Canelo Alvarez’s opponent may be anonymous to most in the U.S., but Liam Smith is part of something powerful overseas.
Call it boxing’s United Kingdom invasion.
Smith, from Liverpool, is one of 14 current world champions from the U.K.
The group includes heavyweight champions Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury, super-middleweight champion James DeGale and featherweight champion Carl Frampton.
“Everyone breeds success off each other,” said Smith, the World Boxing Organization junior-middleweight champion.
“Everyone is thriving. They want to be in my shoes now, or in [welterweight champion] Kell Brook’s … everybody wants a piece of this now, to get up this ladder.
“And it’s going to be even bigger after Saturday.”
Smith (23-0-1, 13 knockouts) is referring to his upset bid against Mexico’s Alvarez (47-1-1, 33 KOs), who this week has paid respect to Smith’s resilience and willingness to engage, urging people not to overlook what he says will be a significant test on HBO pay-per-view from AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, as a possible Gennady Golovkin showdown awaits next year.
“I expect a tough, hard fight. Liam Smith is coming to win,” Alvarez said. “That means he’s going to bring it. He’s tough, strong, can throw combinations. Style-wise, I think that will mesh, because it will provide for a very, very good fight.”
Smith said he’s interested in making the bout a test of wills.
“The times he likes to go for a rest and look casual, I’m going to make him fight,” Smith said. “The more I get comfortable with Canelo’s power — I get better as the fight goes on.
“As soon as I get in a rhythm, I’m very hard to stop. This fight will be the same. If Canelo comes too hard at me early, he’s going to be in for a long night.”
The 28-year-old Smith, nicknamed “Beefy” because he was burly as a child, perfectly timed his maturation as a boxer in England.
His veteran promoter, Frank Warren, said an influx of funding for amateur boxing helped launch this revolution of British talent that also counts middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders, junior-welterweight champion Ricky Burns and two lightweight champions, Terry Flanagan and Anthony Crolla.
“We’ve got quite a good crop of young fighters coming through for the size of our country, and my big thing is get them young, get them the right fights at the right time,” Warren said.
Smith has never fought outside the U.K.
“Liam’s a product of what’s going on,” Warren said. “He’s done everything we’ve asked him. He had a bit of time where fights were boring him. He’s the kind who needs a challenge. This fight is a major step up in class, but I believe he has the wherewithal to win.”
According to boxing writer Chris McKenna of the Daily Star in London, the government investment in boxing dating to a 2000 gold medal won by super-heavyweight Audley Harrison has steadily increased while more medals have generated further financial assistance.
“Even the guys that are not winning medals are training in high-class facilities. They’re getting the best sparring,” McKenna said. “So they’re fast-tracked to turn pro and go for world titles.”
Beyond that, Warren’s subscription television service BoxNation and rival promoter Eddie Hearn’s link to pay-per-view Sky Sports have strengthened the sport’s lure for athletes and increased national interest, McKenna said.
Joshua, considered the sport’s next great heavyweight by many, has drawn 300,000 pay-per-view buys and recently struck an exclusive U.S. television deal on Showtime while fighting for Hearn.
Warren and Hearn “push each other … that’s definitely a massive part of this,” said McKenna.
Smith has three boxing brothers who fight for Hearn.
“Frank’s had Liam since he turned pro [in 2008],” McKenna said. “He’s worked him up and Liam’s been loyal to him when he could’ve switched to Eddie and gotten more money. But Frank’s given Liam his first title shot, and now he’s given him the biggest fight you can get out of the sport.”
Warren said he “jumped at this fight” against Alvarez.
Smith “can punch, has a great chin, comes to fight … we call him the Liverpool Mexican,” Warren said. “He’s entering the lion’s den this weekend, but he has the temperament and calmness to pull this off.”