THE night before the biggest fight of his life Callum Smith won’t do much. Play Mario Kart with his brothers, unwind, it could be another day in Liverpool. Except they’re in San Antonio and on Saturday in front of 12,000 (socially distanced) fans at the Alamodome, Smith will fight Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez for the WBA and vacant WBC super-middleweight world titles.
“I know when to switch back on to boxing the minute on fight day, you get in the changing rooms fully focused on the task at hand. I’ve always found it’s pointless sitting and constantly thinking about the fight during fight week when there’s nothing else I can do. As long as I’ve done a good training camp and I’m in the best shape possible then I believe the best version of me will step through the ropes,” Smith said.
After two video sessions during the week on the morning of the fight he will sit down with his trainer Joe Gallagher for a final briefing. “Just a quick bullet point video meeting, just reminding him of the shots that he can throw and the shots that he has to avoid and that’s it,” Joe says. Then they’re ready to go.
“I do feel we’ve got certain shots, certain things we feel we can implement on the night and have success with,” Smith noted. “I think I’m a smart fighter, it’s knowing when to throw and what to throw. I know it’s a cliché but it is like a game of chess in there, you’re trying to outsmart your opponent. I believe people underestimate that side of me.”
“The team’s really relaxed, Callum’s relaxed,” Gallagher said. “Callum’s been and seen them all before with them. So everyone’s just relaxed and chilled, knows when they have to switch on and knows what they have to do to try and switch off and that’s it.”
Smith has looked composed all week and both fighters looked in fine condition as each came in on the 168lbs weight limit on Friday. They say it’s hard for a fighter to get out of bed and go running when he’s sleeping in silk pyjamas, Canelo is such a star that he strolled into the weigh-in wearing what appeared to be a set of silk pyjamas. There can though be no doubt that Alvarez is superbly prepared for this contest.
The two completed their final face off before the fight, with Smith towering over his august opponent. “It’s exciting, whether it’s Canelo or any previous opponent when you finally do the head-to-head, it’s a little bit more real. It switches you on a little bit more mentally. Obviously I’ve trained to beat Canelo throughout this whole training camp but actually seeing him and being there now, you spend most of fight week trying to switch off and just focus on doing other things,” Callum said. “But the minute the head-to-head comes it got me going a little bit, got me a little bit excited and I’m looking forward it.”
That height advantage suggests that Smith must make it a long-range fight on Saturday. But he will also surely need to be aggressive and visibly hurt him to get rounds off Alvarez in Texas. “A bit of both,” Callum mused. “I’ve just got to be the best version of me. I’ve got to be switched on at all times. Canelo’s a very good fighter, a fighter I respect, and he’s always in there trying to set traps. I know I can’t afford to do anything stupid or put any silly shots out there. He will counter me. But I’ve also got to not show him the respect, I’ve got to go in, treat him just the way I have for any previous opponents. I’m the world champion. I believe in my own ability and I believe I can beat anyone in the world at 168lbs and that includes Canelo Alvarez. So I can’t just go in reckless, but I’ve got to be calculated. But I’ve got to focus on what I’m good at. Make sure I do what my strengths are and try to take away his strengths.”
Smith has never been dropped in a bout, amateur or pro. But it’s likely he’ll have to call on all those reserves of toughness in this fight. “I’m always confident I’ve got a good enough chin since I turned professional I sparred a lot of tough fighters early on: Carl Froch [a unified super-middleweight champion], Tony Bellew [a light-heavyweight contender and cruiserweight world champion], Nathan Cleverly [a light-heavyweight champion], [middleweight world champion] Andy Lee and I’ve always held my own and that’s always given me the confidence that I can go on and reach the level they’ve reached and go on and become a world champion. I’ve always believed in my own ability. I’ve worked hard over the years and I’m in that position I’ve always dreamed of being in. I’m enjoying it but I’m planning on staying a world champion after this weekend. I’m not here just to give up something I’ve worked so hard for. I believe I’ve got the beating of Canelo Alvarez and I’ve finally got the chance to prove that,” Smith said. “Chances are it’ll be a tough fight. But I think at this level when you reach world level, everyone’s a little bit tough otherwise they’d have probably been found out before they reached that level. Everyone can take a decent shot, everyone can punch a little bit.
“At the highest level it’s your brain what wins fights. We’re all heavy handed, we can all take a shot, like I said, it’s more who’s the smarter fighter, who can get their tactics off and take away the opponent’s strengths. That’s the part I’m looking forward to. I said I want to test myself against the best in the division. At the minute there’s no bigger fight for me than Canelo Alvarez. Everyone in the world knows how good he is, I’ll find out how good he is, but the world will see how good I am as well.”
“He’s short but he’s got a lot of ability and he makes up for that and I’m sure he’ll try to find ways to close the gap and try and make me fight his fight up close. I’ve just got to make sure if that does happen, I can compete with him up close and then get back to my strengths. But it’s a fight. It’s going to swap and change many times and I’m sure it’ll be fought on my terms at times and his type of fight at times. I just feel I’ll be the better off at the end of the night and I’m confident of getting the win,” he added. “He showed he can box on the back foot, he may choose that option but with a fighter like Canelo he’s proved he can do a bit of everything. I’ve prepared for everything. I’ve got to get in there and at the highest level you’ve got to be able to adapt and whatever version he brings in, I’ve got to be ready for and whether he wants to come in and try and put me on the back foot, I’ve prepared for that. If he wants to go on the back foot and try and make me chase him, I’ve prepared for that. But it’s an interesting one. In a fight at the highest level it’s all about who can get the right tactics and who can get them off on the night. That’s what I’m looking forward to. I’m looking forward to being in there with the top fighter and hopefully showing my skills and showing how good I can be.
“The pressure to deliver has always brought out a big performance in me.”
On Saturday his talent, his boxing ability and all his resilience will be tested to their limits. We’ll all know just how good Callum Smith is by the time this fight is over.