CALLUM SMITH using Pawel Stepian as target practice was not one of the can’t miss fights of 2023 but its cancellation, due to the Englishman suffering an injury, has surely affected the appeal of this Saturday’s event at the Echo Arena.
So instead of seeing Smith warming up for a proposed shot at light-heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev, fans in Liverpool and DAZN subscribers will have to make do with two 10-rounders in co-headline slots.
The curtain closer will be Matchroom’s 21-year-old hotshot Diego Pacheco, 17-0 (14), doing battle with the owner of boxing’s finest nickname – “Little Lever’s Meat Cleaver” – Jack Cullen, 21-3-1 (9), over 10 rounds in the super-middleweight division. Before that, Kirkby’s Robbie Davies Jnr, 23-3 (15), takes on 34-year-old Irish southpaw, Darragh Foley, 21-4-1 (9) in a super-lightweight contest.
The jury is still out on Pacheco, but he unquestionably has lots of potential. From Los Angeles and standing a wiry 6ft 4ins, Pacheco started boxing at the age of 10 and won numerous amateur titles before signing professional terms with Matchroom at the end of 2018. Now trained by Jose Benavidez Snr, this marks his first appearance as a headliner and it’s his debut in the UK.
The occasion shouldn’t phase him. He has appeared on several huge cards in the past, with his two most recent bouts (stoppage wins over Enrique Collazo and Ricardo Adrian Luna) among the support for Saul Alvarez-Gennadiy Golovkin III in September and Juan Francisco Estrada-Roman Gonzalez III in December.
Cullen, only an inch shorter at 6ft 3ins, should provide a solid test. The 29-year-old saw a run of good form, that included a draw with Zak Chelli and wins over John Docherty and Avni Yildirim, thwarted when he encountered another revered unbeaten international opponent, France’s Kevin Lele Sadjo. That December 2021 bout was won by Sadjo in six rounds. Cullen’s only action since then was a straightforward eight-round points win over Vladimir Belujsky last April.
Though Cullen always comers with ambition, the momentum is very much with Pacheco. A win for the home fighter is not the outcome Matchroom will be hoping for, with the American very much being groomed for big things. Hearn calls Pacheco one of the best prospects in the world whereas the fighter himself believes victory here will see him turn from prospect to contender.
“They’re all saying he’s a superstar,” Cullen, who had been sparring Callum Smith and is trained by Michael Jennings, observed. “But if he thinks he’s coming over here and just getting someone who’s going to step over, he’s got another thing coming. He’s making a big mistake.”
Pacheco, who has relocated to Seattle to train full-time with Benavidez after growing tired of Los Angeles, is unlikely to come badly prepared. The studious youngster, who is fighting to provide for his family, is a regular sparring partner of David Benavidez and is eager to improve. Expect Cullen to give this all he’s got but the pick is for Pacheco, an artful body puncher, to again underline his potential with a stoppage in the second half.
Davies Jnr, on a three-fight win streak, is enjoying life with coach Shane McGuigan but was disappointed when Aussie Liam Paro had to pull out of Saturday’s show after fracturing his skull in training. Substitute Foley, who lives in Bondi, Australia, could give Robbie a hard fight, nonetheless.
A 34-year-old southpaw, Foley has fought predominantly in his adopted homeland but his three appearances in British rings all ended without victory. In 2018, his Glasgow bout with Chris Jenkins ended a technical draw after three rounds and Akeem Ennis Brown beat him over 10 at York Hall. The following year, over the same distance, Foley was dropped in the eighth before coming up short on the cards in Belfast. In each of those three contests, Foley was competitive and we expect a similar scenario here, with Davies taking the verdict.
In another 10-rounder, 27-year-old Warrington southpaw Rhiannon Dixon, 7-0, should be favoured to edge out Wombourne’s Vicky Wilkinson, 5-0-1, over the distance. The vacant Commonwealth lightweight title is the prize for the winner of this well-matched contest.
Cards generally don’t get cancelled when heavyweight Johnny Fisher is on them, such is the support he guarantees. More than 1,000 fans of “The Romford Bull” are expected to make the trip north to watch the improving 27-year-old, 7-0 (6), take on 37-year-old Italian, Alfonso Damiani, 6-2 (2), over eight rounds.
Also in action: Liverpool’s excellent super-bantamweight portsider Peter McGrail, 6-0 (5), is scheduled to tackle his first 10-rounder; Hyde’s Campbell Hatton, 9-0 (3), fights Italian Michel Gonxhe, 4-2-1 and there are runouts for Oldham lightweight Aquib Fiaz, Chester super-middleweight Paddy Lacey and Billericay’s George Liddard.
THE VERDICT – Lacking a bona fide star attraction but important that the show goes ahead so the fighters can get paid.