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The Callum Smith conundrum

Callum Smith
Action Images/Andrew Couldridge
Callum Smith is a WBA super-middleweight champion and arguably the UK's best fighter yet currently finds himself in limbo, writes Elliot Worsell

Callum Smith is the WBA super-middleweight champion but could, according to his coach, Joe Gallagher, be all that and more if only he is given the chance.

He could, Gallagher believes, replicate his super-middleweight success at light-heavyweight. He could be recognised as Britain’s best pound-for-pound fighter. He could be a pay-per-view star. He could, in the end, go down as one of the greats. But first he must be acknowledged, respected and rewarded.

With the room now crowded, and the window of opportunity liable to slam shut when you least expect it, Gallagher has warned Smith’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, that they are serious about getting a move on and, moreover, not opposed to moving on from Matchroom Boxing if that’s what it takes.

“We had a meeting in Mexico and told him we have a couple of good offers on the table and that we’re considering moving,” Gallagher told Boxing News. “It’s up to him to come back with something. He’s turned around and taken that on board. He has said he’s going to go to DAZN and see what he can do.”

Last September the picture looked quite different for Smith, 26-0 (19). He was headlining in Saudi Arabia – hardly ideal – and sending George Groves to the canvas to win both the Londoner’s WBA title and the World Boxing Super Series’ Muhammad Ali trophy. That should have heralded the birth of a new British boxing star. It should have been Smith’s coronation night.

Instead, little has happened since, the win remains his crowning achievement and Smith, whose girlfriend gave birth at the start of the year, has boxed just once in the last 12 months.

That was in June against Hassan N’Dam, a fringe contender at middleweight. It wasn’t so much a fight as a hiding – a hiding to nothing.

Callum Smith on Joshua vs Ruiz show
Smith batters N’Dam in New York (Action Images/Andrew Couldridge)

“Listen, we all understand the fight in Jeddah against George Groves wasn’t the best for his profile,” Gallagher conceded, “but it was still on ITV and it was their job to promote it.

“I think we have the recognised number one in the world here and he is becoming irrelevant somehow. Whether it’s Boxing News or Sky Sports, no one’s writing about him or talking about him. Have you all forgotten about him?

“Sky have forgotten about him. Why do they never have him doing any punditry work? They’re very good at turning fighters into pay-per-view stars but I haven’t seen Callum Smith get interviewed once by them at ringside or do pundit work to build his profile.

“It’s the same with Boxing News and other magazines. When other champions were coming through there were features on them every other month talking about the same old thing. I can do the best I can as his trainer and manager but there are other people who can help Callum Smith stay relevant.”

This is true. But what’s also true is that Smith, despite oodles of talent, has never screamed pay-per-view gold – or at least what constitutes pay-per-view gold these days – and shows no signs of actively disputing this. He is reserved and respectful, refreshingly so, and chooses to talk only with his fists.

This is a commendable approach to a sport often in danger of being dragged down to the gutter and is precisely what makes Smith, 29, universally liked. Yet, unfortunately, it’s also an approach easy to ignore.

“We can’t all be table-throwing idiots,” said Gallagher. “The best fighters in the world at the moment are [Oleksandr] Usyk, [Vasyl] Lomachenko, Canelo [Alvarez] and Triple G [Gennady Golovkin]. I don’t see any of them throwing tables or getting involved in trash talk.

“I don’t think Lomachenko on his own is the biggest ticket-seller in the world but through his promoter and TV network pushing him, as well as his ability, he sold out an arena in London and is where he is today.

“It’s not Callum Smith’s job to sell tickets. There are other fighters in this country who have never been ticket-sellers but have been pay-per-view fighters. It’s not Callum Smith’s job to do that. It’s the job of the promoter and TV network job to do that.

“Callum Smith’s job is to train and fight. Promoters are called promoters because it is their job to promote. They can’t turn around to Callum and say, ‘We can’t pay you this, Callum, because you can’t sell tickets.’ Whose fault is that?”

Eddie Hearn
Hearn says he has big plans for Callum Smith (Action Images)

Eddie Hearn, Smith’s promoter, will probably have heard these same complaints from Gallagher before and is no doubt doing his best to both silence the coach and keep his fighter happy. That, too, is his job.

“It’s a Joe Gallagher special,” Hearn said. “Callum wants the big fights and I think there’s a problem in that they won’t come until 2020. He’s going to have a fight in October or November but that won’t be the biggest fight.

“Billy Joe Saunders has signed a contract with me that basically means if I told him he is fighting Callum Smith in April or May, he’s fighting Callum Smith if Callum Smith agreed to the fight – which I think he would.

“Joe’s digging around fielding a few offers from people.”

Gallagher doesn’t deny it. In fact, he presumably wants Hearn to know and to care and to be panicked into action.

“When other TV networks and promoters approach Callum with offers, he feels wanted,” Gallagher said. “Callum’s head has been turned. He’s thinking, No one wants to do anything with me and everyone’s telling me I can’t sell tickets. When we’re seeing stories that DAZN are paying big money for Triple G, Canelo and Billy Joe, it makes you stop and think.

“Callum Smith isn’t a DAZN fighter and Callum Smith isn’t a Sky fighter. No one’s offering Callum Smith any contract to fight on Sky or DAZN. So he’s thinking, Okay, I’ve got to listen to everybody else.

“I did have a meeting with John Skipper at DAZN in New York and he reiterated Callum Smith was a key figure in their plans and someone they wanted to use. He said they would make Callum a lucrative offer to show they wanted him. But that was in May and that offer has never come.

“We’re not playing a silly leverage game here.”

Rather than a silly leverage game, Gallagher’s approach would appear to be the right one. It’s one even Hearn has encouraged.

“I said to Callum, ‘If you’ve got a monster offer to fight elsewhere, you’ve got to look at it,’” the promoter said. “But he can’t get Canelo or GGG, the two eight-digit fights, anywhere else.

“We have to map it out. Who’s he going to fight? If we can’t get Canelo, and we can’t get Triple G, we fight Billy Joe Saunders at Anfield in May. That’s very likely to be the first fight of 2020 for Callum if either of them can’t get Triple G or Canelo.

“Really, I’d love to put Billy Joe in with Canelo and Callum in with Triple G and hopefully they win and it’s [Smith vs. Saunders] 10 times bigger.”

Callum Smith
Smith has the silverware but now needs the fights (Action Images/Andrew Couldridge)

The initial plan, though, is for Smith to appear before Christmas in Liverpool or Manchester against a top 15 opponent. It will be a fight to keep him active. It will do little for his resume or his chances of landing superfights against bigger names.

“He [Hearn] says they’re looking at Anfield for next year, but he said that last year,” Gallagher stressed. “It’s all right saying Anfield and this and that but how much is Callum going to get? Who is he going to fight?

“When people say they can deliver this and that, no, they can’t. Canelo decides who he fights, no one else. It’s the same with Triple G. No one is telling him who he should fight. We can’t force them to fight us.

“We just have to do what’s best for Callum Smith. He’s had a great time with Eddie Hearn and if he stays with Eddie, great. But he’s only staying with Eddie if Eddie has gone out, got him a deal and delivered something he will be happy with. He needs a guarantee of a big fight at Anfield that pays him the sort of money everyone else is getting.”

To finish, and to fully get his point across, Joe Gallagher then elected to use the tried and tested Eddie Hearn approach: the analogy.

“It’s like having four shops: River Island, Next, Hugo Boss and Armani,” he said. “Which shop gives you what you like?

“At the moment, we’ve got two people telling us to buy from their shop and promising free stuff and a loyalty card. But the shop we’ve been shopping at for years doesn’t seem to care.”

1 Comment

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  • It really seems a shame what has happened to Callum’s career and it is hard to think of a comparable example. Winning the Super Series and pretty much establishing himself as world number one should have given him an amazing boost, instead of which absolutely nothing has happened. From the outside it’s impossible to see who is to blame, but the best years of his career are wasting away.

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