John Dennen speaks to trainer Joe Gallagher about how Callum Smith is preparing to take on the best fighter in the world, Canelo Alvarez
FIGHTING Canelo Alvarez is a golden opportunity for any super-middleweight. For WBA world champion Callum Smith that chance comes, at relatively short notice, on December 19.
But he’s been training, expecting to box around that time himself. Now he has just over 30 days to fine tune his preparations for the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world today. “I think we get on a plane three weeks on Friday. That sounds mad saying it to you. We get on a plane three weeks Friday. The fight’s four weeks Saturday. We’ve got three weeks’ work now,” Joe Gallagher, Smith’s trainer, tells Boxing News. “Callum Smith, like Canelo, wanted to fight before the end of the year and he was training. There was a shortlist of opponents drawn up. That was it, we were just waiting.
“It’s great we’ve got the fight. We’ve got three weeks training left and we’ve got to go get the sparring partners to do it. But Callum’s in a good place. Conditioning wise he’s really good, his weight’s really good. So we were on track for December 12, 18, 19. At one point there was talk about Boxing Day. But we were always going to fight before the end of the year. It’s just now really putting the foot to the floor for the next two weeks. Over the next two weeks it’ll be really cranked up now. I think there’s six to 10 sparring sessions to go.
“I already know the sparring, I already know who I want, everyone knows what they’re doing.”
Gallagher declines to comment on the external sparring partners being brought in, but Smith has been having quality spars with gymmates light-heavyweight contender Callum Johnson and Callum’s brother Liam, who fought Canelo himself in 2016. “We’ve got Callum Johnson in house who’s strong powerful and he’s been studying a bit of Canelo, replicating. Liam is here for technique and different shots,” Gallagher said. “We’re in a pandemic, we’re in a lockdown so we’re very fortunate we’ve got some good in house sparring. I’m going to bring in one or two kids that I think will do a job. That’s it. Three weeks work to do before we get on that plane.”
But he’s pleased with the fighter’s progress. “He’s at a point now where he’s ready to step up the rounds in the sparring, the intensity and technique side of it. It’s not a case of just doing hard rounds sparring, it’s technique sparring, conditions and make sure he can do what he’s doing in technique sparring and set piece work and make sure he can do that in proper live situations. That’s where we are at the moment, we’re putting the jigsaw puzzle together,” Gallagher said. “Liam Smith has fought him, I’ve studied him [Alvarez] so much before.”
The team’s experience of an Alvarez fight and an Alvarez fight week is going to prove instructive. “A long time ago I dissected a lot of stuff that Liam did well against Canelo, I dissected a lot of stuff Mayweather did well against Canelo, I had it all there and always sent it across,” Gallagher explained. “It’s a great opportunity. Not only the fight in the ring, before the fight: the way they approach the scales, the way they jump on and off and everyone just calls it. You’ve got to be switched on at all angles. When you’re over in America, we’ve seen it, there’s lessons learned. I’ll be interested to see the officials. I really do want to see some British officials involved in the fight. When Liam Smith fought Canelo he got done with a shot to the back of the head that dropped him. Callum Johnson with his head through the ropes, Beterbiev got a shot on the back of the head. You have to fight over there and we know we’re going into Canelo’s territory and we know we want a fair shake in the officials, whether there’s a British referee involved or a British judge but we do want a fair representation.
“Being at Dallas before [for Liam’s fight], in that State over there, anything goes, stacked hands, electrolytes in the corner, we’ve got to be switched on to that. It is what it is. If we take matters into our own hands and get a stoppage we won’t need the judges will we?”
Callum too has had Canelo Alvarez on his mind for some time. The two sides had entered negotiations previously, earlier this year, and though the talks went to the wire, on Tuesday night the deal got over the line. The next challenge of course is trying to handle Alvarez in the ring.
“Canelo’s a very good fighter. He’s used to sparring [light-heavyweight champion Sergey] Kovalev years ago. He knows to judge distance well, he knows when to put you under pressure. What Canelo does very well, he gets you fighting his rhythm, then he accelerates it and puts it back down again and you end up boxing to his rhythm and his timing and his speed,” Gallagher reflects. “Don’t let him breathe, keep working, keep walking him down, I feel that may be a good way of beating Canelo. No matter what Canelo tries you have an answer for and sometimes you may have to back him up, let the shots go and you know he’s going to come for you but then you’ve got to come back. Can Canelo fight that hard for 12 rounds?
“When we beat George Groves in the World Boxing Super Series as happy as I was, I was gutted as well because he had so much more to offer. That was prime Callum Smith and if I can get that Callum Smith in the ring against Canelo, I hope everyone then will go Callum Smith – pound-for-pound number one in the world.”
“A motivated Callum Smith has always performed,” Joe adds. “Callum’s out to make a statement.”