Demetrius Andrade. Erislandy Lara. The Charlo brothers. Julian Williams.
Saul Canelo Alvarez could have chosen to fight any of these men after giving up the WBC middleweight title and moving back down to the junior middleweight division. Instead he picked one Liam Smith, a virtual unknown in the Western Hemisphere who goes by the nickname of “Beefy.” Those who have been following Canelo with a wary eye lately have a right to be wary of his choice of opponent. For the Mexican star’s career trajectory has taken a rather strange turn since he was bravely seeking out challenges in the not-too-distant past.
First, Canelo has refused outright to face middleweight terror Gennady Golovkin. That’s not a cheap shot coming from an online fan boy, that’s simply the truth. When one gives up one’s title belt rather than face a mandatory foe, people have the right to call it like it is. Add this to the fact that Canelo has now chosen to fight a virtual unknown and people have a right to call it like it is again. Sure enough, Canelo, who remains the lineal middleweight champion, is, to put it politely, not challenging himself like he could these days. And the result is a middleweight mess.
But does that mean Liam Smith should simply be written off as cannon fodder before he meets Canelo this September? It’s pretty clear Golden Boy Promotions, which promotes Canelo, believes Smith doesn’t pose much of a threat, for it’s obvious the House that Oscar Built is big on keeping its top star out of harm’s way (at least for the moment). Still, it’s worth considering the fact that Smith is a WBO world titlist. He’s also undefeated, with 23 wins, no losses, and a single draw on his record, and he clearly takes his profession quite seriously.
Sure enough, the fighter is from a boxing family. Brothers Callum, Stephen and Paul are all pros. Only Liam, however, holds a title. And now that he’s about to do battle on a grand stage (the fight is ridiculously being presented in the states as a pay-per-view event), the Englishman aims to make the most of his golden opportunity. One look at the guy’s Instagram page indicates that he’s an athlete focused on the chance of a lifetime. How does the man actually fight, though? More importantly, does he stand a chance, any chance at all, of beating Canelo?
Right off the bat, let’s admit that any fighter can be bested at any given time and that there’s absolutely zero exceptions to that golden rule. Let’s also admit that Liam Smith is successful and good at what he does. He took his shot and won the WBO super welterweight title by stopping John Thompson last October and has gone on to mop the floor with the two opponents he’s faced since. And while Kilrain Kelly and Predrag Radosevic aren’t exactly household names, the body shot Radosevic was polished off with this past June had a definite Gennady Golovkin element about it.
Make no mistake about it, Smith is a come forward fighter who can hit, has an effective high guard and who showcases impressive patience. Watching him in action, one can indeed see shades of Golovkin, though, in all fairness, it’s Golovkin-lite, or perhaps even Golovkin-very-lite. Yet the man knows how to win and, more importantly perhaps, how to break an opponent down. This fight is not, despite what the naysayers may argue, a Garcia-Salka type mismatch. It isn’t a high quality matchup though, no matter how one may look at it. Studying Smith’s fights, one is left with the inescapable conclusion that he was chosen as an opponent for Canelo because, stylistically, the Liverpool native was built to fail.
For starters, Smith is no slickster. Again, he’s a come forward type-guy. That’s right up Canelo’s alley. As has been pointed out, Alvarez is, in essence, a counter puncher. Picturing a guy like Smith coming forward is like picturing the early seconds of a highlight reel knockout. Canelo, after all, has power. Real power. Just ask Amir Khan or James Kirkland. No one can deny that Canelo’s a guy who knows how to turn out the lights in the blink of an eye.
And let’s not forget Canelo’s reputed ability to massively rehydrate between the weigh-in and fight time. Smith has power, but does he have the power to take out a rehydrated Canelo? The easy assumption is that all Canelo has to do is walk through Smith’s power to land his own shots in order to depart AT&T Stadium this September with another scalp added to his collection. Frankly, it’s a difficult assumption to argue against. Still, this is boxing and stranger things have happened in the ring.
Yes, Smith is a long-shot. But it’s worth keeping in mind that when a career becomes based on fear, it may well be the unexpected that derails it in the end. — Sean Crose