Two years ago Callum Smith made his professional boxing debut on the undercard of Carl Froch’s IBF super-middleweight title defence against Yusaf Mack in Nottingham.
In the 24 months that have come and gone, Smith has won 14 out of 14 contests, having boxed 39 rounds and seemingly bypassed the favoured, traditional British title route. This is in favour of going down the WBC route and Smith’s bout tonight against Nikloa Sjekloca, on paper his toughest to date, is down as a green belt eliminator – one which could well be in the hands of George Groves next year as the peculiar ginger-haired 168lbr chases down current title holder Anthony Dirrell.
As you might expect, Smith says his time as a pro has surpassed his own expectations.
“Turning over I knew what I was capable of and I believed in my own abilities, but if you’d said in two years I’d be fighting in a WBC eliminator then I’d have been surprised. Normally people go towards British level and I’ve sort of passed that.
“A lot of my early wins meant I had to step up and when I was winning in one round I had to step up again and then I won the English title in my 7th fight in one round so they had to step me up again. It’s went so quick and I’ve been moved quickly but there’s been no choice. Every time I have I’ve won and I believe I’ll keep doing that each time I step up. I’m improving all the time and in the gym I’ve had great sparring and I feel that’s helped with having a lack of ring time.”
Smith, 24, forms part of tonight’s Sky pay-per-view card at Liverpool’s Echo Arena headlined by Nathan Cleverly and Tony Bellew. His opponent, Sjekloca, 36, already had a seat at a couple of the super-middleweight top tables when he lost a unanimous decision to WBO champion Arthur Abraham earlier this year and another UD to the wild but effective Sakio Bika in a WBC final eliminator. These are the only two blemishes on a 30-fight record for the man born in Serbia but who now resides in Montenegro. Having not been stopped in those two losses, and with some of Smith’s domestic rivals also on the same show, is there a temptation to go out there and try to make a statement?
“No, not really because I think that would be stupid if I went out and looked for the stoppage,” he answered.
“He’s only lost to the best, never mind being stopped, so just to beat him would be a good scalp. The main thing is to win and more than likely it’ll go 12 rounds but I’m confident I can go out and put on a good show and show I’m good over the 12 rounds. I’ve only been the 10 once (against Vladine Biosse) and quite a few of my fights haven’t gone past four rounds so I’ve got a lot to prove over 12 rounds but I know I can do it. Like I said I feel I can put in a good performance and if I get the stoppage then it’d be a massive bonus but I won’t be going looking for it.”
It doesn’t matter what type of win Smith gets tonight, as long as it arrives. If the opportunity of a stoppage arises then, like all ambitious fighters, he will bring out his ruthless streak that has seen his body shot become something of a trademark finisher for him. Against Sjekloca it’s about brains first and foremost. A chance to go the distance, if needs be, with a man who has challenged for world honours.
The bookmakers have Smith a massive odds-on favourite to have his hand raised at the end tonight. Some have the Liverpudlian as long as 1/25 with his more experienced foe around the 8/1 mark. A temptation for those who like value in their boxing bets. Smith’s promoter, Eddie Hearn believes the betting industry is way off the mark as they were for Matthew Macklin against Jorge Heiland. Hearn insists this is a 50-50 fight and a tough match-up.
“It is a massive fight, it is a big jump up,” said Smith. “The bookies have got me as wide favourite but I think they’ve sort of learnt their lesson after having me at good odds in previous fights. I think that’s the case now. It is a tough 50-50 fight and I haven’t boxed anywhere near the level of him. He has boxed people at a higher level so it’s me making the jump up in class and not him. It is a big fight but one that I didn’t get forced into, one that wasn’t put on me. It was one we asked for and we wouldn’t have asked for it if we didn’t feel we were ready for it.”
“Sjekloca’s 6’1” and he’s been used to having the height advantage but obviously that goes out the window with me (Smith stands two inches taller). Let’s see how he deals with that. He’s fit and he’s game and Abraham couldn’t really put him on the back foot so he is tough and can take a shot. I think he’ll make me fight for the three minutes of every round but we’ve prepared for everything,” he added.
One argument I put forward to Smith was that should he win and win well, then surely his next opponent won’t be a backward step.
“Yeah I suppose so but it doesn’t have to be another step forward either,” he countered. “It all depends on, I mean I do believe I will win, how I win. If I struggle then we know where I’m at, if I’m comfortable then we’re ahead of what we thought. I think it all depends on how the victory comes and we can take it from there. But if I beat him in an eliminator it doesn’t mean I have to go for it (a world title shot), I can have another one at a similar level. It depends on how I come through it and we’ll know more then. I just want to get the win by any means and I’m confident I will.”
Tonight’s bill features former 168lb world title challenger George Groves and his personal rival James DeGale. Both are in fights they should win, which may lead to a rematch of their 2011 British and Commonwealth title clash. And stories emerged yesterday that Groves, DeGale and their respective families and teams almost started the fighting one day early at the weigh-in venue.
Recently, Smith had the pleasure (if you could call it that) of sitting in between the pair during Sky Sports’ weekly boxing magazine show ‘Ringside’. There sat two men who despise each other with the man in the middle quietly being Mr Diplomatic knowing all too well that he could have their number in the next 12 months.
“It was good,” Smith said of the experience. “I’ve been around the two of them before in the amateurs, with my brothers, but it was nice to be mentioned in the same breath as them. They’re good fighters and they’ve been pros for years now and both experienced. I’ve been a pro for two years so it’s a compliment to me to be mentioned with them. I feel I can hold my own with them and given time I do believe I’ve got the beating of the two of them.”
— Shaun Brown