swelled after the Sjekloca fight. I had a slight tear in my tendon but it is fine now and I am all ready to go.

“I had the same injury previously in my left hand but this wasn’t as bad. I came back after my first hand operation in April last year and had six fights in seven months so after the Sjekloca fight I would have had a rest anyway; not for as long as it has turned out but I would have had a rest. I’d have liked to have boxed in February or March rather than having to wait until May.

“It was a big step up against Sjekloca, he had only lost two out of 28 fights and they were both to World champions; Arthur Abraham and Sakio Bika. He was better than anybody I had boxed previously and people thought it would be a 50/50 fight so to come through, and win the way I did – I won every round on one scorecard – was a good statement to make.”

Interview with Anthony Yarde

Ilford puncher Anthony Yarde claims he was forced to join the professional code simply to secure competition.

Eleven big knockout in 12 amateur fights left rival light-heavies scurrying to the other side of the street whenever his name was mentioned.

In frustration, the 23 year old unarmed assassin penned a pro deal with promoter Frank Warren and he kickstarts his ‘punch for pay’ career in a four rounder at the SSE Arena in Wembley this Saturday.

Remaining tickets are available from Eventim on 0844 249 1000 or www.eventim.co.uk and SSE Arena, Wembley, on 0844 815 0815 or www.ssearena.co.uk (Disabled Line 0208 782 5629).

BoxNation will televise live and exclusive on Sky 437/HD 490, Virgin 546 and Talk Talk 525. Subscribe at www.boxnation.com Or watch online at Livesport.tv and via iPhone, iPad or Android.

Last Friday, boxing writer Glynn Evans caught up with the Tunde Ajayi trained demolition man to discuss his background and aspirations.

You were a relatively late entrant to boxing. What sports did you participate in, earlier in life?

Actually football was my main focus. I had trials at QPR and played non league for Tunbridge Wells and Wimbledon. But I was scouted for athletics from school and started going to a club in Newham where I was coached by Tessa Sanderson, the former Olympic (javelin) champion.

I was a sprinter. By the age of 16, I was running under 11 seconds for the 100 metres and I was also putting the shot. But if I’m honest, though I enjoyed competing, I only did the training because I felt I had to rather than because I wanted to. Breaking a toe gave me a convenient excuse to stop.

What fuelled your interest in boxing?

Growing up in Stratford and Forest Gate, there were always arguments and, though I’m ashamed to admit it now, I was a very hot headed, bad tempered kid. When I was maybe 12 or 13, two kids tried to steal from me in the streets. In self defence, I hit one and he dropped to the floor, was down for quite a while. The other shied away. That’s when it first dawned I had power.

I was actually big into wrestling before the boxing and, after school, I’d do loads of press ups and stuff with dumb bells to beef up like the WWE guys. But when I was 14, I saw a documentary on Mike Tyson which really intrigued me. I become obsessed with him and started watching fights on the Internet. A football friend said: ‘You’re always talking about boxing. Why don’t you just go and do it?!’

Tell us about your amateur career. You lost just once in 12 bouts and none of your victims lasted the distance!

Around 14, I’d dabbled at a boxing gym in Leyton, just for fitness, but finally started seriously at the Omnibus ABC based at the TKO Gym in Canning Town when I was about 16. I knew I was capable of knockouts with one punch from my street altercations. Before the amateurs, I’d had three white collar fights and won by knockout each time.

The coach there Tony Cesay (the former ABA champion) liked me a lot and gave me plenty of attention, noticed I had natural ability.

My athletics background helped make me explosive but initially I was far too stiff and muscular. Though I hit the bags very hard, I could only punch throw short, quick bursts for a limited time period. I always intended being a heavyweight but it became necessary to lose weight.

I was very raw, just launched haymakers. Tony got me sparring ABA fighters far more advanced than me so I had to learn a jab, become more skilful, hit but not be hit.

But I was a workaholic, training every day, very committed. I don’t like defeat in anything. It that regard, Floyd Mayweather is my template. I started to mould my style on guys like Ali, Mayweather, the Sugar Rays rather than the big punchers.

Clearly you had great potential. Weren’t you tempted to focus on making the GB squad and trying out for the Olympics?

After a few knockouts, my name got around the circuit and it became a joke. About ten successive opponents pulled out last minute, after I’d struggled to make weight.

Personally, I saw the amateurs as a learning curve and would fight anybody. I just wanted as much experience as quickly as possible. But far too many around my weight class were just hell bent on protecting their records. When I entered the Senior ABAs, the officials claimed they’d lost my card! After winning the Haringey Cup, I’d had enough of it.

As a pro you’re coached by ‘Stamina For Sale’ guru Tunde Ajayi. What are his qualities?

Growing up, I didn’t have much contact with my dad. I grew up around women. In addition to mum I’ve two older sisters. My little brother only arrived five years ago.

So Tunde has assumed the role of father figure in my life. He’s the man who instilled the values of discipline and hard work. We’re both hot tempered but have grown to understand each other and now there’s a lot of love there. His training methods revolve around repetition of the basics. The man’s a genius.

And he’s so well connected. In 2013, Tunde took me over to the Mayweather Gym in Vegas prior to Floyd’s fight with Robert Guerrero. I got to watch Floyd train, had a pad session with his Uncle Roger and did some sparring with Anthony Tabiti, a 9-0 cruiserweight over there.

(Ex IBF/WBO heavyweight title challenger) Eddie Chambers tweeted I was the best amateur he’d seen come out of the UK. I really enjoyed the whole experience.

What are your initial aspirations as a professional boxer?

I’ve a strong belief in God and myself. There’s no limits to what I can achieve. Ultimately, I want to be healthy, wealthy and happy.

I’m going to start out at light-heavy and see how I go. I mostly spar heavier guys including (British cruiserweight king) Ovill McKenzie. He tells me I’m strong.

Between now and the end of the year I’d like four fights; more if there’s a few early knockouts. Though I come with a lot of noise, people need to remember I only had 12 amateur bouts. I’ve very little experience so need to learn as much as I can, enjoy myself and embrace my opportunities. One life, one chance!

Finally, what are your thoughts and expectations ahead of your pro debut at Wembley on Saturday?

It’s going to be crazy. I’m confident in my ability but I’m very, very nervous for the occasion.

Wembley is one of the biggest, most prestigious venues. Handling my nerves is going to be a good challenge. Hopefully, I can take my time and have fun, that’s the main thing.

I just want to be pleased with my performance. It doesn’t matter what round but, of course, I definitely want a knockout!

Terry Flanagan to Face Jose Zepeda

Manchester star Terry Flanagan will now face Jose Zepeda for the vacant WBO Lightweight title.

The WBO have ordered Flanagan and the undefeated Mexican to meet for the Vacant title with promoters Queensberry Promotions and Top Rank allowed 15 days to negotiate and a purse bid will be held if an agreement isn’t reached.

Flanagan, the current WBO European champion, was due to face the winner out of Ray Beltran and Takahiro Ao who met last Friday night, but when Beltran failed to make the stipulated weight limit at the official weigh-in, the title was still declared vacant even though Beltran won by stunning second round stoppage.

Undefeated Flanagan will now start preparing for knockout king Zepeda, ranked at number five in the WBO, who has stopped 20 out of his 23 victim, with 16 KO’s coming inside the first three rounds and is relishing the showdown.

“I don’t care who I face, I just want that WBO title and to be the world champion,” Said Flanagan.

“It was a surprise when Beltran failed to make the weight, I would have loved to have ended up facing him as it would have been a right good fight between us with our styles, but now it will be Zepeda and that looks like a right good fight as well,”

“He’s got a cracking record, it’s mostly all early KO’s, but he’s never faced anyone of my calibre in his career yet. He’s undefeated, I’m undefeated, one of us is going to lose the ‘0’, but it isn’t going to me.”

Jack Culcay Looking for Interim Title Strap

Jack Culcay (19-1, 10 KOs) is no stranger to success. In 2009, the German talent captured gold at the World Amateur Boxing Championships in Milan. Six years later, ‘Golden Jack’ will be attempting the same feat in the paid ranks, when he faces Maurice Weber (21-1-1, 8 KOs) for the Interim WBA World Light Middleweight title on Saturday night in Frankfurt, Germany.

‘’Since I turned pro I’ve had only one objective: to become world champion,’’ said Culcay. ‘’This is the moment I’ve dreamed about, and on Saturday night that dream will become a reality!’’ With legendary German coach Ulli Wegner in his corner, the 29 year-old insist there is no stopping him. ‘’Mr Wegner has a wealth of experience. He knows exactly what I must do to claim the title and has prepared me accordingly. With the winning mentality he has installed in me, I already feel like I have one hand on the belt.’’

Training at Berlin’s famous Max-Schmeling-Gym under the guidance of the 73 year-old coach, Culcay believes he has had the perfect preparations for his world title challenge. ‘’Mr Wegner has brought the fun back into boxing for me,’’ said the former European champion. ‘’There is a tremendous team spirit, training alongside other top pros like Yoan Pablo Hernandez, and this has helped push me to the next level. I know boxing is an individual sport and when the bell rings it’s all down to me, but I honestly feel I could not have been better prepared.’’

With the support of the local fans in Frankfurt, Culcay may already hold an advantage over his opponent Weber. ‘’I grew up in Darmstadrt, just under half an hour away from Frankfurt,’’ reveals Culcay. ‘’For me, there is simply no better place to become world champion!’’

Culcay’s Interim WBA World Light Middleweight title fight takes place on Saturday (May 9) at the Festhalle in Frankfurt, on the same night Felix Sturm challenges Fedor Chudinov for the Interim WBA World Super Middleweight strap.