OVER two weeks in September, Liam Smith and Kell Brook will be involved in two of the biggest fights of 2016.
On September 10, IBF welterweight champion Brook will move up to middleweight and face unified champion Gennady Golovkin at the O2 Arena in London.
A week later, Smith defends his WBO super-welterweight title against Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez at the AT&T Stadium in Texas.
Make no mistake – both Brits are heavy underdogs. That doesn’t meant they’re without a chance, though.
We’ve spoken to men who have faced Canelo and Golovkin to pick their brains on what their strengths and weaknesses are.
Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez
The flame-haired Mexican has tasted defeat just once in a 49 fight paid career. He turned professional at 15 and soon caught the eye of Oscar De La Hoya and Golden Boy Promotions, who snapped him up.
They’ve paced him right, moulding the freckled boy into a robust, sharp-minded man. He was fed ageing versions of Carlos Baldomir, Kermit Cintron and Shane Mosley to bolster his record and raise his profile. Then, in 2013, he outpointed Austin Trout to unify the super-welterweight division, before prematurely jumping into a fight with the peerless Floyd Mayweather.
Canelo was made to look cumbersome and one-dimensional – it was a steep learning curve. He came back, battered Alfredo Angulo, before taking on the slippery Erislandy Lara, one of the most avoided fighters in the world. Again, Alvarez’ struggles with smart movers were exposed however he walked away with a razor-thin decision.
He wrecked a shot James Kirkland before picking up a career best win – outpointing Puerto Rican icon Miguel Cotto in November.
In May, Amir Khan packed on as much weight as he could to move up and fight Canelo, who brutally knocked him unconcious in the fifth.
Ryan Rhodes (stopped in the 12th by Canelo in 2011):
Liam’s had a few defences of his world title now, he needed that big name. When you’re world champion, if you’re not fighting those big household names then you’re not fighting the right people. The world title holders need to fight those big names.
It’s a tough, tough fight – he’s definitely the underdog, a big underdog, but it’s boxing and anything can happen.
I think Amir Khan, probably, set the gameplan out [on how to beat Canelo]. But it was one of those fights where you could see, Alvarez was just getting closer and closer and it was just a matter of time before he landed that one shot.
If Liam can set a fast, fast pace early – and there’s no way he’s as fast as Khan, but he’s probably got a little more meat behind his punches – that’s a key thing. I think Liam’s got to get behind his boxing, stay nice and sharp, keep his gloves glued around his face – he’s got a good defence, a tight guard.
He’s got to use his speed, be quicker, and outwork Alvarez and keep away from those power shots.
I had a conversation with [Smith’s trainer] Joe Gallagher a week ago, he asked my opinion, and I said that Khan set out how to beat Canelo in the early rounds, but it’s all about whether you can stick to that plan. He’s [Canelo] very, very good at throwing and landing punches, that’s what I was very impressed with when I fought him, he never wasted anything, he never threw if he wasn’t going to land.
It’s a case of keeping to that gameplan and making sure Canelo doesn’t land.
Smith has to get that respect straight away and how he does that is landing his shots, making Alvarez miss, and making him pay when he does miss.
He’s up against it, if I had to put my house on it I’d back Alvarez but big respect to Liam. He’s a British fighter and I hope he does it.
Dave Coldwell (trained Rhodes for the Canelo fight):
Canelo’s very good, it’s the subtle differences he makes in the ring, the adjustments he makes to what the other fighter’s doing that make him special.
The one thing he struggles with is great feet and good movement.
Smith’s a good body puncher, but when you’re fighting domestic and European level, you find you can land your body shots at will really, but when you fight the elite fighters the opportunities aren’t there.
As far as what Liam has to do – anyone can say ‘he needs to do this, do that,’ – but it’s pointless if you’re suggesting things that fighter doesn’t usually do. They should make sure Liam is focused on what he does best, he fights a certain way and he has got to be the absolute best he can be in that certain way.
Liam will be bigger in the ring than Cotto was, so he’s got that advantage. But you’re also talking quality, he’s got to get in those positions, make Canelo miss.
It’s a similar situation to the one with Ryan, who looked great at a lower level, had some good wins and great fights, but it’s not the same when you make the jump to elite level. He acquitted himself well, but he was always one step behind. From round one, he was one step behind, there was never a point where it looked like he’d win. That’s what happens when you jump to the top, top level – though I’m not saying that’ll definitely happen in this fight.
Against normal fighters you land but at this level, after two or three rounds you’re missing. Against normal fighters you’re blocking shots, but here they’re slipping through.
No matter what Ryan tried, Canelo adjusted to it. Ryan turned southpaw, wasn’t bothered. Took away Ryan’s jab. He gets in range then just drops back out. We expected to be able to counter him and catch him on the way in but he stood off and totally outboxed Ryan.
There are little things that Canelo does that Liam’s not encountered before. It’s a tough task for him, but I so badly want him to do it.
Against a slugger like James Kirkland, Canelo went out and met him head on, but he slugs with intelligence. So even if he stands infront of Liam he’ll be throwing clever shots, he throws sneaky shots that perhaps he doesn’t load up on but he’ll catch you with.
He’s also a lot stronger now. Having said that, Liam’s a big fighter. Liam needs to be very, very tight, very clever and to be patient. Even if he has success he can’t be greedy, because Canelo will catch him. He’s got to pick his spots, try and use his feet and I mean use angles, attack from angles.
Also, the situation won’t get to Liam either. He has a great mentality and won’t be affected by anything, that’ll really help him get in there and do what he needs to do.
WHILE Smith will be boxing at his optimum weight, Brook is making the leap from 147lbs to 160. Not only that, but he is facing perhaps the most feared puncher in the sport today.
‘GGG’ holds the highest knockout percentage in middleweight championship history and is on an unprecedented 22 fight stoppage streak.
Though he has not beaten an elite fighter, the Kazakh wrecking ball has looked masterful while battering his foes from pillar to post. David Lemieux, Daniel Geale, Martin Murray and Matthew Macklin were all felled under the might of his dynamite-laden mitts.
Unbeaten in 35 fights, no one has been able to expose any major flaws in Golovkin’s make-up yet. Though he was a little raw earlier in his career, trainer Abel Sanchez has helped develop him into a fighting machine.
Martin Murray (stopped in 11th by Golovkin in 2015):
I know first-hand, Golovkin’s another level. It’s a very, very tough fight for him [Brook]. Moving up from welterweight and then fighting a machine like Golovkin, I know Kell’s a big welterweight, but it’s a massive ask. God, I know the challenge that’s in front of him, but with great risk comes great reward and he’s got the chance here to go out there and beat The Man.
I’m all up for taking those challenges and gambles. The thing is with Golovkin, he’s got good distance, got good range, got good timing but so has Kell Brook, he’s got quality range. Compared to everyone who Golovkin’s fought in the past, he is bringing in something different.
You’ve got to hold the centre of the ring, that’s how you beat Golovkin, you push him back onto his back foot, but I don’t think there’s anyone at middleweight who can do it, and the size difference will make it very difficult for Brook.
It would be interesting to see how Golovkin does against someone like Avtandil Khurtsidze, who’s only 5ft 4ins, but all he knows is going forward. I think somebody like that who only knows how to go forward would do well against Golovkin. Having said that, you’ll get caught with shots coming in and Golovkin’s got that good timing.
I’d have liked to have seen Carl Froch against him as well, fighting like Carl Froch against him would work well too but – can you hold up to Golovkin’s power? I don’t think there’s anybody out there who can.