Does Liam Smith Have the Goods to Beat Canelo?
By: Brandon Bernica
This week, boxing groaned collectively when Golden Boy Promotions announced Canelo Alvarez’s intentions to fights Gennady Golovkin…in 15 months. In the eyes of most fans, this superfight needs about as much marinade as a perfectly cooked Thanksgiving turkey – forget the spices and rubs, you just want to eat it as soon as possible. Even a recent string of thrilling victories could not save Canelo from seething backlash and disappointment.
To make matters worse, Golden Boy revealed Canelo’s next opponent to the chagrin of boxing’s devoted: Liam Smith of Liverpool. Naturally, an uproar sparked due to Smith’s anonymity to casual fans. Overreaction typically ensues when top-tier opponents are neglected for stars like Canelo. My curiosity wonders whether Smith holds up as a quality-enough opponent, even after the hysteria dies down.
At first glance, his unscathed record speaks to consistency and capability. Of course, many of his past fights involved overmatched, homegrown foes, and his resume desperately lacks big names to cement his talent. Many consider him a “paper champion” – one who falls upon a title by the fortune of avoiding the division’s best fighters. Labeling someone a fraud for clearing out a novice queue of opponents is unfair; regardless, the jury remains out until England’s own passes more staunch tests. At a prime 27 years old, however, you still have to respect his potential.
So, why did Smith fly under the radar with the stealth of a notorious bank robber? That could be due in part to his lineage. He is the 2nd youngest of four brothers, all high-level fighters. His oldest brother, Paul, formerly starred on the boxing reality show “The Contender” and challenged for a world title on numerous occasions. Stephen, the second eldest, defends the WBC Silver Super Middleweight Championship. Perhaps the golden child of the clan, Callum, projects to stardom as an undefeated super middleweight prospect. With the “Fighting Smiths” as siblings, Liam easily finds himself lost in the shuffle. Being constantly contextualized with his brother’s accomplishments raises the bar for distinguishing himself among them.
If one saving grace remains in the cards for Liam, it’s the most obvious –he can fight. Smith acquits himself very well in the ring. He won’t overwhelm you with explosiveness –perhaps to a flawed degree – but he checks out as a well-rounded fighter. Each fight, he aims at pushing the tempo and initiating the action. Whether it’s short hooks or a favored uppercut-to-straight right hand, Smith stays on balance. This does leave him susceptible to sustained counterattacks in the pocket, and combined with an absence of head movement, he makes himself a target for anyone tough enough to survive his offensive assault.
Let’s take this full-circle and evaluate how he matches up against Canelo. Canelo will thrive on the counterpunching opportunities provided by the hungry Smith, just as he did against James Kirkland and Miguel Cotto. The threat of Smith’s wide-ranging arsenal will stick at the forefront of Canelo’s mind throughout the night, but that’s nothing smarts and timing couldn’t overcome. Punching power and experience also tip in the Mexican’s favor. What does Smith have that could riddle Canelo enough to capture victory. Intangibles. He’s from a boxing family, he’s bold, and he’s unfamiliar with the losing taste as a professional. With so much pressure on Alvarez to win every fight until the Golovkin showdown, Smith will enjoy the freedom of playing underdog. These intangibles in the hands of a world titlist can be dangerous enough to pull the stunning upset. And with over half of his wins earned by knockout, one punch might be enough to change both of their fates.
I hear you, boxing fans. This is not a PPV worthy fight. This isn’t the win that will change Canelo’s life. But it isn’t reason to fully dismiss Liam Smith. His resolve and skills can invoke some interesting exchanges with Canelo, making for an entertaining affair. As opposed to Canelo’s last fight – a spectacular knockout of natural welterweight Amir Khan – Smith will be a sturdy, game foe that is more acclimated to the weight. Just as fans at the NBA Draft jeer every foreign player they’ve never heard of, boxing fans on this side of the Atlantic have difficulty giving non-American fighters a chance to prove their merit. Yes, it’s not Golovkin (unfortunately), but without much to lose, he has a shot to carry the Smith name to new heights.