By James Allen
Saturday, April 8th at the Manchester Arena. The time and place where British super-welterweight champion Liam Williams was beaten for the first time in a fight he was winning. He dominated former WBO World champion Liam Smith for nine rounds before an intrusive cut over the right eye prompted his trainer Gary Lockett to pull him out of the contest. It was a bitter, inconclusive ending.
A clean punch opened the wound that saved Smith from a second career defeat. It was one of a sparse bunch as he struggled to build momentum from behind that trademark Joe Gallagher guard. For the first seven rounds, Smith displayed the same patient inactivity that sometimes hindered former stablemate, Scott Quigg. He favoured catching shots on the gloves as he edged forward and showed less head movement than was needed to dodge many of the punches coming his way. It was as one-paced as he has ever looked, even if he appeared set to find another gear around the time of the stoppage.
It was as though he felt no sense of urgency to do anything more. By his own admission after the fight, he gave away the early rounds by ‘being lazy and standing there.’ Before the bout, he stated repeatedly that this was not a fifty-fifty fight as many were suggesting. He felt he was a level above Williams and approached the fight accordingly, even missing weight by 1 pound and 10 ounces, meaning he was ineligible for the oh so prestigious interim WBO World title that was hastily thrown on the line by promoter Frank Warren, no doubt in the belief such a trinket would somehow elevate a fight more anticipated than the main event to follow.
Adversely, Williams established his rhythm early, chipping away at the rock in front of him as soon as the opening bell rang. He kept the action moving with little steps before and after his combinations, had consistent success with straight one-twos, left hooks, and the right uppercut, the latter especially, which he slotted up through Smith’s high guard, jolting the target time and again. He employed a range of defensive strategies, sometimes sliding out of distance, then a little shoulder roll and sway. As the rounds wore on and the exchanges opened up, he was not too proud to clinch either. It was a tactically astute showing. He opened a cut over Smith’s right eyebrow in the third – one almost as bad as the one he was to suffer five rounds later – bloodied his lip and swelled his eyes. If he could have kept on in the same vein there is no doubt he would have emerged victorious.
Ifs, ands, and buts; torturous little words for one whose fingertips have grazed against glory only to have it snatched away. For all the good Williams did over twenty-seven minutes it wasn’t enough to beat a man with this kind of tough. Never did Liam Smith shy away from the punches he was taking, not once did he hesitate or waver. He insisted after the fight he was sure to win over the later rounds despite visible evidence he had been on the wrong side of a pasting.
In truth he was growing as Williams was shrinking, his output increasing as the shots coming back became less frequent and lost their accuracy. It ain’t where you’re from it’s where your at. Not how you start, it’s how you finish. The way this fight was evolving I would bank on Smith putting Williams though a torrid final third had the rounds been allowed to roll on. Whether that would have been enough to get him the win is debatable.
A rematch is natural but Smith greeted the prospect with a disinterested shrug. Maybe, if I feel like it, it seemed to say. Williams looked desperate for it, his pained disappointment evident at ringside afterwards, his expression hurt, his voice quiet. He had been deflated. Frank Warren seems aloof to any potential hindrance and said the two can be gotten together again. I suppose it all depends on whether Smith, who considered himself a cut above beforehand, will lower himself again after proving his theory correct, albeit in an irregular fashion.
This was the focal point of an otherwise underwhelming card on a shiny new joint broadcast between Boxnation and BT Sports.
Earlier in the evening former world champion, Paul Butler won by TKO in the fourth session of his six-rounder down at super-bantam, treading water as he chases a fight with IBF champ Jamie McDonnell.
Young and highly touted super-lightweight Jack Catterall made short work of Midlander Martin Gethin, scoring several knockdowns en route to a third round KO and moving his record to 18-0.
Double Olympic gold medallist Nicola Adams made her professional debut with a so-so points win over four, two-minute rounds.
Another featured debutant was heavyweight Daniel Dubois who smashed his tubby opponent out of the running with a sharp left hook in the opening round.
Topping the bill in his hometown was WBO World lightweight champion, Terry Flanagan, making the fifth defence of his belt with the unanimous points win over Petr Petrov. The Turbo man is on a slow steady burn with homogenous wins over a string of unglamorous names. He’s the dependable type, but now he wants to shoot for the superstars around his weight and has stated his intention to face either WBA champ Jorge Linares or WBO super-featherweight holder Vasyl Lomachenko. Brave man.