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Smith vs Fowler preview: Strong main event matchup pairs with compelling undercard

Liam Smith and Anthony Fowler headline Saturday in Liverpool, but it’s not the only fight of note on a muscular Matchroom card.

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Matthew Pover/Matchroom Boxing
Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

Liam Smith and Anthony Fowler are set to meet in a 154 lb showdown that comes at a must-win stage for both men Saturday in their shared hometown of Liverpool, England, and the Matchroom card has more going for it than its main event, too.

We’ll have full live coverage on Saturday, but let’s take a quick look at the key notes for this card.

How good a fight is Smith vs Fowler?

The 33-year-old “Beefy” Smith has never received the sort of hype that younger brother Callum got for winning a World Boxing Super Series tournament at 168 lbs and thus being seen as the top dog in his division for a spell, but Liam (29-3-1, 16 KO) has been a quality fighter for a long time, and still. If he were the one born into a 6’3” body and still able to have made 168 lbs, he could have gotten the same buzz as Callum; their skills are comparable.

Liam did hold a 154 lb world title, grabbing a vacant strap in 2015 and defending twice before losing to Canelo Alvarez in 2016, the same fate that awaited his brother two divisions up and four years later. He had two hard-fought wins over Liam Williams in 2017, lost another world title fight against Jaime Munguia in 2018, and then rattled off three straight victories before a highly controversial loss to Magomed Kurbanov earlier this year in Russia. He remains a solid contender in a crowded division filled with fighters who are good but not elite, a borderline top 10 guy who probably would be universally seen as a top 10 guy if he’d gotten his hand raised against Kurbanov.

Fowler turned pro in 2017 after a strong amateur career that saw him win a bronze at the 2013 World Championships, gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and represent Great Britain at the 2016 Olympics. He wasn’t a fully finished product coming into the pro game, but at 26 and with his level of high-end amateur experience, he wasn’t far off.

A rivalry with Scott Fitzgerald ended in a decision loss for Fowler at home in Liverpool in 2019, an upset that saw Fowler dropped in the 10th round, ultimately making the difference on two cards, though really the fight should have gone to Fitzgerald either way, as he was simply the better fighter on the night.

Now 30, Fowler (15-1, 12 KO) has fought six carefully chosen opponents on his latest win streak, not bad fighters mostly, but no one who figured to have a real upset shot, and none of them came close to an upset. It has been a bit of well-managed rehab, perhaps mostly on the metal side, as Fowler is confident bordering on arrogant in interviews and whatnot, and the shock of losing to Fitzgerald may have needed shaking off.

Smith is a step up for Fowler, and not so much the other way around, but it’s must-win for both. Smith is speaking confidently, almost dismissively of the matchup, but that’s more likely mind games than overconfidence. He’s a pro’s pro, he’s been in with the best, he’s been around the block, and he may be looking to see if he can rattle Fowler a little bit and bait him into fight night mistakes or a distracted final run of preparation.

Smith needs this because a loss here, and he’s got a long way to go to get back in the world title conversation, and not a lot of prime years left to do it. Fowler needs it because he needs a truly credible win, one everyone can point at and say, “That was quality.” Stylistically, neither man does anything particularly special. Smith is, as said before on this site, a good, meat-and-potatoes sort of fighter, and that’s not meant as a slight. There are a lot of more naturally “gifted” fighters who could do with some more solid fundamental work like Smith always brings. Fowler’s best work probably is along the same vein, though he’s got a bit more flash and I think clearly a bit more raw power in his punch.

It’s a damn good fight and should have an electric crowd in Liverpool.

Is Shannon Courtenay in trouble against Jamie Mitchell?

Boxing at York Hall Photo by James Chance/Getty Images

Shannon Courtenay (7-1, 3 KO) has been a house favorite at Matchroom since turning pro in 2019, with an unusual journey into pro boxing, and some mixed results and reactions in her still-young career.

Courtenay was winning but not always wowing in her first five bouts, then had a really good fight and close loss against Rachel Ball in a “Fight Camp” bout in Aug. 2020. Courtenay’s immediate reaction did not come off well, to be honest, but when she got some time away from it, she made the clear choice to get back to work, get better, and come back stronger. She’s done that, and won the vacant WBA bantamweight title in a terrific all-action brawl with Ebanie Bridges in April.

Mitchell (6-0-2, 4 KO) is a 36-year-old American fighter, a former amateur standout. Apart from her goofy threats about Courtenay “needing a miracle to escape this fight without choking on her own blood,” the reality is that Mitchell probably has better boxing schooling than Courtenay does, and Courtenay absolutely needs to be coming into this fight expecting the toughest night of her career. Jamie Mitchell is no joke and no pushover; she’s got better power than most women’s fighters and some good skills. She has also been a bit inconsistent as a pro, resulting in the pair of draws (one with bare knuckle sensation Britain Hart), but this is far from an easy matchup for Courtenay, I think, and really might turn out to have been a very bad choice of opponent.

“The Big Cheese” looks to move onward and upward

Boxing at Copper Box Arena Photo by James Chance/Getty Images

The 154 lb domestic scene in the United Kingdom has been a wonderful thing to watch for a while now, somewhat quietly one of the best things in boxing the last few years. Ted Cheeseman, a two-time and the current reigning British champion, will return in another big domestic matchup, defending his title against Troy Williamson.

Cheeseman (17-2-1, 10 KO) first won the British title back in 2018, but didn’t defend it, instead opting to face European champion Sergio Garcia in early 2019. The night was a disaster, as Garcia soundly out-boxed Cheeseman in London, and after a controversial draw with Kieron Conway (Cheeseman won that fight) and a controversial loss to Scott Fitzgerald (Cheeseman quite arguably won that fight, too), you had to wonder if Ted would get back to form.

He has. Wins over Sam Eggington and JJ Metcalf have both been outstanding fights, and the Metcalf bout put the British belt back around Cheeseman’s waist. Ted, who it may shock you to learn is still just 26, now wants to get past Williamson and take another crack at a higher level.

“This is my last hurdle at British level. I’m very motivated for this fight,” he said. “Troy is a good fighter. Obviously he hasn’t had any tests like me. I don’t think he’s had a proper gut check yet, but he’s unbeaten and he doesn’t want to lose his unbeaten record. He’s a tough fighter and he can bang a bit. It’s a good test but I believe my experience will count in the end.”

Cheeseman’s assessment of Williamson (16-0-1, 12 KO) is solid. At 30, Williamson seems destined to stay at domestic level, but you never know. He didn’t exactly blow past Harry Scarff last year, but he stopped Kieran Smith impressively in April of this year to set up this title shot. Cheeseman is plenty hittable, though he can box pretty effectively, and Williamson can punch a bit, as Ted notes.

The bottom line with Ted Cheeseman fights is you want to watch them because they’re really never boring. Even in his less action-focused bouts, he’s compelling to watch because he always might turn up the heat — by choice or necessity — and give you some thrilling stuff.

This is another good matchup at 154 in the UK, and the card also has an extra solid bout at the weight, as Kieron Conway (16-2-1, 3 KO) faces JJ Metcalf (21-1, 13 KO), which could be another good tear-up.

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