Callum Smith (26-0, KO19) makes a belated homecoming this Saturday night, following his breakout victory in the final of the World Boxing Super Series in Saudi Arabia last year. It’s been a frustrating 14 months for “Mundo” as he would have been hoping to be an established world champion, and looking to attract the big fish in the division to the table for stadium style fights.
Smith’s win in Jeddah in September 2018 was an impressive one. He timed his run to perfection to stop George Groves in the showpiece final in seven rounds. The result elevated him to WBA (Super) super middleweight champion, as well as ring magazine champion and Muhammad Ali trophy winner.
Smith’s take off has so far failed to fully materialise. The 29 year olds sole appearance of 2019 came on a big enough stage at Madison Square Garden, New York in June on the big Joshua v Ruiz bill. Smith was way too much for blown up Middleweight, Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam, stopping the over matched Cameroonian in three one sided rounds, with N’Dam down once in each of the three rounds he lasted for. Talks of facing WBO champion, Billy Joe Saunders were circulated, and other options such as Saul “Canelo” Alvarez were whispered, but for now Smith must settle for a mandatory defence of his belt.
The M & S Bank Arena in Liverpool is the setting for Smith’s latest assignment, with a domestic opponent in the opposite corner. Sky Sports televise in the UK, with DAZN the USA broadcaster. The WBC “Diamond” Belt is also on the line here.
Islington’s John Ryder (28-4, KO16) will be the man looking to rock the apple cart on Merseyside, and will go into his meeting with Smith in good form. “The Gorilla” has won four straight fights since an April 2017 split decision loss to Rocky Fielding, who Smith stopped inside a round in November 2015. Ryder has also tasted defeat in a British and Commonwealth Middleweight Title tilt in 2013, but gave a good example of himself in a tight points loss. He was stopped by Nick Blackwell in seven in another British Title attempt in 2015, and was outscored by Jack Arnfield a year later to leave him at a career crossroads.
Following his defeat to Fielding, Ryder has gone from strength to strength at 168 pounds. He knocked out Patrick Nielsen in five and Jamie Cox in two to breathe new life into his career. In an up and down struggle, he overcame the tough Andrey Sirotkin in seven rounds in a final eliminator for Smith’s belt. While patiently waiting for his shot, Ryder picked up the interim version of the WBA Title as he shocked Canelo sparring partner, Bilal Akkawy in Las Vegas in May, dropping the Australian twice in the third before stopping him in the same session.
Smith’s trainer, Joe Gallagher wants Smith to be ruthless on his Liverpool return.
“Brutal. I just want Callum to be brutal,” he told told Sky Sports. “Callum is training like he’s fighting a Canelo. Obviously he wants to put a good show on for the fans, but he wants to – like he always seems to do – make a statement.
“Like he did with George Groves, Hassan N’Dam, and he wants to do it against John Ryder as well, as his mandatory.”
Prediction: Smith is a huge Super Middle, and Ryder has a tendency to get involved in tear ups. This will play into Smith’s hands as he uses his size and reach advantages to frustrate the Londoner. I can see Ryder taking more and more risks before Smith moves in for a stoppage win around the halfway mark.
There are a few interesting domestic dust ups on the undercard.
The vacant commonwealth title is on the line at cruiserweight, as Bournemouth’s Chris Billam-Smith (9-1, KO8) and home fighter, Craig Glover (10-2, KO8) clash.
A seventh round knockdown in his last fight cost Billam-Smith his unbeaten record, when Richard Riakporhe outcored him over ten rounds at the O2 Arena, London in July. Billam-Smith lost by one point on one card, with him winning another and five points down on the third, with the knockdown costing him at least a draw. Previously he had only been the distance once, an eight round points win against Michal Plesnik in June last year.
After an early career setback, Craig Glover looked like he’d broken out with an October 2018 impressive stoppage win against Simon Vallily in Newcastle, but this proved to be a false dawn. The Tony Bellew championed Glover was shockingly stopped in two in March against the unheralded Vaclav Pejsar at the M&S Bank Arena. He returned at the Olympia in July, winning every session of six against the limited Jiri Svacina.
Prediction: Glover showed his vulnerability in his shock defeat to Svacina, while Billam-Smith’s stock rose in defeat last time out. I think Billam-Smith will want to test Glover’s whiskers again early on here, and I think he can score a stoppage win before halfway here.
A man fast gaining a reputation for being a ruthless finisher is Belfast resident James Tennyson (25-3, KO21). He takes part in a British lightweight title eliminator against Welshman, Craig Evans (20-2-2, KO3).
After an April 2016 loss to Ryan Walsh (TKO5) in a British featherweight title attempt, Tennyson rebounded up at super feather with stoppage wins against Declan Geraghty, Ryan Doyle and Darren Traynor that earned a shot at the European and commonwealth belts against Martin J Ward. Tennyson shrugged off a second round knockdown to stop Ward in five rounds at the O2 arena. This impressive win garnered a shot at the IBF World Title, but Tevin Farmer proved too good for him with a fifth round stoppage win. The defeat prompted a move to Lightweight, where he has enjoyed three straight stoppage wins. Last time out, he wiped out Atif Shafiq in two to win the WBA international belt in August.
His opponent this weekend is somewhat of an upset specialist. Crag Evans has failed in an attempt at the British lightweight title once before, outpointed by Scott Cardle in May 2015. He then shared two draws with former Great Britain captain, Tom Stalker, before winning their trilogy meeting via majority decision to win the WBO European title. After a defence against Stephen Ormond, Evans travelled to Russia and was ahead on all three cards before the unbeaten Roman Andreev stopped the Blackwood man in nine. He is unbeaten in three since, including a win against Boy Jones to regain his WBO European crown, and his last outing was a rematch points win against Ormond in June.
Prediction: Tennyson has carried his power up the weights, and he will look to carry on his KO streak against Evans. It may take him some time to solve the puzzle, but the pick is for Tennyson to up the pace and force a stoppage in the championship rounds.
Anthony Fowler (10-1, KO8) continues his reboot as he drops back down to his more natural Super Welterweight to take on English Champion, Harry Scarff (8-0, KO1).
Fowler’s promising start to his career was derailed somewhat in a split decision loss to bitter rival Scott Fitzgerald back in March, but he has got back on track with a dominant unanimous win against Brian Rose up at middleweight in August.
Derby’s Scarff comes into his meeting with Fowler off the back of a mild upset win against Jack Flatley at the end of September. “Hammer Time” deservedly took a points win to lift the English title.
Prediction: Fowler could make a statement here with a quick win, and with him being back at a more natural 154lbs, I fancy Fowler to get the job done within the first half of the bout.
Elsewhere, an all Merseyside affair sees Tom Farrell (17-2, KO5) and Sean “Masher” Dodd (16-5-1, KO3) collide.
Dodd is firmly on the slide, with three defeats in his last four appearances. He lost his Commonwealth lightweight belt to Tommy Coyle via sixth round stoppage in April 2018, and was then widely outscored by Joe Cordina for the vacant title four months later. November 2018 saw him drop a sixth round points decision to the then 10-19 Jordan Ellison to leave his career in tatters. He returned last month with a points win against Ibrar Riyaz.
Farrell was widely outscored by Phillip Bowes in a challenge for the commonwealth ten stone title in March, and took seven months out before a points win against Eligio Palacios last month at the Olympia.
Farrell should be too fresh for Dodd, who is in the last knockings of an entertaining career. A points win for Farrell the pick.