Mwakinyo can bang with one of the best of them so Smith has to stay centered in Liverpool, writes Matt Christie
WHEN Liverpool’s Liam Smith made the transfer again to Sky Sports activities this yr – through promoter Ben Shalom – he did so hoping it could lead to a money-spinning showdown with Chris Eubank Jnr. What he will get as a substitute, a battle in opposition to Tanzania’s Hassan Mwakinyo, reasonably sums up “Beefy’s” luck lately. At all times keen to battle one of the best, in any location, Smith has too typically discovered that one of the best – or in Eubank’s case, probably the most profitable – don’t all the time need to battle him.
Smith is a former belt-holder at super-welterweight however, nonetheless, there’s a sense that Liam, now aged 34, has instantly received his work minimize out to fulfil his true potential. Probably the greatest of all boxers in Britain with regards to all-round skill, the WBO strap he claimed in 2015, then misplaced to Canelo Alvarez the next yr, nonetheless stays his solely flirtation with world gold.
All through his profession he has bettered his countrymen, nonetheless. Each Steve O’Meara and Erick Ochieng have been extremely regarded when he outscored them in 2012 and 2013 respectively. He twice beat a ferocious Liam Williams in 2017 (albeit controversially the primary time) and, extra lately, he outclassed each Sam Eggington (2019) and Anthony Fowler (2021). His solely losses got here away from residence and in excellent firm. Smith, 31-3-1 (18), gave Alvarez a good scrap in Texas earlier than being stopped in 9, he was aggressive with Jaime Munguia in Las Vegas en path to dropping on factors in 2018 and was unfortunate to be on the mistaken aspect of one other 12-round choice in opposition to Magomed Kurbanov in Russia final yr.
He bounced again from each defeat with renewed willpower to maneuver ahead. A loss to the unfancied Mwakinyo can be tougher to brush off, nonetheless. Twenty-seven years outdated, with a document of 20-2 (14), Mwakinyo has been to the UK earlier than when, reasonably unexpectedly, he exhibited his meaty proper hand. The recipient then, in September 2018, was the aforementioned Eggington who hoped to safe a shot at a sanctioning physique belt in victory. Mwakinyo scored a surprising victory in spherical two after triggering the upset with a left hook to shut the primary.
Although the ability was evident, it stays tough to check Smith permitting the African to tee off like Eggington did. The Midlander’s behavior of reacting to a hurtful blow by inviting one other was a defective ploy. Proper hand after proper hand, every delivered in quick bowler movement, landed flush on Eggington till his legs buckled, his head rattled, and the referee correctly known as it off. Effectively-telegraphed they might have been, however they need to additionally function a warning to Smith that he shouldn’t underestimate his opponent, nor enable himself to modify off.
Final day trip, 12 months nearly to the day, Mwakinyo feasted on the stays of Julius Indongo, stopping him in 4 rounds to retain his African 154lbs title. Indongo loved success when maintaining Mwakinyo behind his lengthy jab however in the end fell aside when his opponent, swinging at full pelt at any time when the previous titlist received shut, inevitably hit the goal. Although crude and a way beneath Smith with regards to boxing skill, his intuition to let fly with haymakers means he will probably be a perpetual nuisance and due to this fact can’t be written off utterly. Loads of British fighters have come undone when confronted with comparable opposition.
Regardless, Smith has by no means as soon as ready poorly nor taken victory with no consideration. It appears solely a lull in focus, or a sudden decline in reflexes, may price him right here. “Beefy” will get ample possibilities to raid his opponent’s physique and patiently drain the ambition from him. This might properly go the complete distance – Mwakinyo appears as hardy as they arrive – however we count on the Scouser, buoyed by preventing in his close by Echo Enviornment the place his document is 11-0 (9), to finish issues within the second half because the educated stress turns into an excessive amount of to bear.
Ought to it go as anticipated, count on Smith to get a chance – and payday – worthy of his expertise in his subsequent outing.
One other native fighter, Natasha Jonas, can be hoping to money in on the finish of her profession. The inspirational southpaw – one thing of a trailblazer within the novice code – ultimately gained knowledgeable belt when she walloped a woeful Chris Namus on the Manchester Enviornment in February. The prize for that two-round shellacking was the vacant WBO super-welterweight strap, regardless of it being Tash’s first battle above light-welter. Sweden’s Patricia Berghult, 15-0 (3), is prone to be higher ready than Namus and due to this fact present a greater indication of how suited Jonas actually is to the additional weight.
Berghult, who brings her WBC belt to the social gathering, has constructed her document predominantly on lowly opposition within the skilled ranks. Nonetheless, she stored much better firm as an novice. In 2012, for instance, she beat an 18-year-old Lauren Worth, however discovered the standard of opponents like Katie Taylor, Chantelle Cameron and Estelle Mossely to a lot to beat earlier than turning over in 2015.
The one professional rival of any actual regard she has encountered is Hannah Rankin, who Berghult edged over 10 rounds in 2019. In that bout, Berghult began rapidly, flooring the Scot within the opening session and ramping up the stress within the second. Rankin performed catch up properly down the stretch however ended up a loser on all three playing cards.
A well-schooled boxer with quick arms, Berghult has solely fought as soon as since then, outpointing veteran Olivia Belkacem over 10 rounds in November final yr. Jonas, in the meantime, is battle-ready after going through prime class opposition like Terri Harper and Katie Taylor since Berghult defeated Rankin. And although Namus was poor (a subsequent one spherical loss to Mary Spencer additional illustrated her decline), the promise of a sanctioning physique belt offered Jonas, 11-2-1 (8), with one more high-end coaching camp beneath the tutelage of Joe Gallagher.
It’s that lifetime of superior schooling which makes Jonas a wholesome favorite. She needs to be conscious of her opponent’s work-rate, fast toes and nifty in-fighting prowess, however the residence fighter – assuming the additional weight doesn’t turn out to be a burden in an extended battle – must be backed to win this one over the 10-round distance.
It’s refreshing to see the proficient Dan Azeez defend his British light-heavyweight title reasonably than going the extra ‘modern’ route – which is to purpose at obscure worldwide fighters for obscure worldwide titles, whereas paying a sanctioning physique to reward the winner with a excessive rating. In Shakan Pitters, a towering Midlander who by some means makes 175lbs, Azeez – and us followers – get a much more worthwhile opponent.
The 6ft 6ins Pitters, from Birmingham, gained the British championship himself in the summertime of 2020 when he extensively outpointed Chad Sugden earlier than dropping it on the finish of the yr in a minor upset to Craig Richards. It’s the nature of that loss – a catalyst in “Spider’s” subsequent resurgence – which makes Pitters the underdog. Pitters was unable to deal with the springy challenger’s assaults, from vary and in-close, in a lot the identical method Hosea Burton did when confronted with Azeez of their conflict for the vacant title (Richards had by then relinquished).
Since that November 2021 triumph, Azeez, 16-0 (11), has fought simply as soon as, beating Reece Cartwright in eight rounds 5 months in the past. Coincidentally, Pitters, 17-1 (6), comes into this one on the again of an eight-round victory over Cartwright, too. Shakan beat the Leeds fighter again in November 2021 (one week earlier than Azeez stopped Burton in seven) however there was a way at ringside that Cartwright ought to have been allowed to proceed when the referee stopped it.
Pitters is fast and nimble for such a tall man. Although a very good physique puncher with a whipping jab, the 33-year-old doesn’t all the time use his peak and attain to his benefit. To win right here, he must be sure that Azeez is stored at vary for lengthy durations and, when the champion burrows inside, is tied up. To win, then, Pitters could have to take action uglily.
An upset is just not past the realms of risk. However 32-year-old Azeez has been preventing with confidence in current outings and appears the heavier hitter. He might want to take possibilities to interrupt inside and hurl overarm rights when shut sufficient to attach. Count on Azeez to focus on Pitters’ lengthy and lean physique, too.
Pitters could make life awkward for Azeez however we count on the championship to stay with the person from Lewisham. A stoppage, within the second half, appears the likeliest consequence.
Crimson scorching super-lightweight Adam Azim, 5-0 (4), will get one other runout, as does 2-0 (2) heavyweight Frazer Clarke, who can now construct momentum after recovering from harm. There’s first rate cruiserweight matchup between cruiserweight prospects Nathan Quarless, 10-0, and Michael Webster, 7-0 (5), too. THE VERDICT: A strong invoice to kickstart the brand new season.