THE last time Callum Smith boxed in the United States, it was in an early-career six-rounder down the bill in Carson, California. He flattened Abraham Hernandez in one round on the show topped by Kell Brook beating Shawn Porter. In the intervening five years, the man from Liverpool has become the world’s leading super-middleweight for many (including this publication), winning the World Boxing Super Series tournament in September with a spectacular knockout of George Groves.
Now “Mundo” has his second USA bout on a much bigger stage than the first – he’s in the chief support to Joshua-Ruiz at the famed Madison Square Garden, defending his WBA belt for the first time against Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam. Smith, 25-0 (18), is tall for the weight at 6ft 3ins and it would be no surprise if he moved up to light-heavy at some point. There’s also talk of a match with pound-for-pound star Canelo Alvarez, so Callum can’t afford any slip-ups this weekend.
N’Jikam looks a good choice of opponent. The Cameroon-born Frenchman has held the WBO strap at middleweight and at 35 is an experienced campaigner with a 37-3 (21) record. But this is his first title tilt at 168lbs, and don’t forget he scaled 2 1/2lbs inside the middleweight limit when beating Martin Murray on a majority decision in December. And while only Ryota Murata has beaten him inside the distance – on a seventh-round retirement to avenge a dubious split loss – Hassan has also suffered plenty of knockdowns in points defeats: six against Peter Quillin and four against David Lemieux.
Such fragility bodes ill against Smith, whose 3 1/2in height advantage should allow him to pick off the advancing challenger with stiff jabs, left hooks and right crosses. Expect the end to come during the 12-rounder’s final third.
Irish superstar Katie Taylor has wasted no time since leaving behind a glorious amateur career, racing to a 13-0 (6) pro ledger and accumulating the WBA, IBF and WBO lightweight belts. Now she faces her toughest test in the shape of Belgium’s WBC counterpart Delfine Persoon, 43-1 (18).
Persoon’s only loss came way back in November 2010, on a fourth-round stoppage to compatriot Zelda Tekin, whom she’d beaten on a second-session disqualification a month earlier. But despite her impressive numbers, Persoon rarely ventures outside her homeland and lacks the big-time experience of Taylor, who should employ her skills and fitness to unify with a points win over 10 two-minute rounds.
A fun super-lightweight 12-rounder with little significance in the grand scheme of things sees Chris Algieri from Huntington, New York face Hull battler Tommy Coyle. Algieri scored a breakout win over Ruslan Provodnikov (for the WBO crown) but then lost to Manny Pacquiao, Amir Khan and Errol Spence Jnr, although only the last-named ended it inside the distance. With only eight early wins in his 23-3 record, Chris is more boxer than puncher, which is good news for Coyle, 25-4 (12).
Tommy has an aggressive style that brought stoppage losses to Derry Mathews and Luke Campbell. But he’s won his last three and if he can draw Algieri into a slugging match, may just emerge with a close points victory.
Sunderland talent Josh Kelly takes a gamble in a welterweight 10-rounder against Philadelphia’s Ray Robinson. Kelly, a 2016 Olympian, has used his flashy skills to win all nine pro fights, six inside the distance. He’s been boxing 10-rounders since his fifth fight and last year beat former world super-welter champ Carlos Molina.
But Robinson, 24-3-1 (12), is a southpaw with a tricky style that last time out in March enabled him to draw over 10 with Egidijus Kavaliauskas, whom Top Rank were touting as an opponent for Terence Crawford. Assuming Kelly keeps his hands up and stays focused, he can win a good learning fight on the cards. One of Kelly’s colleagues on the 2016 GB Olympic boxing team, Croydon light-heavyweight Joshua Buatsi, continues his fistic education with a 10-rounder against Mexico’s Marco Antonio Periban, 25-4-1 (16). The British champion’s skills and punching power have so far earned him 10 wins in as many fights, eight before the final bell.
THE VERDICT Smith gets a golden opportunity to impress an American audience.