After over a year out of the ring and a ton of outside the ring contract issues and whatnot, Canelo Alvarez returns on Saturday (Dec. 18, DAZN, 8 pm ET) to face Callum Smith, with Smith defending the WBA super middleweight title, and the vacant WBC belt also at stake.
Will the Mexican superstar Canelo win real world titles in a fourth weight class, or does Callum Smith have the tools to pull the upset?
Our staffers make their picks.
I’ve spent a good while in comments conversations here repeating my belief that Callum Smith is “Liam but tall,” so let me clarify because maybe that has been sort of misconstrued, or maybe it would be now. Liam Smith, Callum’s brother, is a damn good professional boxer. Internet dumb-dumbs would have you think everyone who isn’t one of the two or seven best fighters in the sport at a given time actually sucks, but Liam Smith is a good fighter.
Callum Smith is a good fighter. I think he’s reached somewhat higher peaks than Liam (and it’s closer than you might think) because of his natural gifts, the fact that he’s 6’3” and not 5’9”. Skill-wise, I don’t think Callum is really any better than Liam. I think he is taller, and that has given him advantages Liam could never have.
That tall part might give Canelo some looks early, four or five rounds, but ultimately I don’t think Callum is good enough to sincerely trouble Alvarez. Smith should have lost to John Ryder last time out, but maybe it was a rough night for him, or a great night for Ryder, whatever, things happen. I’m not writing Smith off on that alone. And I also believe Canelo-Kovalev was legitimately fairly close. But I think Canelo respected Kovalev’s power more than he will Callum’s, I think he’ll be more comfortable at 168 than he was at 175, and I think he’ll fight with a little less caution than he did against the Russian. I think the end result is about the same. Canelo is just too much better a fighter for Smith’s height advantage to make enough difference. Watch the body shots. Canelo TKO-10
Much like was the case in my GGG-Szeremeta pick, I’m naturally going to assume the rest of the staff will pick Canelo to whoop up on Callum Smith. That means I must do the opposite as I go out on my shield. I mean, hey, there are reasons to go out on a limb by picking Smith since he really is a large super middleweight who seems fully aware that he has to have it completely turned on for this outing, and this is exactly the fight he wanted, so he should be primed to make the most of it.
If Smith can push the pace enough to offset the eye-catching counters of Canelo, he could be able to rack up enough points in the early going to get some momentum and confidence. I think there is something to what Smith said earlier this week about Canelo looking for more singular big shots as he’s moved up in weight, and that could provide Smith with a path to victory here if he’s prepared to set the pace of the fight. The tough thing here is picking against Canelo on the cards, and I don’t know that Smith can consistently catch Canelo clean enough to inflict enough damage for a stoppage, so I’m really between a rock and a hard place with this pick. Questionable judging is much more likely than a Smith stoppage here, I think. Smith SD-12
How to Watch Canelo vs Smith
Patrick L. Stumberg
I’m genuinely a lot more torn on this than I thought I’d be. The kneejerk reaction is to point at John Ryder, who managed to consistently bully “Mundo” despite not being much taller or longer than Canelo, but that doesn’t hold up by itself. For one, Ryder’s a southpaw, and for two, it took Canelo half an hour to get through Sergey Kovalev’s noncommittal jabs and land something telling. Cliche as it sounds, they each have the tools necessary to win this fight.
What just barely seals it for Canelo is Smith’s willingness to mix it up. Before things went pear-shaped in the 11th, Kovalev did a generally solid job of staying mobile and never planting his feet, and Canelo wasn’t able to do much in response besides bring up his earmuffs. By contrast, Smith sits down on his jabs, doesn’t move as well as Kovalev did in that fight, and is generally happy to exchange at close quarters, all of which give Canelo opportunities to close the gap and let his combinations fly. Smith might be able to eke out a win with an uncharacteristically passive gameplan, but in what’s probably a 55/45 to 60/40 sort of matchup, Canelo does enough good work inside to claim closer-than-necessary cards. Canelo UD-12
With a significant height and reach advantage over Canelo, Smith will see this as his big key to victory. Constantly peppering Canelo and deploying feints will, in theory, keep him out of range of Canelo’s heat in return – unfortunately for him, this fight won’t be fought on paper. Canelo is a master at using his feet to close the distance and with a granite set of whiskers on him won’t be fazed by clocking a few in order to fire off a combination. He’ll no doubt target the body of Smith and should be able to wear the Briton down perhaps after giving away the first few rounds. Ryder set the blueprint of bullying Smith on the inside in their fight last year – not that the Mexican needs an example to follow – and if Smith isn’t firing at 100% of his potential he’ll get found out. Don’t get me wrong, in terms of the alternatives around 160 and 168 I think this is a cracking fight. I just see it fairly comfortably for Canelo. A poetic stoppage in the 9th with a left hook to the liver – matching that of Liam in 2016. Canelo TKO-9