Callum Smith was the best super middleweight in the world. The Liverpool fighter was the latest outstanding British name on the roll call of the 168-pound division, a parchment that also includes fighters like Joe Calzaghe, Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank and James DeGale. After winning the WBA and The Ring magazine titles, as well as the World Boxing Super Series, there was no doubting Smith ran the division. Then, Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez arrived.
The generational Mexican had been campaigning at various weights during Smith’s coronation and early reign. While he did pick up a minor 168-pound title, Alvarez’s focus was on unifying the middleweight division, and winning the WBO light heavyweight title, which he did by stopping Sergey Kovalev. But once these goals were accomplished, Canelo set his sights on super middleweight and expressed his desire to become the division’s first undisputed ruler.
Smith was the first victim of the pound-for-pounder’s crusade. The superb Scouser was dominated on the scorecards last December, losing his hard-won titles via decision. He has not stepped into the ring since. While Canelo has marched on in three further fights, adding the WBA and WBO belts to his mantle in the process, Smith has been notable by his absence. The reason for this is that Callum Smith is moving up in weight, and has been working with a new trainer to rebuild for the second phase of his career.
Smith will now be cornered by Buddy McGirt, who has steered the legendary careers of Arturo Gatti, Hasim Rahman and Antonio Tarver. While he has dabbled at light heavyweight before in tune-up fights, this Saturday he will make his maiden voyage as a full-time 175-pounder. ‘Mundo’ takes on Lenin Castillo, a robust fighter who has never been stopped, who represents a solid first test at the new weight. Castillo has taken some fine light heavyweights the distance, including WBA champion Dmitry Bivol. He represents a fine litmus test for Smith.
But what Callum Smith can we expect to see? The former champion had won all 27 of his contests going into the Canelo bout. While he had been pushed on occasion, such as against John Ryder, he was thought of as the best in his weight class for a reason. A first defeat can damage a fighter’s confidence. Prince Naseem Hamed was never the same man after being humbled by Marco Antonio Barrera, logging only a single tame win before retiring altogether. Similarly, ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson never walked the Earth with the same destructive swagger after being manhandled by James ‘Buster’ Douglas. Smith’s defeat was a comprehensive one, the sort that can leave a mental scar. While he should have enough to ease past Castillo, it remains to be seen whether his mentality is strong enough to return to the world title throne.
Should Callum come through this initial test unscathed, there are interesting options available to him. A domestic dust-up with Anthony Yarde would be very exciting, as the former world title challenger continues to rebuild from his loss to Commonwealth champion Lyndon Arthur. Arthur himself represents another fascinating fight, while unbeaten prospect Joshua Buatsi has the sort of strong world rankings that could help Smith mount a title bid should he win. Victory in one or more of these fights against the cream of British contenders and Callum could be well on his way back to a world title shot.
Callum Smith steps into the unknown on Saturday night. But he has done the hard part. The disappointment of the Canelo defeat was keenly felt and has now been compartmentalised. The Liverpudlian pugilist has spent over nine months on the sidelines, redoubling his efforts, revamping his training and revitalising himself for a world title bid in a second division. All he can do now is wait. Callum Smith was the best super middleweight in the world. Could he be the best light heavyweight in the world?