LIAM SMITH V ANTHONY FOWLER PREVIEW:
Big-time boxing returns to Liverpool’s M&S Bank Arena for the first time since the pandemic on Saturday 9th October as two hometown fighters, Liam Smith and Anthony Fowler, face-off in what is sure to be an intense city derby. The main event is held up by a stacked undercard, particularly in the 154lb division, in what is by far Matchroom’s strongest UK card since pledging their allegiance to DAZN in July.
Dacres v Sokolowski:
Sam Jones’ heavyweight charge Solomon Dacres faces a tough test very early on in his career, having only had two professional contests, against Poland’s Kamil Sokolowski. Although Sokolowski’s record appears lopsided upon first inspection (10-22-2), there’s no doubt that the Czestochowa man has one of the most deceiving resumes in the sport today. Most who watched his previous fight against Frank Warren’s David Adeleye will agree Sokolowski was unfortunate to not get the decision, with him barely losing any of the six rounds contested. Dacres meanwhile has stopped one of the two opponents he has faced so far in the pro ranks and should be afforded credit for taking on someone with the experience and ability of Sokolowski at such an early stage.
Courtenay v Mitchell:
Shannon Courtenay was set to make the first defence in her reign as WBA bantamweight champion before failing to make weight at Friday’s weigh-in. Courtenay weighed in at 120.5lbs division, therefore 2.5lbs over the 118-pound limit, and Eddie Hearn shortly declared later she would be unable to shift the weight. The WBA had no choice but to strip Courtenay as a result and so only Jamie Mitchell can leave the arena with the belt in her hands in the event of a win on Saturday night. Watford’s Courtenay later released a statement via social media, stating she ‘had no weight issues during camp’ before her ‘menstrual cycle started last night’ thus explaining the gain in weight. It’s unfortunate to say the least and leaves one pondering why the basic functioning of the female body is still not a point of consideration when it comes to female fighters making weight on the scales during the week of the fight.
Willis v Charlton:
Liverpool-born super-lightweight and Tony Bellew charge Luke Willis also takes on Norwich’s Rylan Charlton in an intriguing bout at 140lbs. Willis is so far undefeated in ten bouts, having fought last on a Matchroom Spain card in Barcelona against Ricardo Fernandez, with the Englishman winning via unanimous decision. Charlton meanwhile is coming off the back of a defeat to the raw yet explosive Albanian Florian Marku. Although there was a significant disparity in size and weight, with the fight taking place at 147lbs despite Charlton’s own admission that he is a natural lightweight, the Englishman still had Marku on the canvas before his own corner threw in the towel during the eighth round. Saturday night provides an intriguing bout, begging the question of whether Willis will land the breakout win he has been long searching for or will Charlton get back on the horse as he seeks to re-climb the ranks of the domestic division moving into the new year.
McGrail v Harrison:
Saturday will also showcase the professional debut of one of the city’s most successful ever amateur fighters in the shape of Peter McGrail. A former bronze medallist in both the Youth Olympics and World Youth Championships, as well as gold in the Europeans and Commonwealth games before bowing out early in Tokyo 2020, McGrail fell victim to a tough early draw against Thailand’s Chatchai-decha Butdee despite being hotly picked to medal at the Games. McGrail nonetheless anticipates a long and successful career at the highest level in the pros, and although Saturday is unlikely to tell us anything we don’t already know about McGrail, it will be the first of many steps as he seeks similar success as a professional.
Conway v Metcalf:
Three superb domestic bouts in the 154lb division top Saturday’s bill, with the first coming in the form of Kieron Conway v James Metcalf. Both are coming off the back of defeats to Souleymane Cissokho and Ted Cheeseman respectively, and so seek to bounce back immediately with victory on Saturday night in pursuit of a rematch with British champion Ted Cheeseman. Metcalf, a former Commonwealth champion, showed a solid chin and landed some big blows himself as he sought to tear the British title from Bermondsey’s Cheeseman in Gibraltar, but ‘the Big Cheese’ remained resolute and eventually stopped the Liverpudlian in the eleventh of a Fight of the Year contender. Conway himself landed a draw with Cheeseman back in 2019, but more recently suffered the second defeat of his pro career (although the first did take place during a BOXXER tournament back in 2019) at the hands of France’s Cissokho on the undercard of Canelo vs Billy-Joe Saunders back in May of this year. The result came via split-decision, although eyebrows were raised in the direction of judge Don Griffin, who puzzlingly found Conway the victor by a margin of 97-92 when Cissokho appeared a clear winner.
Cheeseman v Williamson:
Ted Cheeseman vs Troy Williamson promises to be a real barnstormer in the chief support, with one only needing to look at Cheeseman’s track record when it comes to domestic dustups with his fellow 154 pounders. Despite coming unstuck against Scott Fitzgerald and only scoring a draw against the aforementioned Conway, his fights against both Metcalf and Birmingham’s Sam Eggington would sit proudly on any fight fans modern rainy-day list. His offensive, rugged approach always allows for an entertaining spectacle. It has on some occasions however became uncomfortable to watch with a lack of both head and upper body movement leading to him shipping a lot of punishment, particularly for someone who has had less than twenty fights. This was particularly evident against Spain’s Sergio Garcia for the European title, a test which ultimately proved to be too soon as he succumbed to a wide loss on points via unanimous decision back in 2019. He did however demonstrate an ability to fight on the back foot for much of his fight with Scott Fitzgerald and enjoyed a lot of success, but again eventually found himself on the wrong end of the judge’s scorecards. A solid win against Eggington in 2020 though was followed up by an even more impressive victory over Metcalf, allowing him to regain the Lord Lonsdale belt and set him up for further domestic showdowns against the likes of Troy Williamson who will be in the opposite corner come Saturday night.
The Darlington man boasts a strong domestic resume himself, adding both Harry Scarff and Kieran Smith to his undefeated record in seventeen fights (16-0-1). The bout with Smith was particularly impressive, coming via stoppage in the sixth round and handing Smith the first defeat of his professional career. The fact Williamson has stopped seven of his previous eight opponents, coupled with the grit and stubbornness of Cheeseman means we are almost certain to experience another thriller on Saturday night.
THE MAIN EVENT – SMITH V FOWLER:
Anthony Fowler v Liam Smith is a fight which caught many by surprise when it was announced by Eddie Hearn around eight weeks ago. The ‘Battle of Liverpool’ as it has been dubbed by Matchroom Boxing provokes considerable intrigue given the positions both fighters currently find themselves in throughout the landscape of the 154lb division.
Fowler has been steadily climbing up the ranks towards world level since switching trainers from Dave Coldwell to Shane McGuigan, with his most recent bout his fourth under the man who has guided the likes of George Groves and more recently Lawrence Okolie to world honours. ‘The Machine’ has displayed a more relaxed, less robotic approach since making the move to the McGuigans, although one might ponder about how this will fare against the tenacity and relentless approach of a great inside fighter like Smith.
Smith meanwhile found himself on the end of a controversial defeat to Magomed Kurbanov in Russia back in May, with many feeling he did more than enough to take victory back to Liverpool. Attempts were made to draw Kurbanov back to Merseyside for an immediate rematch, but that fight did not materialise, meaning he faces Anthony Fowler in the opposite corner on Saturday night instead.
The bout provides a great opportunity for Fowler to be fast-tracked to world level if, and it’s a big if, he can emerge victorious. Fowler is not getting any younger at the age of thirty and, having lost the one big fight in his career up to this point against bitter rival Scott Fitzgerald, he must pick up the pace over the next eighteen months if he is to give himself any chance of enjoying success at the highest level. While defeat would not completely derail his career, it would be a significant setback in his pursuit of world honours.
Defeat for Liam Smith however would almost certainly prove detrimental to any ambitions he has of reaching previous heights set on the world stage, even by his own admission.
The overriding view going into Saturday appears to be that while Fowler may start strong early on, Smith will eventually take over the fight down the stretch and perhaps even force a late stoppage. There may be merit in such claims, with Fowler never having gone twelve rounds in his professional career and, although he boasted to have gone fifteen regularly during training camp at Wednesday’s press conference, the inevitable concoction of adrenalin and nervous energy which comes with fighting under the lights, particularly in a city derby, surely provides for an entirely different set of circumstances.
The big stage that a Scouse derby will bring also provides an interesting angle, with Smith having regularly fought on the biggest of stages, exhibit A being his fight against Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez in front of 50,000 plus in Dallas five years ago. Fowler has never fought on such a stage in the professional ranks, with the closest being his chief support bout against Fitzgerald two years back, where a late knockdown sealed his fate in a split decision loss. Experience often proves pivotal on the biggest occasions, and it may again play a big role here.
Fowler should look to make good use of his size and reach advantage, controlling the distance of the fight with the sharp, spiteful jab he has displayed previously. Keeping Smith at mid-to-long range will be crucial if Fowler is to enjoy success early on. Whether this can be maintained for the full twelve rounds is another matter entirely, with Liam Smith speculating at the first press conference back in August that Fowler will ‘revert to type after four rounds’. Smith’s ability to close the distance and work on the inside, to sit on the chest of his opponent may prove pivotal Saturday night as he looks to take his fellow scouser into the deeper waters and potentially drown him in the championship rounds.
Whichever way things swing on Saturday, there is one thing we can be certain of – entertainment. Will the bout provide a platform for Smith to begin his journey towards world honours again, or will Fowler get that big, breakout fight he has been longing for in the professional ranks as he seeks to realise dreams of his own? Time will tell. Who doesn’t love a derby?