Liam Smith has been out in the cold at world title level for a while now, and the Liverpudlian must travel to Russia this Friday night in order to maintain his lofty ranking with the WBO.
He takes on unbeaten home fighter, Magomed Kurbanov, in a dangerous assignment, with the vacant WBO International Super Welterweight title on offer for the winner.
Smith is currently ranked number two in the latest WBO rankings at 154 pounds, while Kurbanov sits at number five.
The winner here will hope to move closer to a meeting with the current WBO champion at the weight in Argentina’s Brian Carlos Castano, but Australia’s Tim Tszyu occupies the number one spot with the organisation.
Smith (29-2-1, KO16) has reigned as WBO champion before, and looks to make up for lost time after well over a year out of action.
A professional since 2008, Smith had spells as British and Commonwealth champion before claiming the vacant WBO title in October 2015, stopping John Thompson in seven rounds of what was a tight contest in Manchester.
Low key defences against Jimmy ‘Kilrain’ Kelly (TKO7) and Pedrag Radosevic (KO2) followed before Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez took away the belt with a dominant ninth round body shot knockout win in Texas in September 2016.
Smith was down three times in all. A comeback four rounder got him back in the rankings, and back to back thrilling wins over Wales’ Liam Williams put ‘Beefy’ back into contention, but Mexican wrecking ball, Jaimie Munguia knocked Smith down on the way to a clear points win in an unsuccessful challenge for his old crown in July 2018.
Since then, Liam has won three on the bounce, stopping Sam Eggington in five in March 2019, before travelling to Mexico to stop Mario Lozano in nine. He was last out in December 2019, taking a landslide points win against Roberto Garcia.
Now comes a trip to Eastern Europe, and an assignment against the largely untested 25-year-old Kurbanov (21-0, KO13).
‘Black Lion’ has never fought outside of his homeland, and has never faced anyone of the calibre of his opponent this weekend. He has held various ranking building titles, and has earned his lofty ranking as a two-time WBO International champion.
Kurbanov won the vacant strap for a second time in November 2019, outscoring Diego Chaves over twelve, but hasn’t really kicked on since. He has won three on the spin after the Chaves win, all coming in 2020, so he is match sharp. He was last out in November 2020, stopping Dmitry Mikhaylenko in two rounds in his Ekaterinberg back yard.
Prediction: Smith has a tough task on his hands here, especially with the fight taking place on away turf.
‘Beefy’ may take a few rounds to get going as a result of his extended break from the ring, but once he moves through the gears, I believe he can stop the home fighter after halfway and towards the championship rounds.
There is further British interest on this card, as Scotland’s John Docherty (9-1, KO7) returns from his first career defeat, a tight points reverse against Jack Cullen, as the Montrose man meets home fighter, Artysh Lopsan (5-1-1, KO3), over eight at Super Middleweight.
Docherty should rebound here with a win inside the distance.
Another eight rounder on the bill should see Zafar Parpiev (9-2, KO2) outscore Filipino, Alphoe Dagayloan (14-4-6, KO5), a man with an incredible six draws, and no stoppage defeats in four career reverses.
Unbeaten California based Georgian, Enriko Gogokhia (12-0, KO7), is also set to appear.
A vacant WBO European title is at stake at Super Bantamweight, where Evgenii Liashkov (8-1, KO2) takes on Mukhammad Shekhov (8-0-1, KO3) over a scheduled ten. Shekhov can take a tight win on the cards.
Unbeaten Welterweight, Eduard Skavynskyi (13-0, KO7), is set to see action over ten.
The rest of the card are six round affairs. At Middleweight, Ivan Nikonov (4-0, KO1) should defeat Berikbay Nurymbetov (7-2-1, KO2) on the cards, and at Light Heavyweight, Igor Ionov (2-0, KO0) will likely also need all six rounds to see off Yevgeniy Logozha (0-2).
Heavyweight debutant, Georgy Yunovidov, should be able to halt South Africa’s Osborn Machimana (23-13-2, KO17) inside schedule, as Machimana has been stopped in each of his last three outings. At Featherweight, Aznaur Kalsynov (1-0, KO0) can outscore debutant, Shamil Askerov.