CALLUM SMITH is in a curious position. Out in Nuremberg, preparing to box Nieky Holzken, a kickboxer adapting to boxing, in a fight he surely will win, a fight he must win. It’s the World Boxing Super Series semi-final. Victory will guarantee Smith a shot at WBA super-middleweight world champion George Groves.
“It’s a huge fight for me,” Smith said of Groves. “There’s a lot at stake.”
If he doesn’t beat Holzken “the big fight’s gone”. He continued, “It’s not just this fight, it’s what comes after it. It adds pressure, but the whole tournament’s pressure. I had to win two fights to get to it, now I’ve got to win one, I’m one step closer to fighting for a world title, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a few years.”
Smith had been preparing for experienced southpaw Juergen Braehmer, who pulled out of the fight with a virus only on the Tuesday before the Sunday. He has had a long, intense training camp for a southpaw. That goes out the window as he has to adapt to a different opponent, albeit one far below Callum’s level. Smith is not only a former British and European champion as a professional, he was a world class amateur and is a big super-middle as well.
He has to resist looking ahead to the potential Groves fight. “I’ve had a good camp. I’ve tried my best to not focus on that,” Smith said. “Just concentrate on your own fight [but] it is hard not look at them. It is a huge fight. A world title fight and a domestic showdown.”
He does not expect travelling to Germany to be a problem, even if Holzken is popular in the arena. “You just learn to listen to your corner, if they’re saying you’re winning, you’re winning. Just ignore their crowd and stuff. I just feel my amateur experience will help with that,” he said. “If it was in Liverpool I wouldn’t plan on leaving it close. I’d like to win convincingly regardless of where it is in the world. If I can win well, I’ll win well.
“When I signed up for the tournament, I knew there’d be chance I’d have to travel. It’s a worldwide tournament. I thought I’d have to travel the first fight, they were trying to get [Anthony] Dirrell in it.”
After defeating Erik Skoglund in their quarter-final, Smith needs a performance on Saturday. “I believe I beat a good fighter in Skoglund. I believe I slightly underperformed and he performed very well. I still beat him but I think people beforehand were expecting me to do an easier job. Because I didn’t, it was a big surprise. Whereas with [Avni] Yildirim, he’d been built up. People were expecting him to give Eubank a fight and when he didn’t it was a shock,” Smith said.
“When I was watching [Rob] Brant against Braehmer I was thinking why didn’t I pick him? In the long run the Skoglund fight was good for me. I’d had a long time out and I had a good 12 rounds against a good opponent, a big light-heavyweight. I think although I got a bit of criticism in the long run that will benefit me than Brant and if I possibly knocked him out.
“I did underperform but I got my career best win after a 10 month lay-off.”