Right everybody. ... We're back to scouting some of the world's best young boxing talents. Be warned, I may have gone a bit overboard this time and this particular fanpost is a bit long. In case you're just joining us, we're continuing our quest for poor ratings on a weekly show nobody watches and nobody wants. In our previous episodes, we had a look at:
Heavyweight Anthony Joshua, touted as the next great heavyweight of his generation.
Light heavyweight Russian youngster Dmitry Bivol
Minimumweight titleholder Kosei Tanaka
Former 2012 US Olympian Jose Carlos Ramirez, fighting at jr. welterweight.
Power punching American super-featherweight Saul Rodriguez
Former 2012 US Olympian Joseph 'JoJo' Diaz Jr., fighting at featherweight.
Argentinian buzzsaw light middleweight Brian Castano.
In an effort to pander to our esteemed, sofisticated, historical and not at all imperialistic British audience, we shall endeavour to have a look at Callum Smith, the youngest of the boxing Smith family, that also includes Super Middleweight fringe contender Paul Smith, Super Featherweight contender Stephen Smith and Light Middleweight titleholder Liam Smith. Callum is a former two-time amateur champion and Commonwealth Games silver medalist, now competing as a Super Middleweight. He has been a pro for just over 3 years, has thus far ammassed a record of 18-0 with 13 KOs and was deemed the brightest Super Middleweight prospect at the moment by our very own Scott Christ, the Nicholas Walters of boxing bloggers.
And if I do say so myself, he is as handsome as they come:
I have managed to find several of his bouts on Youtube. If you don't have time to watch all of them, I suggest watching the Webb, Rebrasse and Fielding bouts.
Here is his 8th (brief) pro bout, his first relative step up against Gambian toughman Patrick Mendy
Here is his 10th pro bout, a 3rd round stoppage against French trialhorse Francois Bastient
Here is his 11th pro bout, against another British prospect, the 14-1 Tobias Webb.
And here is the first bout we see go the full distance, against an experienced prospect tester, US-based Vladine Biosse
His 15th fight is another step-up, against European-level contender Nikola Sjekloca, who had recently gone the distance with both Sakio Bika and Arthur Abraham. He also lasted the distance against Callum.
His 17th pro bout was probably his best or 2nd best win against another European-level contender, Frenchman Cristopher Rebrasse, who had most recently pushed George Groves for 12 rounds. Once again, this bout goes the distance, which makes this nearly 3 fucking hours of Callum Smith footage that I have thus far watched.
And his most recent and highest profile win was the immediate wipeout of the other highly-touted British Super Middleweight prospect, big-punching Rocky Fielding
As usual, here is a list of things I noticed, divided into several categories:
The Very Best
1) Size. Callum Smith is simply huge, pretty much dwarfs all of his Super Middleweight opponents. I have absolutely no idea how he makes the 168-pound limit, to me he looks bigger than every single World-ranked cruiserweight out there. And his body doesn't look drained, either.
2) Overall technique. Smith seems to be the proverbial 'coach's son'. He does everything very correctly from a technical standpoint: good leverage and good weight on his punches, uses his feet and his bodyweight well, moves in rythm, jabs, keeps his hands up, he is a walking gif-manual of how to box correctly.
3) Punch Variation. Callum Smith can and does throw every punch in the book in all sorts of combinations, even the rare left uppercut from an orthodox stance off a lead jab.
4) Body Punching. He is a consistent body puncher, not always terribly effective, but throw enough at the wall and something eventually sticks... with devastating effect.
5) Using distance. Smith uses his tremendous length and size advantage well. He creates and keeps distance with his jab, he fights tall and he keeps his head high and back during combinations. He is difficult to counter because his head is usually out of reach (if not always tremendously protected) during combinations and he manages to step back somewhat quickly whenever the threat of return fire emerges.
6) Work Rate. Smith punches a lot for his size. He keeps a constant work rate, gradually builds up points, very very patiently and insistently works his man.
7) Chin. Just like Saul Rodriguez, I think I've seen him take enough flush shots to the chin (including from a serious puncher like Fielding) to say that he can take a shot.
8) Concentration and awareness. This is something subtle, but I noticed Callum Smith is always thinking and in control of his punches. I have noticed several instances where he pulled a punch at the very last moment because either the ref had interviened, a towel had been thrown or the opponent had gone down. Many boxers usually let go of that last punch that wasn't needed anymore because they were in the middle of a punching frenzy. Not Smith, he is fully aware of everything going on in and around the ring at all times.
9) Power. I am convinced that this is going to be controversial as he is seen by most British fans as being a big puncher. He has a gret KO ratio and his most recent win was an absolute squashing of Rocky Fielding. BUT! I actually feel that outside Fielding, he failed to stop all three of the fringe European contenders he fought. Biosse has been stopped in 5 out of 7 losses, including by J'Leon Love. Most of the guys Callum has stopped have been stopped many many times. And Fielding... I know I might get some hate from British fans for this, but I have always believed that when a guy goes down from the very first punch landed in the fight, he must have come in already semi-concussed. I bet Fielding got knocked out or at least concussed in sparring one or two weeks before the fight and was not right going in. I also feel Smith kind of arm-punches sometimes.
10) Jab. I am a bit of a jab purist and I would like to see even more from Smith. He has a better and more active jab than most of the prospects I've seen and he uses it well to set up his attacks. But this is exactly why I don't rate it as 'good'. For someone who has such good fundamentals and understanding of the jab, he should be turning it into a lethal weapon, he could be dominating and manoeuvring guys around the ring at will, yet for him it's just ... one of the things he just casually does.
11) Patience and pacing. I wouldn't call it stamina, but Smith is very careful and very calculated with his energy reserves. He intelligently adapts his rythm to how long he starts feeling a bout will last. I have also not seen him punch himself out or tire out towards the end of his bouts, although his workrate decreased slightly in long bouts.
The Not So Great But Improving
12) Hand speed. I think Callum's punches are somewhat cautious and calculated, and 90% of the time surprisingly slow. To me, while his work-rate belies his size, his hand-speed is that of a cruiserweight.
13) Guard. This is the second British prospect where I notice this after Joshua. For a guy who keeps his hands up as much as he does, a surprising amount of punches sneak in to his face/chin somehow. A lot of work still needs to be done in this area, although I saw improvement in the bout against Rebrasse.
14) Cutting off the ring. His footwork is a bit deliberate and he doesn't naturally anticipate and react to opponents moving laterally.
15) Head movement. Smith eats too many straight right hands from fighters that punch soooo slooooowly.
16) Inside fighting. He doesn't like to be taken inside and it really takes away from his strengths, but he does hold his own and covers up well. The problem is that he doesn't use this opportunity to grab his opponent, lean on him and tire him out. A physically bigger fighter should always learn to use his size when fighting inside.
17) Punch accuracy. To my eye he misses a lot with his punches, and some of them go way wide or way over, and his punching movement continues long and deep after the fist has already gone past his opponent's head.
18) Timing and counterpunching. Smith is used to dictating the offense. This is something that is absolutely characteristic of all high-end prospects used to dominating all of their opponents. He does not know how to turn an opponent's offense into opportunities for himself. When under attack, he either steps back and tries to get out of range or he covers up and weathers the storm. But he doesn't seem capable to stop an opponent from closing the distance on him (which by the way is something his jab will have to fix) and even less so of hitting said opponent when he's coming in.
19) Ring generalship, aggression, initiative. Now, regarding the Sjekloca bout... I do know that his grandmother had passed away the week of the fight and I'm sure that impacted both his final training sessions and his mental state for that bout, but it has to be said: in that bout he let even the shiest attempts at pressure from Sjekloca push him back to the ropes, where he stopped dictating the tempo of the bout and let himself be attacked. And then against Rebrasse, more of the same, he let the other man push him to the ropes and dictate the exchanges. At least you can argue that Rebrasse's attacks were more educated. It is not a good idea for a guy without much counterpunching ability and with a questionable guard to let himself be pushed back to the ropes so easily, especially by an obviously inferior opponent with little power. I would actually like to come back to this point in a future article, but 'how easily are you distracted from your normal flow of operation?' is one of the key questions each prospect has to answer before moving on to world-contender status.
20) Killer instinct. This one is a bit of a double-edged sword. I think Callum is very very calculated and cautious when he has his man hurt. It's not that he doesn't attack him, but he does so without putting his full weight into punches and without visibly upping the speed or rate of his punching. Even Fielding managed to survive a long time after being initially flattened, and managed to get quite a few power shots in throughout the ensuing exchanges. You could call it poise/patience and rate it as a good thing, or you could call it lack of finishing instinct and call it a bad thing. I think it's not necessarily a big disadvantage.
21) Too orthodox. I know this sounds a bit weird. Smith does everything by the book. But there's no flair, no awkwardness, no unexpected movements. I think that if you were to study him sufficiently, you could definitely map out exactly what he does and when/how he does it. I don't mean this in an 'entertainment' sense, I am not saying that if a fighter doesn't stick his chin out or taunt his opponent then he is boring me. Smith is plenty entertaining with his work rate and heavy body shots. I just mean that he is unlikely to ever surprise his opponent mid-round with anything out of the blue. At some point in the videos above Demetrius Andrade was ringside supporting one of Callum's opponents. And I immediately thought of Andrade as an example of how a fighter can be so much bigger than his opponents, be trained to use that correctly, yet at the same time manage to be at least a little bit awkward, shifty and mobile instead of straight-up tall.
22) Experience against southpaws. Well... this is a new one! I am not sure I've ever seen a high-end prospect having gone 18 bouts and having only faced one southpaw opponent, in this case Vladine Biosse. Granted, Smith didn't seem bothered by the angles or the stance in that bout, but he did seem slightly more open to counters and lead left hands from the southpaw position. I can only shake my head at his matchmaking. Isn't this something you have to check and work on before stepping to the next level?
The Downright Horrible
- There is nothing that Callum Smith does that is a major problem.
Callum Smith is a very correct and well-schooled boxer. He is well trained, he is very intelligent and patient, he has tremendous size plus the knowledge and ability to use it, he has power, he has technique, he has a good understanding of defense, he has versatility, conditioning, chin and he has shown the ability to transition from a puncher to a boxer when stepping up in opposition. The main concern I have is that he doesn't seem to have that extra gear or an unexpected, flashy change of style, of angles or of pace. Sure, if your opponent falls down flat on his face at your landed first power punch, like many of his opponents (including Fielding) have done, then great. If they don't, you start working them - you jab them, you throw combination punches, you go to the body and start breaking them down over the long haul. But here's the million dollar (pound?) question: what if that still doesn't stop them or even slow them down? What if they keep coming and what if they respond to every combination of yours with a combination of theirs? Then what? Because the two best opponents of his career thus far have managed to push him back and to disrupt his normal flow of operations. And when he lets the other man take the initiative, really, he starts losing rounds there. So if you're losing rounds, you're not dictating the tempo, you're landing your usual shots but they're not making a dent and the opponent shows no sign of tiring out or slowing down, what do you do? What do you change up? What else can you bring to the table? Because during the Rebrasse fight, they were interviewing his brother Paul Smith in between rounds and they asked him what Callum can do to start breaking Rebrasse down and the answer was "well, hopefully a few more rounds and Rebrasse will start getting tired". Isn't that the Arthur Abraham approach to boxing? Did Paul come out that impressed from his two bouts with Abraham? (To be fair that's pretty much what happened in that fight - the same punches he was throwing finally started having an effect on Rebrasse)
Anyway, I digress. In short, Callum Smith has all the tools to be a serious player in the Super Middleweight division. But to reach his full potential he needs to consistently find more of a mean streak inside himself. He is patient and calculated and surgical to a fault, actually to the point of losing rounds he could be winning by just attacking more. Stop letting tough fighters take you to deep waters! How about you start taking them to deep waters?
I genuinely think Smith is just one simple adjustment away from becoming a long-time titleholder at 168/175 pounds: learning to deal with pressure.