The way WBO Jr. Middleweight titlist Liam “Beefy” Smith sees things, Canelo Alvarez picked on the wrong guy.
Alvarez is one of boxing’s most popular stars and could have picked just about anybody to fight. But rather than giving the people what they want (and what he promised) — a showdown with unified middleweight titleholder Gennady Golovkin — Alvarez dumped his middleweight title and decided to drop down to junior middleweight, where he once unified two titles.
In doing so, Alvarez hand-picked Smith, an undefeated British fighter largely unknown and untested. But Smith is happy Alvarez called his name and was thrilled when he landed, by far, his biggest fight, even if it will take place in front of a pro-Alvarez crowd on Mexican Independence Day weekend.
Smith, 28, will make his third title defense when he faces Alvarez on Saturday night (HBO PPV, 9 ET) at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, where he will aim for a gargantuan upset.
“I’m not stupid. I know on paper I’m the B-side of this fight. Canelo’s the big name,” said Smith, who will be boxing in the United States for the first time. “It’s always Canelo, and it’s Mexican Independence Day, so I know that. But I am the champion, and just looking back on that, that is one reason why I hope they’ll respect that I’m champion and be fair. If I win the fight, then make sure I get the decision.
“Give me the respect I deserve. I am the champion, even though I am the B-side in the fight. Canelo’s the big name, but I am the champion going in. … I took this fight. I’m not in a situation where I have nothing to lose in this fight. I’ve got a title to lose. So I’ve taken this fight because it’s an opportunity to make a name for myself and establish myself as one of the best fighters pound-for-pound in the world.”
He knows he is facing a formidable opponent in Mexico’s Alvarez (47-1-1, 33 KOs), 26, who won the lineal title (albeit at 155 pounds) by decision against Miguel Cotto last November and retained it by massive sixth-round knockout of Smith’s countryman Amir Khan, a welterweight moving up, in May.
“Canelo is a very accurate puncher and has a great deal of variety in the ring,” Smith said. “I got to work with [welterweight titlist and recent Golovkin victim] Kell Brook to prepare. It feels very good to be on this big stage, and it’s one that I have asked to be on.
“I am going to show everyone that I can fight at a high magnitude and hopefully I’ll gain some more fans once I beat Canelo. Looking back at his last fight, I think Canelo’s attitude was thinking that he was going to grab the knockout sooner or later, and he wasn’t willing to box. I won’t let that be the case in this fight because I’ve got the ability to outbox him and put him in his place. Just because the writers and the boxing critics label me as the underdog isn’t my motivation. My family and their support is the only one I need. With this opportunity, I’m hoping for bigger and better fights to come my way.”
For the first time, both Canelo Alvarez and Liam Smith will fight at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL. Bob Booth/Hoganphotos/Golden Boy Promotions
Smith trains at a gym owned by Khan but said he did not discuss what it was like for him to fight Alvarez. “I haven’t talked to him about the fight because what he can do well, I can do well, and what Amir failed to do in the ring, I will not fail to do,” Smith said. “I have my own skill set that I can excel in. I’m comfortable going toe to toe with Canelo, and let that be a warning to him come Saturday.”
Frank Warren, the Hall of Fame British promoter, has worked with Smith since he turned pro in 2008 and has seen his share of upsets. He said Saturday’s fight reminds him a bit of when big favorite Jeff Lacy traveled to England to meet Joe Calzaghe in a super middleweight title unification fight that Warren promoted.
“I am going to show everyone that I can fight at a high magnitude and hopefully I’ll gain some more fans once I beat Canelo.” –Liam Smith
“Everybody was building up Jeff Lacy to be the next big thing and [Calzaghe] destroyed him,” Warren said. “I mean absolutely destroyed him.”
That’s not say that Warren believes Smith will destroy Alvarez, but he believes he has what it takes to notch a victory.
“I’ve always thought that [Smith] was an exceptional fighter and an exceptional British fighter. He’s won all his fights to date [other than a four-round draw in his sixth fight],” Warren said. “He’s on an eight-fight knockout roll, and I’ve never seen him up so much for a fight. He begged me for this fight, and we made it happen between all of us, and I can assure you when he gets there, there are going to be some serious fireworks.
“It’s going to be a real celebration for the Brits. It might be Mexican Independence Day, but it’s going to be the Brits are coming, and the Brits are going to come away still holding that belt. He’s so confident and all the time I’ve known him, I’ve never felt or doubted him or his ability. He’s one of those fighters, the bigger the occasion, the more you’ll get out of him.
WBO Junior middleweight titleholder Liam Smith, right, will defend his title against Canelo Alvarez on Saturday. Dave Thompson/Getty Images
Joe Gallagher trains Smith and is one of the most respected trainers in the United Kingdom. He said Smith is well-prepared to pull the upset.
“Liam Smith is a world champion, and he is doing what world champions do: defending his world title against one of the best fighters in the world,” Gallagher said. “Liam isn’t coming over here to be caught like a rabbit in the headlights. Liam Smith is a world champion and is going to take care of business on fight night.
“Smith is a serious threat. Liam Smith can box from the outside, he’s a great counterpuncher, can fight from the inside, has great shots from the inside and has a great temperament. These are some of my favorite characteristics of Liam Smith. I think he might shock a lot of people in just how great he is come Saturday night.”
Smith, of course, is planning for victory.
“It’s going to be give and take. Canelo’s going to have his moments. I’m not saying he’s not. But I’m going to have my moments,” Smith said. “Every time I think about the fight it gets me excited. It just gets me excited. So it’s one that I can’t wait for. It’s going to be a great fight.”
And should Smith win, Warren has a novel idea.
“We’ll be talking afterwards about when is Liam going to be fighting Golovkin,” he said. “Because that’s what they’re going to be talking about after this fight.”
Canelo Alvarez-Liam Smith
Lineup of TV bouts on Golden Boy’s card Saturday night (HBO PPV, 9 ET) at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas:
•Junior middleweights: Liam Smith (23-0-1, 13 KOs) vs. Canelo Alvarez (47-1-1, 33 KOs), 12 rounds, for Smith’s world title
•Middleweights: Gabriel Rosado (23-9, 13 KOs) vs. Willie Monroe Jr. (20-2, 6 KOs), 12 rounds
•Featherweights: Joseph Diaz Jr. (21-0, 12 KOs) vs. Andrew Cancio (17-3-2, 13 KOs), 10 rounds
•Junior featherweights: Diego De La Hoya (15-0, 9 KOs) vs. Luis Orlando Del Valle (22-2, 16 KOs), 10 rounds