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Undercard preview: The return of Callum Smith

Callum Smith
Macthroom
Callum Smith makes his return at light-heavyweight and cruiserweight Lawrence Okolie looks to impress on the Joshua-Usyk undercard, writes John Dennen

AFTER a gruelling 12-round defeat to Canelo Alvarez in December, Callum Smith returns to action on the undercard of Joshua vs Usyk at the Tottenham stadium on Saturday (September 25).

He’s coming back at a new weight, moving up from super-middle to light-heavy, and with a new trainer in his corner. Smith had spent his whole professional career previously with Joe Gallagher but as part of this reboot he has now linked up with Buddy McGirt.

Smith had been the world leading super-middleweight, until Alvarez moved into the division, and he will be looking to prove that he can also be a contender at 175lbs during his scheduled 12-rounder with Lenin Castillo.

From the Dominican republic, Castillo holds a perfectly respectable 21-3-1 (16). Most intriguingly he has gone the distance with two leading light-heavyweights. In 2018 Marcus Browne, now the number five ranked contender, outscored him over 10 rounds. The following year Castillo went the distance with Dmitry Bivol, the Russian who is the number one ranked light-heavyweight after champion Artur Beterbiev. That is a key point of reference for Smith’s performance. He must win this fight and a stoppage finish would lay down a marker in his new division.

The Liverpudlian certainly has the frame to move up and succeed at 175lbs. He was a very big super-middle and he’ll have the advantage in height and reach on Saturday against Castillo. Prior to this Callum has only weighed in over 168lbs a handful of times as a pro. He has actually competed with success at light-heavyweight in the past, more than eight years ago as an amateur he jumped up a division to enter the Olympic qualifier, outboxing top Europeans only to be the victim of a shady decision in the end.

He is of course vastly more seasoned and experienced now. The winner of the World Boxing Super Series, Smith has beaten George Groves and stood up to Canelo’s powerpunches. He ought to be a class above Castillo but an inside the distance win might be too much to ask on this occasion, when he’s settling in with a new coach and rebuilding after his first professional loss. Smith is expected to take a points win.

Lawrence Okolie can be counted on to deploy his power. The strong cruiserweight impressed in March when he picked apart then demolished Krzysztof Głowacki inside six rounds, a world-class win. The hope at first was for that victory to propel Okolie into a showdown with champion cruiserweight Mairis Briedis. For the time being though the two head in different directions. While Briedis will box Artur Mann in Riga on October 16, Okolie makes a first defence of his WBO belt on Saturday against little known Dilan Praŝović.

Montenegro’s Praŝović comes to London with a 15-0 (12) record. Okolie is just 16-0 (13) so their two records are comparable in a sense, but only on paper. Praŝović may be unbeaten but he hasn’t fought any opposition of particular note. Okolie though has been consistently ambitious in his matchmaking. Beyond beating Głowacki, he won the European title when he stopped Yves Ngabu, he stepped up to fight Matty Askin for the British in just his 10th bout and headlined the O2 against Isaac Chamberlain after only seven pro bouts. With trainer Shane McGuigan, Okolie’s work has been cleaner and more precise. He should overwhelm Praŝović here and secure another inside the distance victory.

Campbell Hatton, son of British boxing legend Ricky, is a prospect with plenty to learn so he’s matched understandably soft against Spain’s 2-4 Sonni Martinez. Hatton hasn’t won by stoppage yet as a pro, but will need to resist the urge to go hunting for an early finish. He must show that the craft and composure of his work is developing.

Maxim Prodan, a Romanian born in Ukraine and based in Italy, should meet Florian Marku in a head-on collision. Prodan has been held to a draw once before but is undefeated so far in his 20-fight career. Last time out, however, he was the beneficiary of a ludicrously generous stoppage that handed him a win over Nicola Cristofori. Albanian Marku has a draw on his ledger too, handed to him by Jamie Stewart, the journeyman man who also upset Michael Hennessy. But Marku looked strong last time out when he overwhelmed Rylan Charlton. He’s likely to get drawn in against Prodan but the greater efficiency of his work should see him prevail, possibly inside the distance.

A surprising match up on the undercard sees American middleweight Christopher Ousley thrown in deep with Khasan Baysangurov. The Ukraine-based Russian has only lost once and that was to Rob Brant, who’s boxed at a high enough level to beat Ryota Murata. Since that reverse, he’s been on a run of four inside the distance victories and could continue that here. Ousley is unbeaten but has yet to go beyond six rounds. This is scheduled for 10.

The Verdict Intrigue on the undercard but this show is all about the main event.

Read the in depth Joshua vs Usyk preview here

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