ALTHOUGH the result will always mean it holds good memories for us, from a coach’s point of view I couldn’t have wished for better preparation than what Callum Smith experienced in Saudi Arabia before his fight last year against George Groves.
I have had plenty of fight weeks over the years, but none have been better than the week we spent there. Why do I say that? Well, because if you would have had Callum Smith vs. George Groves in Liverpool or Manchester or London the media commitments and people bothering them for tickets would have been mad. But the fact we flew out to Saudi Arabia on the Thursday meant we escaped all of that. We had a good couple of days training in the gymnasium and got to know the locals. The hotel staff were very accommodating, and they treated us like kings.
It was just ideal preparation. We were away from everyone and no one bothered us. We could go for walks without being hassled. We could sit around in the hotel without being hassled. It was great. I managed to get Callum Smith 100% focused and relaxed with no stresses.
I don’t think George came over until the Sunday or Monday because Shane McGuigan [his coach] had Luke Campbell fighting Yvann Mendy on the Saturday. For them I feel it was a bit of a rushed week because the fight was on the Friday. We’d had a few days to acclimatise and get used to it. I think that was ideal for us really.
Of course, there were lots of people who couldn’t come, which was unfortunate, but there were lots of people who did come. I know some people who didn’t get their visas in time. I know Callum’s girlfriend never came and I know his sister and other people in his family didn’t come. But nobody caused a fuss or any problems and it was just a great overall experience. It was so good, in fact, we sometimes now say, “Shall we go back and make a defence of the title in Saudi Arabia?”
With Anthony Joshua and the circus that surrounds him, it could be the ideal place for this rematch against Andy Ruiz Jnr to take place. He’s got all those hangers-on and all those media and sponsor obligations, so this could be the perfect time to get away from all that and just focus on the boxing side of things. If they allow him to just be himself – get a hotel and then get his head down – it could work out well for him.
Because that’s what we did. We sourced our own hotel instead of using the fight hotel, which meant we were away from everyone. We walked out our door and there was a beach front and a promenade to walk on. There was a Starbucks. We had everything we needed, and we could concentrate on the fight and relax.
Just remember, though, when you’re in Rome, you do as they do. You’ve got to be courteous and aware of their laws. When Callum won, for example, we went back to the hotel and there were members of his family and other people who wanted to crack open the champagne but knew that couldn’t happen. So instead we had takeaway pizzas and cans of lemonade and Coca-Cola.
People just have to be mindful and respectful of the fact there is no drinking out there. Also, if everyone applies on time for the visa application, there shouldn’t be a problem getting out there. We never had any problem with any of that. You have to declare everything you’re bringing over, in terms of nutritional supplements and training equipment, but there was nothing really to worry about. We had no problems whatsoever.
As for the boxing venue, it was fantastic. We were wondering what the atmosphere would be like once the fights started but it was great. We’ve been to shows in Germany where they’re very polite and applaud at the end of the round, but that wasn’t the case in Saudi Arabia. There was a good atmosphere in the venue and because Callum had been there a few days before George you could hear a lot of the people he had got to know in the gym shouting for him during the fight. If you think you’re going to Vegas, you’ll find out it certainly isn’t that. But, in my opinion, Saudi Arabia is ideal for fighters.