Can ‘The Gorilla’ prove to be a banana skin for Smith, or will it be a formality for the champion?

Amongst the abundant media furore surrounding Canelo Alvarez’s spectacular demolition of Sergey Kovalev, was a quote from Callum Smith that will have served as a small crumb of encouragement for Smith’s next opponent and mandatory challenger to his WBA crown, John Ryder. The pair meet at the M&S Bank Arena on November 23rd in an all British battle that some will see as a mere formality, but will it be that simple for the current champion from Liverpool?

Smith, who is widely regarded as being top of the pile in the super middleweight division, has thrown his metaphorical hat (or rather his glove) into the ring regarding the possibility of a fight being made with the victorious Mexican. John Ryder will hope this can be just the distraction required to lower Smith’s concentration levels on the job in hand. Speaking about Canelo, Smith told Sky Sports,

“Whether he goes back to 160lbs or 168lbs, I’ve no idea. If he comes to 168lbs, I believe I’m the number one in that division, so he’ll have to come and beat me to take that place.”

Smith’s ‘come and get me’ plea won’t come as a surprise to many. After winning the world boxing super series, Smith had a period of inactivity before facing a small super middleweight in Hassan N’Dam. He is now searching for a career-defining fight, a sell-out fight in an open-air stadium, Anfield would surely be a perfect fit. That’s the dream for him you feel. Of course, there are other fights out there at super middleweight, the likes of Benavidez, Billy Joe Saunders, but the Canelo fight guarantees a sell-out.

There should be an element of trepidation with making such statements though. The general consensus amongst the boxing fraternity pre-Canelo knocking out Kovalev, was that Canelo rarely gets the knockout in big fights and that Smith would be too big for Canelo, hence why he picked Rocky Fielding for his super middleweight debut instead. However, to take another angle, would Smith and his team be confident of taking out Kovalev in the same manner as Canelo, should he ever make the expected, eventual move up to light heavyweight? Maybe they would, but for the moment it’s all irrelevant because they have a live challenger in front of them in Ryder, a fighter who is a mandatory let’s not forget and a fighter who has had the sort of career resurrection you can only dream of.

Even Ryder himself would probably agree that, following the knockout defeat at the hands of Nick Blackwell for the vacant British middleweight title in 2015, it would be difficult to envisage competing four years later for the WBA and WBC diamond titles at super middleweight. It’s been a moderate and diligent rise, as opposed to a meteoric one. Excellent wins against the likes of Jamie Cox have been littered with losses to Jack Arnfield and Rocky Fielding. Nevertheless, Ryder has manoeuvred himself into position and I’m sure he won’t want to let the opportunity be squandered softly.

So how will the fight be won and lost?

Ryder is an explosive puncher once he gets inside, but getting inside will be the key to his success. It will be a tall order achieving it against someone he will be giving away a 6-inch height advantage to. The enormity of his task can best be exemplified by a fighter who has come up from middleweight, fighting someone who will inevitably end up at light heavyweight. Ryder is a southpaw who, when he is measuring up his opponent, tends to make small circular movements with his right hand before executing lunging jabs to body and head, not unlike an Olympic fencer. He did this to Akkawy to try to condition him to the jab before launching attacks with a left-hand lead upstairs to surprise him.

Once Ryder does manage to land a decent shot, he quickly moves his feet in behind to get in range, triggering a flurry of ferocious hooks and although he can be offensively dangerous, he does sometimes get involved in a shoot-out. That is something that he can’t afford to be embroiled in against Smith. It’s not so much that he neglects his defensive responsibility, he does tuck his chin down behind his left glove and turns in his shoulder to deflect shots, but it’s his eagerness to rush in close in an attempt to positively impact the fight which he needs to be wary of, especially against a fantastic counter-puncher like Smith.

If he is to affect the fight in his favour, then Ryder will have to show discipline and caution whilst coming into range. Something Groves found out to his detriment. A left hook around the outside of Ryder’s jab will be a worry for Ryder’s team.

The man from Islington could do worse than look at emulating the game plan that Canelo adopted against Kovalev, by looking to work the body under the high guard of Smith given the opportunity and switch upstairs when he has managed to navigate through the defence and jab of the Liverpudlian.

I suspect that Ryder will attempt to keep out of harm's way and survive the opening rounds, with a view to stepping it up once he has a foothold in the fight, hoping that Smith grows in frustration. Smith can start quickly like he did against Fielding and Ryder will be well aware of that. Upsetting his range and rhythm early on will be tantamount to his chances and it can be done, Erik Skoglund and Nieky Holzken had moderate success doing so.

Callum Smith has an inimitable style, owing to his comparatively huge frame for the super middleweight division, a sheer monster at the weight. The man from Liverpool is an orthodox fighter with an upright style, a relatively high guard (which is not uncommon for a Joe Gallagher fighter). A very tall man, standing at 6ft 3, Smith is a lean fighter with deceptively concussive punch power, generated by those long levers and has demonstrated this on plenty of occasions.

Smith has a decent jab, usually a range finder to set up and detonate a straight right hand off the back of it, his ‘money shot’ if you like.

He will look to push and bully Ryder into a corner, cutting off the ring and giving himself the necessary space to start unloading power shots. If he manages to do that then Ryder could find himself in some unavoidable trouble.

Success for Smith will come from power shots, he isn’t one for wasting punches and is not renowned for throwing lots of quick, short combinations, he will wait patiently for openings and ways to expose weaknesses via counter-attacks. If he can connect significantly and early, then it could signal an early night’s work, but he must concentrate and ensure he doesn’t wait for the perfect punch.

As well as scoring knockouts through his power, he is equally adept at timing his shots to perfection as a method of stopping opponents. He dropped Hassan N’Dam with a sumptuous chopping right hand, a shot that could prove crucial in this fight, especially given the height advantage. If Ryder marches forward negligently and allows his left hand to drop or tries to throw his own backhand and falls short, Smith will be waiting to throw a counter right over the top of it.

The bookmakers have Smith as the overwhelming favourite to win at 1/16 and you would be a brave man to back against it, but it’s boxing and as someone famous once said: “To be a champ you have to believe in yourself when no one else will.”

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