August 11, 2016
August 11, 2016
Callum-Smith

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LAST November, Callum Smith passed his toughest test to date with relative ease. He needed just two minutes and 45 seconds to stop unbeaten local rival Rocky Fielding at a bouncing Echo Arena in Liverpool.

More importantly, he made history. The imposing 25-year-old claimed the vacant British super-middleweight title that night, matching the achievements of his older brothers Liam, Stephen and Paul, each one former kings of their country.

It’s a feat that is unlikely to ever be matched, and while Callum’s win seemed to further entwine the paths of these fighting brothers, it paradoxically served as a significant step out of his siblings’ shadows for “Mundo”.

While Callum was the favourite, almost no one outside of his team expected Smith to walk through Fielding in the manner he did. Sky Sports supremo Barney Francis even texted promoter Eddie Hearn after the blowout simply saying, ‘Wow!’ The performance was imperious, and it also paved the way for his next outing – against European champion Hadillah Mohoumadi in a WBC final eliminator. Smith annihilated the Frenchman – who had previously taken James DeGale the distance – in under two minutes. It was another emphatic statement.

At 6ft 3ins, Smith looms over his brothers, but has always remained the quiet one of the bunch, with any bold claims about him coming from others.

The phrase ‘future world champion’ has long been uttered alongside Callum’s name, and while that is a significant label for a fighter who has rapidly gone from hot prospect to bona fide contender, it is also a source of motivation.

“It’s a big thing to be put on someone. I think I was about four fights into my [professional] career and people started saying ‘future world champion,’” Smith tells Boxing News. “It kind of took the shine off things, like winning the British title. I won it and it was, ‘Oh, you were supposed to.’ But it’s pressure, any man and his dog can say he’ll be a world champion, but I’ve got to get in the ring and prove it. I’ve still got to deliver. The only thing I fear is failure and not meeting my potential, that’s what drives me every day.”

Since his win over Fielding, Smith’s respectable profile has garnered a lot more attention, highlighted by a recent appearance on TV show Soccer AM. Relaxed and affable, Callum looked a far cry from the guarded novice who seemed uncomfortable during interviews a few years ago.

“Earlier on in my career I struggled with it because I’m quite a shy, quiet person, but I’m getting used to it. I’m getting more relaxed with the attention,” he admits. “I believe I’m getting better with the talking stuff, it comes with the job at the end of the day and I enjoy it. If I wasn’t getting attention then I must be doing something wrong. I’m just quiet. When I’m with the lads in the gym I’m talkative, but when I’m around people I don’t really know I’m pretty quiet.”

Interest in the youngest Smith brother has steadily grown over time, but it has existed since his stellar stint in the unpaid ranks. At 19, he was drafted into the GB Squad and won Commonwealth Games silver in 2010.

The next step was the Olympics, and Callum looked a solid bet to qualify for London 2012. In the semi-final of the European qualifier tournament, the Merseysider dominated Azerbaijan’s Vatan Huseynli, only to drop the decision. Had the Azerbaijani triumphed in the final, Smith still would have qualified, but Huseynli lost the championship bout. Callum’s dream had been cruelly ripped away.

“It was upsetting at the time. You get something drilled into you for so long. If I had lost fair and square I’d probably have been alright with it, but the fact that, in my eyes, I deserved to be there [the Olympics] and to see all my mates go and watch the opening ceremony it was hard. But once it was gone and finished, I moved on and I was looking forward to turning pro. As I missed the Olympics I turned pro and by the time the Olympians turned over I was making a bit of a name for myself.

“Don’t get me wrong, if I could go back and change it I would, I’d love to have been an Olympian, but I wasn’t going to sit around and cry and let it affect my career. I think I’m doing quite well without the Olympics.”

Smith’s Scouse timbre is laced with confidence, but also a genuine sense of humility, as he delivers that last understatement. He turned over in 2012 with Matchroom and won his first two four-rounders on the cards, before racking up six consecutive first-round stoppage wins.

He was moved along quickly in 2014, closing out the year with a standout 12-round decision win over Nikola Sjekloca. Last year he handed the same result to the tough Christopher Rebrasse, before wrecking Fielding inside a round. This publication named him one of the top 10 world prospects last year, and Callum is already the odds-on favourite to beat WBC champion Badou Jack should they fight (Jack is currently mooted to fight IBF champion DeGale first, though). He’s doing a little better than just “quite well”.

Callum Smith

His fight with Fielding was the most high-profile of his career so far, with an extended build-up made particularly interesting by the fact two unbeaten prospects from the same city were risking their lofty world rankings against each other.

“There was a lot riding on it. If I had lost, I wouldn’t have been able to show my face around Liverpool. It was a bit strange because the fight was being spoken about so much before, I think it was announced about 14 weeks before, so when you have a big build-up and it’s over that quickly it’s strange,” Callum says. “But I wouldn’t have had it any other way, if you’d have given me a bit of paper before and asked me to write down how I wanted it to go, I couldn’t have done any better. It was good to put it to bed. It was annoying me beforehand with people picking Fielding to win. No disrespect to him, but I knew I was the better fighter. It was the first time in my career when people said I might lose, so to prove a lot of people wrong was satisfying – it was definitely the most satisfying win of my career. It told me a lot about myself, but it also didn’t show that much as it was over in two-and-a-half minutes. In my eyes, it showed I can deal with pressure and cope with the big stage. In my career, I might not have a bigger pressure fight than that.”

If his trajectory continues to climb, Smith is likely to experience nights with significantly more pressure. A tantalising fight with Londoner George Groves has been repeatedly mooted and would surely happen if one – or both – of them picked up a world title.

When he obliterated Mohoumadi in April, Smith really put his plans into action. Once again headlining a show in his hometown, Smith he was also fighting for a belt none of his brothers had won before.

While Callum remains assured he is ready to assault the world stage, he recognises that he is yet to prove it against an opponent at that level.

“Headlining another show, that’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I want to keep doing it, packing out arenas and drawing big crowds, fighting for titles. It was nice to bring a belt home that no one’s seen before. Usually when someone comes round they’ll say, ‘Oh that’s one Paul’s won before.’ It’s nice to do something myself.

“I always wonder why more fighters don’t try and win one [a European title]. Usually they bypass it. When I found out I was next in line to fight for it I said that I definitely wanted to go for it. I’m just lucky it got made a final eliminator as well, it was two birds with one stone. A lot of fighters win a British title then some sort of international title and they think they’re ready for the world stage. The gap’s a lot bigger than they think. This gave me a little gauge, fighting a solid European champion.”

With the criminally underrated Liam already the WBO super-welterweight champion, and a vastly improved Stephen recently having fought for the IBF super-featherweight title, the Smith clan have well and truly invaded the world scene.

“Each year keeps getting better for us,” Callum said.

“A couple of years ago people were talking about us all potentially having a British title, and now we’ve done it. We keep working hard and success breeds success. There’s no reason why we can’t add more world titles to Liam’s.”

Inevitably the four brothers all draw inspiration from each other, but Callum concedes that, as a collective, one of their biggest sources of drive is younger sister Holly, who has autism.

“To see her battling through life every day, but to also see her happy, is inspiring,” he says. “You see people moaning about life and you think, ‘It could be worse.’ So she does inspire us. We wear ‘Autism’ on our shorts to raise awareness and show support for other families dealing with autism, because for my mum and dad it is like a 24/7 job looking after her. When she was first diagnosed we didn’t really know what it was. So when someone asks, I explain it. We’re doing our bit. We do stuff for charity at times as well.”

The close-knit family rallies around whichever brother is fighting on a particular weekend, and whenever Callum prevails, Liam, Stephen and Paul are the first to congratulate him. He may be carving out his own path in the volatile landscape of boxing, but his brothers will always be by his side. They all insist his ring name derives from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – a show Callum loved as a child – character, Callamundo. That may be the case, but it’s hard to ignore the Spanish translation of “Mundo”: ‘world’.

This feature was originally published in Boxing News magazine. Subscribe here.