‘I’m even travelling to his home city but I know I’ll not get booed. I got a great reception from the Manc crowd when I won my world title and my fan base is constantly expanding right across the country. Besides, how many fans has he got? A hundred? I’ll have all The Kop and half the Anfield Main Stand roaring me on!’ – Liam Smith.
Having won the family race to a world title, WBO World Super-Welterweight Champion Liam Smith wastes no time attempting to cement hegemony as the finest of the four fighting Scouse siblings by making a rapid voluntary defence on December 19th, writes Glynn Evans.
The 27 year old they call ‘Beefy’ returns to the Manchester Arena – where he spectacularly nailed New Jersey artist John Thompson to the canvas in round seven to bag the vacant crown in October – to square off with unbeaten home town hero Jimmy Kilrain Kelly.
‘Winning a world title was just the best feeling a boxer could ever have,’ says Smith who is undefeated in 22 (one draw, 11 stoppages).
‘My lot were very, very vocal and the atmosphere was brilliant. I couldn’t have asked for better. I tried to downplay Thompson’s achievements beforehand so as to limit his confidence but he was probably the best I fought. He arrived on a high after beating a couple of very good kids and had won the prestigious Boxcino Tournament – far more meaningful than Prizefighter. He was a big, gangly, awkward lad that I could’ve looked bad against.
‘But I don’t believe I did. Because I’d not fought for six months I struggled to find my rhythm and distance and didn’t make the best of starts. But it turned into a great fight and I finished him in style.’
After eldest brother Paul twice faltered in WBO Super-Middle challenges, 5ft 9 ½ in ‘Beefy’ finally got the family across the world championship line.
‘To be honest, little has changed since I became world champion,’ says Liam, second youngest of the world rated quartet who have all won British titles.
‘I’ve always been at the head of the table at the Smith household. I’ve always been my mum’s ‘blue eye’ anyway so always got served my dinner first. But I still play me footy every weekend, still drink in the same pubs, still have to buy me ticket for the match (Liverpool FC)!’
Whilst the WBO 11st listings are presently littered with top grade and highly sellable contenders such as Alvarez, Soto, Trout, Andrade, Martiroysan and Clottey, the ambitious new champ already has designs on unifying his belt.
He explains: ‘The WBC belt is presently vacant and (IBF king Jermall) Charlo and (WBA boss Erislandy) Lara are both coached by Ronnie Shields so aren’t going to fight each other. So for unification to happen any time soon, they have to come through me.
‘When I woke up the other morning Lara had messaged me: ‘Let’s unify next year, champ!’ We had a very cordial, respectful chat (through social media) after. It’s great to now be associated with these names. I 100% want to be involved in these big unification fights as soon as possible.’
With just 70 days splitting his coronation and his maiden defence, Smith knows he could collect unwanted attention as one of the shortest reigning champions in the history of the sport, were he to fluff his lines against the sprightly former five-time national junior champion in Manchester next weekend.
‘There’s no added pressure. I’d be just as gutted if I lost to Jimmy Kelly in a British title fight, as for my WBO belt. But that ain’t happening,’ dismisses Liam.
‘People forget, Kelly wasn’t mandatory. It was my choice to fight him and I selected him for a reason. My aims are far higher than Jimmy Kelly.
‘But I’m definitely not underestimating him. I’ve got (ex WBO middle king) Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam and Tommy Langford in as sparring; two super fit kids who’ve cost me a bomb. Does that suggest I’m taking Kelly lightly? When I hit the scales, everyone will see what fabulous shape I’m in.
‘I’m even travelling to his home city but I know I’ll not get booed. I got a great reception from the Manc crowd when I won my world title and my fan base is constantly expanding right across the country. Besides, how many fans has he got? A hundred? I’ll have all The Kop and half the Anfield Main Stand roaring me on!’
And the man with the milk curdling scowl expects to be celebrating Christmas 2015 with a huge smile on his face.
‘Look, Jimmy’s a good prospect and I expect he’ll be quite competitive early on,’ he concludes.
‘But this is far too soon for him and I’ll prove I’m the better fighter when it starts getting tough, mid rounds. I’ve been there before.
‘On December 19th, fans will be seeing my seventh stoppage on the bounce. Promise!”
Frank Warren’s end of year title extravaganza ‘X-Mas Cracker’ is headlined by two massive world title showdowns with WBO World Middleweight Champion Andy Lee defending his title against Billy Joe Saunders and WBO World Super-Welterweight Champion Liam Smith making his first title defence against Jimmy Kelly.
SIX further titles are on the line with Mitchell Smith defending his WBO Intercontinental Super-Featherweight title against George Jupp; Paul Butler challenges for the Vacant WBO European Super-Flyweight Championship against Silvio Olteanu;
Tommy Langford defends his WBO Intercontinental Middleweight Championship; Commonwealth Super-Welterweight Champion Liam Williams and Kris Carslaw clash with the Vacant British title also on the line; Jack Catterall defends his WBO Intercontinental Super-Lightweight Championship, and Tom Stalker and Craig Evans clash again for the Vacant WBO European Lightweight Championship.
The undercard features Merseyside favourite Joe Selkirk in a six-round contest, Indian superstar Vijender Singh, Anthony Yarde and top Manchester prospects Jack Flattley and Dale Coyne, plus Razza Hamza.
Tickets are priced at £40, £50, £75, £100, £200 and £300 are available from: www.frankwarren.com