There’s been a lot of justified criticism of the Matchroom / Sky Sports axis in recent weeks, particularly following the collapse of the dual venue extravaganza on October 24th. Originally due to include Fury v Klitschko and Brook v Chaves before losing one, then the other, it ended up being headlined by Chris Eubank Jr v 39 year old fall-guy Tony Jeter. Even Jim Watt, on the commentary was embarrassed by it. As a Saturday night, top-of-the-bill offering, it was probably the worst in living memory.
If the truism holds that a writer is only as good as his last book, or a director his last movie, then a promotional or TV company can only be judged on their last show. How thankful Eddie Hearn and the suits at Sky Sports must be that they have the opportunity to banish those woeful memories so quickly! Even such a heinous waste of customers’ money may be soon forgotten if followed by something worth watching and this Saturday’s “Who’s fooling who?” event at Liverpool’s Echo Arena should win back some much needed credit.
It has to be said that in light of the business model adopted by Sky and Matchroom of late, it is genuinely pleasing to see a match-up like Callum Smith (17-0) v Rocky Fielding (21-0) being made and shown on the standard subscription service, instead of being rolled into a Pay-per-View event. It’s a really fascinating domestic scrap, the sort of fight not seen often enough these days. Two unbeaten prospects competing for the British super-middleweight title and home-city bragging rights, rather than tinkering around with second rate Argentinians for silver and intercontinental belts. It’s how boxing should work. Become the best in your area, then your country, then perhaps the world. There are echoes of Nigel Benn v Michael Watson in 1989.
The buzz emanating around the fight generally points to a Smith win. The 25 year old is odds-on with most bookies. He impressed casuals early in his career with a series of carefully set-up blow-outs, often of much smaller men and the popular view seems to be that he will be too heavy handed for Fielding, particularly if he attacks to the body. Yet his best win to date was in capturing the WBC ‘silver’ title against Christophe Rebrasse, a genuine, durable, if unexceptional super-middleweight, who was comfortably outpointed, but never in real trouble.
Beyond that it has to be pointed out that most of Smith’s stoppages need to be be regarded in context. Callum turned over with Matchroom to considerable fanfare after a glowing amateur career including Commonwealth silver. From there he followed the standard hot-prospect, retain the ticket sales, risk-averse matchmaking progression that always leaves more questions than answers. Even recently, his last five stoppage victories have been against Olegs Fedotovs, a Latvian with a losing record who has hardly ever won outside of his home country, Raphael Sosa Pintos, who has spent most his career in lower weight divisions and is actually boxing at super-welter in a couple of weeks, Abraham Hernandez, who boxes at middleweight, Tobias Webb, a decent area-level fighter who Fielding finished in a round in Prizefighter in 2011 and Francois Bastient, a Frenchman of questionable quality who like so many other of Smith’s opponents to date, has spent much of his career at super-welter.
This is not his fault of course. It is the way of modern boxing promotion and management. Callum cannot be personally blamed for the paucity of genuine matches on his pro record, but has he really demonstrated elite level super-middleweight power or simply shown he is capable of dominating smaller men? It is my view that until proven otherwise, against real super-middleweights who come to win, the view of Smith as a power puncher must be treated as promotional hype.
That is not to say he does not have quality. Smith puts his punches together well and his rangy combinations look truly fierce, but even when in control he can appear a touch stiff from the waist up, showing little in the way of head movement. A lesson learned repeatedly from watching the progression of domestic fighters to title level over the years is that walking forward and attacking in straight lines can work to a point, but very upright, European-style fighters, like Smith, tend to get found out on the big stage. Could Fielding be the man to do it?
Rocky (real name Michael) turned pro with far less acclaim than Smith but nonetheless some of the accusations levelled at Callum’s career are equally true for his. They share a common recent opponent in Fedotovs, for example. Yet his blitzing of an admittedly shopworn Brian Vera last time out was far more impressive than anything Smith has achieved. The Texan has mixed in genuine world class during his career but has never been dominated and stopped in two rounds before. Previously he had twice gone the distance with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. This, along with Fielding’s 5 round destruction of Noe Gonzalez Alcoba last year and 1 round pasting of Luke Blackledge for the Commonwealth belt suggests the 28 year old former prizefighter winner, in contrast to Smith, has shown he really possesses the power to stop genuine, competitive super-middles.
Fielding also fights with more fluidity than Smith and seems, to my eye a more natural boxer. He has perhaps been tested a bit more – cut, backed-up and sometimes put under pressure. Rather than showing inferiority, this might work in his favour. Smith has not and we are yet to really know how he will react when that happens.
I rarely get strong feelings about fights any more, but suspect Fielding will find the younger man’s stationery chin easy to reach. For that reason I am going against the tide of opinion and predicting a Fielding stoppage victory, within the first half of the contest. At 25 /1, Rocky in the fourth, fifth or sixth might just tempt a few pounds of my money.
Pick of the undercard sees British lightweight champ Scotty Cardle defend against Sean Dodd, with the winner looking towards potential future bouts against huge domestic names, while the much vaunted Ohara Davies (also lightweight) goes in with arguably his first real pro test in Birmingham’s Chris Truman.
As my predictions are famously unreliable, I’ve conducted a quick vox-pop of fight-game insiders. How do they see Saturday’s main event going? Here the views of some involved in the UK scene:
Lawrence Bennett (southern area cruiserweight champ) – I think Callum Smith wins. He’s a better all- round fighter and puts his shots together better. Should be a great fight.
Kevin Campion (head of boxing at Goodwin promotions) – It’s a fantastic fight. Neither man has hardly dropped a round in their career. Tough one to call. If it’s by stoppage I actually think Fielding but if it goes to points then Smith. Is a real 50 / 50 pick ‘em.
James Child (super middleweight pro) – It will be tight. Great fight but Smith has to be favoured slightly.
Michael Mooney (light welterweight pro) – Don’t know to be honest! If I had to choose I’d go Smith.
Jon Pegg (manager, matchmaker and trainer) – I think Smith’s body punching will be the difference in a great fight. Smith on points.
Frank Greaves (long time trainer, now also a welterweight pro) – Smith by a late stoppage on body shots. He has better technical ability plus has so far shown the mentality to stick to a game plan.
Jerome Wilson (former light welterweight pro) – Smith is a technically better fighter and shows a good variety of punches to head and body. I’d put my money on him winning by points or late stoppage. But I definitely would not write off Fielding. I see it as a 52/48 fight in favour of Smith. Styles make fights and this should be a great boxing contest. May the best man win and both come out safe.
Lee Connelly (lightweight pro) – I think Smith wins on points, maybe a late stoppage.
Gary ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan (world middleweight contender) – I can’t call this fight. There’s nothing in it, but boxing fans will be the winners here and I’m definitely gonna watch.
Ryan Walsh (British featherweight champion) – Smith on points. He’s a bit better all round. Fielding needs a KO to do it, for me.
Nick Blackwell (British middleweight champion) – Close fight this one! You would pick Callum over Rocky wouldn’t you, but I’m a fan of the underdog so gonna go with Rocky! He looks to be in the best nick of his life and he can punch. He also has Oliver in his corner who I rate highly. Gonna be a great tear up, mind!
Smith – 7
Fielding – 1
Undecided – 3