IN the second defence of his WBA super-middleweight title, Callum Smith was awarded a unanimous decision over Matchroom Boxing stablemate John Ryder at the M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool. The overly wide scores, however, did not accurately reflect the part Ryder played in a closely contested encounter.
Despite his significant disadvantages in both height and reach, Islington southpaw Ryder – a big underdog – began positively in the opener, harassing Smith at times and getting beneath his lengthy jab. The in-form mandatory challenger scored with a shooting jab of his own in the second, as Smith struggled to find his rhythm against his shorter rival.
Ryder had little trouble closing the gap again in round three, though Smith’s accuracy and work rate improved noticeably in the session. The champion was pushed back to the ropes in the fourth, with Ryder digging in some decent body shots. However, Smith also zoned in on the midriff himself during the stanza. Both boxers walked back to their corners sporting some facial damage, with blood dribbling down each of their right eyes.
Smith doubled up with hooks in the fifth, but Ryder retaliated in kind as the action intensified. A treble jab thudded into Ryder’s skull in the sixth, as well as a sharp left hook-straight right combo to complete a good round for Smith.
Ryder worked his way onto Smith’s chest at the start of the seventh, where he unloaded a flurry of strikes. The same thing occurred later on in the round as the stocky Londoner broke through once more.
Ryder launched jabs and overhand rights in the eighth, endeavouring to prevent Smith from having the space to manoeuvre. The undefeated hometowner was far more effective when able to pick his punches from further off.
Following another tight and competitive round in the ninth, Ryder pressed forward in the 10th and sneaked in some compact right hooks. The majority of the action again took place at close quarters in the 11th – not where the rangier Smith wanted it. Ryder hit the mark numerous times in the last minute of the session, leaving Smith appearing somewhat weary.
Smith, though, stormed out for round 12 with renewed vigour, as the two warriors went at it in a stirring final three minutes, during which the momentum swung one way and then the other.
The result was seemingly up in the air as MC Michael Buffer waited in the ring to announce the verdict, but the three judges all scored conclusively in favour of Smith – 117-111 and 116-112 twice. The fight was certainly a lot closer than the cards suggest.
“It wasn’t my best performance, but I thought I won most of the early rounds,” Smith said. “I want the best names in the division next – any of them.”
In the chief support, local Craig Glover had to contend with a cut left eyebrow as early as the first frame in his clash with Bournemouth’s Chris Billam-Smith. Glover also suffered a bloody nose in the second, though it was he who landed the best punch of the round – a solid right.
Glover remained a threat in the third with his clubbing blows, but Billam-Smith looked better when working from distance with stiff jabs. Both men traded heavy shots in the fourth, with Billam-Smith coming out on top in the final exchange of the round when a pair of left hooks dropped Glover.
Carrying on as he had finished off in the preceding session, Billam-Smith bombarded Glover with an assortment of powerful strikes in the fifth, resulting in another knockdown. The referee should have called the bout off then and there, but he decided to let it go on when Glover made it upright at the count of ‘nine’. Unsurprisingly, a further brutal barrage from Billam-Smith soon led to the stoppage at 1-45. With the win, the away fighter picked up the vacant Commonwealth cruiserweight crown.
Also on the bill, Liverpudlian super-welterweight Anthony Fowler unanimously outpointed Derby’s switch-hitting Harry Scarff over 10.
The opening session saw Fowler press ahead as Scarff attempted to keep him at range with his long jab, wide-legged stance and lateral movement. The visitor did, however, connect with a clean right hand on the move in round two.
Content boxing off the back foot, Scarff continued to prod and probe with single jabs in the third. Fowler’s response was to fire off combinations, primarily targeting the midsection. The hometown man maintained his focus on the body in the next stanza.
Jabs up top and hooks downstairs nestled into Scarff’s flesh in round five, as Fowler attacked with intelligence and spite against an evasive adversary. The sixth panned out in much the same way, with the 2016 Olympian beginning to cement his authority on proceedings.
The ever-moving Scarff let his hands go more in the seventh, yet Fowler’s educated pressure was still evident. Scarff – the reigning English titlist – sustained his increased activity into round eight, where he enjoyed some success with counters.
Scarff stayed in the pocket for longer periods in the ninth, no doubt aware that he was behind on the scorecards and immediate action was required. Nevertheless, a short left hook-cum-uppercut decked Scarff towards the conclusion of the round to bring an end to his mini-resurgence. Fowler boxed in a measured manner in the 10th to get the job done. All three of the scorecards read 98-91.
The all-Merseyside super-lightweight 10-rounder between Liverpool’s Tom Farrell and Birkenhead’s Sean “Masher” Dodd came to an abrupt halt after four rounds due to a nasty cut by Farrell’s right eye.
The more seasoned Dodd, a previous Commonwealth lightweight champion, took the majority technical decision by scores of 39-37, 39-38 and 38-38.
In a 12-round British lightweight title final eliminator, Belfast’s ex-European and Commonwealth super-featherweight champ James Tennyson stopped Blackwood southpaw Craig Evans at 1-58 in the 11th.
Tennyson had Evans down in the first, but the gritty Welshman rose to his feet and battled gamely throughout. Tennyson, though, ultimately carried too much power and attacking intent for his opponent. A fierce two-fisted assault from the former IBF super-feather title challenger forced the referee to intervene in the penultimate frame.