AFTER steadily progressing up the ranks and claiming British and Commonwealth honours along the way, unbeaten Liverpool super-welterweight Liam Smith, 21-0-1 (11), reached the Promised Land in October. With his three boxing brothers (Paul, Stephen and Callum) watching on, the 27-year-old stopped America’s John Thompson in the seventh round to collect the vacant WBO title.
So, how does it feel to be able to call yourself a world champion?
It feels very good – it’s started to sink in a bit now. The publicity and the media reaction I got during the week following my world title win was very strong. It’s a great feeling.
And you’ve got the bragging rights in the Smith household now, after becoming the first of the family to win a world title…
Yeah! It’s not exactly bragging rights, it’s just that I’m the one who’s in the limelight at the moment, and I’m the first one who’s received all this publicity and media reaction [for winning a global belt]. Every time I’d won a title in the past, one of my brothers had done the same thing before me.
For example, when I won the Commonwealth [super-welterweight] title [with a unanimous 12-round decision against Steve O’Meara in December 2012], my brother Stephen had already done the same [in the featherweight division]. Then, when I won the British [super-welter] title [unanimously over 12 against Erick Ochieng in September 2013], I’d already seen two of my brothers, Paul and Stephen, do it before me [Paul at super-middleweight, and Stephen at featherweight and super-feather]. Don’t get me wrong, I was very, very happy for my brothers when they won the British and Commonwealth titles. And of course, I obviously wanted Paul to win when he twice fought Arthur Abraham [for the WBO super-middle belt] – I wish to God he’d won. I knew how hard it was to win a world title after watching Paul fight for it on two occasions, so when I managed to win one, I was absolutely buzzing.
How important has the support of your brothers been, not only in your world title win, but in your career as a whole?
They’ve been a massive help, and they still are. I’ve got them to thank for a lot of what I’ve achieved in the sport so far, especially my eldest brother, Paul. He’d obviously been in my position before [fighting for world honours], so he was able to give me some good advice, which made me feel calm on the night – I couldn’t believe how relaxed I was. As I said, every situation I’ve been in, I feel like I’ve been there before, as I’ve seen my brothers go through the same thing – I get more nervous before my brothers’ fights than my own.
When I sat down in the changing room before my Commonwealth title shot, I’d watched Stephen do it before.
And when I walked to the ring to challenge for the British title, I’d seen Paul and Stephen do the same before me. It was exactly the same when I was in the changing room before my world title fight. All the publicity and media focus – I’d seen it all before with Paul. That’s why I just felt so comfortable in the situation – it was down to my brothers.
All three of your brothers – Paul, Stephen and Callum – are promoted by Matchroom, while you are guided by Frank Warren’s Queensberry Promotions. Some people may have expected you to follow your siblings, but
you remained with Frank. Do you think this decision has been vindicated now that you’ve won a world strap?
Well Paul’s had a couple of [world title] chances, and Stephen’s going to get his chance next. From my point of view, it just seems to have worked out well for me with Frank. He promised me that if I kept doing my job in the ring, he’d get me a world title shot at home, and that’s exactly what he did. He delivered for me, and I delivered in the ring by winning the world title.
The partnership has worked for us both. There’s been loyalty shown on both sides, from me and Frank. At the end of the day, we’re a team, and we’re doing well.
Your opponent in your WBO title fight, John Thompson, was very tall and rangy. Did you find him awkward to deal with because of this?
Yeah, early on he was. But when I watched it back on TV recently, it was nowhere near as bad as I thought it was on the night. I probably did lose the first couple of rounds, and maybe the fifth too – I just gave round five away because I didn’t do enough. Watching the fight back, all he really did was land a few jabs.
He was throwing loads of punches just to keep me off of him, as I was applying good pressure. He was awkward at times, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.
It was very close on the scorecards before you stopped Thompson – one judge had the American ahead by two rounds, while the other two judges had the fight level. Did you always feel comfortable and confident that you’d come through and get the win?
I was quietly confident, and I knew I’d get to him at some point in the fight. I didn’t want to rely on it, but I knew deep down that I’d stop him. I was happy with the way it ended. There were no arguments from Thompson’s side. It wasn’t as if the referee jumped in and saved him – he was on the floor. I’m glad it wasn’t a close points decision that could be argued about and debated.
It was a conclusive stoppage – a proper good ending.
Do you intend on being a busy and active world champion?
I’d love to defend my title frequently. While I’m injury-free, I hope to be busy and active. I’m obviously not comparing myself to him, but look at [unified world middleweight titlist] Gennady Golovkin. He’s at the very, very top level in the sport – right in the pound-for-pound list.
He’s a proper busy champion. As long as I steer clear of injuries, I want to fight regularly – it’s my job and something I love doing, so why not?
Do you hope to be involved in a unification fight?
One million per cent, I want a unification. I want a massive fight back at home or abroad. I want one of the big names in the division, hopefully one of the other champions. I’d love the Jermall Charlo fight – the chance to unify my WBO title and his IBF. That’s a route I’d love to go down.
I’d love to go over to America and challenge for another world title.
Would you say there is all to play for in the super-welterweight division at the current time?
The division’s becoming very strong, and it’s massively wide open, unlike some of the other weight classes. You’ve got some good fighters [at super-welter]. The likes of the two Charlo brothers, Jermall and Jermell, plus Lara, Julian Williams, Demetrius Andrade. There are a lot of good fighters who are coming through, and they’ll all be going for world titles, and I’m just glad that I’m part of that mix. There are some massive fights to be made for me down the line.
Looking at the four major governing bodies’ world super-welter rankings, one thing that jumps out is that there are many American boxers included in the ratings…
Yeah, when you look through the rankings in my division, there are a lot of Americans in there. First and foremost, my goal was to become a world champion, and now I’ve achieved that. Next, I’d like to defend my title in front of my home fans, and then I’d like to fight in America. You’ve got the likes of the Charlos, Williams, Andrade, Vanes Martirosyan and Ishe Smith – they’re all from America, so that presents an opportunity for me to go and fight over there in the future.
Do you think you’ve got what it takes to go on and dominate at 154lbs?
I do, definitely. The division may be wide open, but it’s still very tough, as there are some good kids coming through. Nevertheless, I’m massively confident that I can go on and pick up more world titles. I’m only 27 years of age and no one’s seen the best of me yet. Without being disrespectful to the people
I’ve fought, I haven’t been really pushed yet. I know I can go to levels that I haven’t been to. I’m only going to get better and better with each fight.
This article was first published in the October 29 issue of Boxing News magazine
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