WBC Number One Super middleweight title contender Callum Smith had everything to lose and little to gain going into his British title defence against Clitheroe’s Luke Blackledge at the Manchester Arena. Indeed, a recent—well, given that I’m getting on a bit—exemplar of risky warm-up fights took place in 1987.
Frankie Randall went into his 1987 Las Vegas match against tough but unheralded Mexican Primo Ramos with the world at his feet. “The Surgeon” was vying for the NABF lightweight title, he was rated number one by the WBC and held a 31-1-1 record, his only previous defeat was a points reverse to former world champion Edwin Rosario.
Ironically, the Rosario fight took place at York Hall, Bethnal Green, home of a few dramatic British title fights. Randall was 23-0 at the time, the loss triggered Frankie’s nine fight unbeaten run going into the Ramos tool sharpener.
Ramos flipped the script, and Frankie’s senses, by landing a big left hook to KO the contender at 2:30 of the second stanza. Between York Hall and Las Vegas, Randall had done everything right only slip up against a determined opponent.
Like Randall, Smith is one fight away from a showdown with the winner of James DeGale versus Badou Jack, who meet in an IBF and WBC eliminator in January, so he headed into his second British title defence in the knowledge that he could not afford to put a foot wrong.
Blackledge, a former Commonwealth titlist, learned his trade on the unlicenced circuit before turning pro. Unfavoured early on, he rose above and beyond expectations, especially when you consider that he was wiped out in a single stanza against Rocky Fielding in 2013 only to win the Commonwealth belt at the second time of asking after beating Liam Cameron last year.
Tonight, though, Blackledge was game but out-gunned as Smith boxed a controlled fight before stopping his man at 2:34 of round 10, a tight, utterly compact left hook dropped Blackledge heavily and referee Steve Gray wisely dispensed with the count and waved it off.
The British title is a huge lure for a fighter, as I mentioned when talking about Frank Buglioni’s come-from-behind win over Hosea Burton in the previous fight, and Blackledge tried to gain a foothold in the fight, often holding, cuffing and sometimes landing the odd, morale boosting shot.
Despite the fact he was never really in the fight, there was no real reason to pull him out of it until the final, telling punch landed and rendered it a moot point.
Smith (22-0, 17 KOs) will move on, Blackledge (22-3-2, 7 early) was given oxygen and, given that he is a fighter through and through, will probably eye the vacant title as soon as he recovers from this defeat. He lost when vying for the Commonwealth belt against Fielding, so it is not inconceivable that he may net the Lord Lonsdale belt at his second attempt.
Smith will enjoy Christmas, but he may also want to fast forward through to early-2017. Specifically to January 14, when, barring a draw, he will find out who he will meet when his world title comes. It was more methodical than surgical yet Smith avoided a potential banana skin and can reflect on a job well done.