AFTER more than a year out of the ring, Liverpool’s Liam Smith returns to action on Friday (May 7). After bouts in Mexico and Phoenix, the former WBO titlist is once again on the road, taking on Magomed Kurbanov in Ekaterinburg, Russia.
It is a meaningful fight for Smith. Kurbanov is unbeaten and in his hometown. But the Briton is determined to secure another title shot and believes winning this will put him on course to challenge for the WBO super-welterweight strap, the belt he once held. Smith is adamant that another title fight is well within his capabilities. He is already ranked third with the WBO. Victory would push him closer to a mandatory position.
“I feel a young 32. I wouldn’t be in the sport if I didn’t feel I had something left to offer,” Liam said. “I think I’ve got a good solid two years left. I haven’t had many beatings. The Canelo fight I got stopped in, the [Jaime] Munguia fight I went 12 rounds, I never really took a beating in the Munguia fight.
“There’s no one in my division where I think, ‘I’ll never beat him.’ I definitely feel I’ve got another title in me.
“I think I would have beaten Patrick Teixeira [the former holder of the WBO belt]. Now [Brian] Castano’s just won it, I think I beat Castano. I think Castano’s a top fighter but he’s a fighter I do believe I can beat.”
This journey to Russia leaves him undaunted too. “Spain, Mexico, America. I’ve fought a few times in America now, I fought in Texas, Vegas, Arizona. I fought in Hermosillo, Mexico. I don’t mind, I like fighting away,” Smith said. “I don’t care where I box, I don’t care who I box. Put an opponent in front of me and I’ll work to a game plan to beat him, and I’m confident of beating him. This opponent I’m absolutely confident of beating. It’s a good opponent, it’s a solid opponent with a world ranking and he’s an unbeaten opponent. So it’s a very, very good fight, at a good stage in my career, puts me right back in the mix.”
But Kurbanov should be Smith’s toughest outing since his losing WBO title effort against Jaime Munguia in Las Vegas. After turning pro in 2015 and fighting exclusively in Russia, and mostly in Ekaterinburg, Kurbanov has amassed a 21-0 (13) record. But Kurbanov’s most notable result is a 2019 win over Diego Chaves. The Argentine who is notorious, or at least known, for a highly fortuitous draw with Tim Bradley, a poor judging decision that benefited Chaves, in 2014 and also getting himself disqualified against Brandon Rios that same year.
While Smith has two losses on his ledger, he has boxed at a far higher level. He’s only been defeated by the great Canelo Alvarez and Jaime Munguia. His recent victories over Liam Williams have looked better too as the Welshman progressed as a middleweight contender.
Smith is coming into this without long-time trainer Joe Gallagher in his corner. For this fight he has been training with Joe McNally and Declan O’Rourke in Liverpool.
Kurbanov has also been far more active than the Liverpudlian recently. While Smith was forced to sit out the whole of 2020, the Russian has boxed three times. Kurbanov is methodical, if flatfooted, a physically strong fighter who swipes with his hooks. Smith is the higher-calibre boxer. His combination-punching and superior experience mean he should be able to claim a points decision, if he can shake off any lingering ring rust (and of course as long as the judging is fair).
It is a difficult task. Coming up against a solid opponent, who’ll be in his Russian hometown, after more than a year out and with a new training set-up, is no easy challenge. The result will determine whether Smith can still fight his way to another title bout.
On the undercard Scottish super-middleweight John Docherty is also in action in Russia. He is coming back from his loss to Jack Cullen, taking on the 5-1-1 (3) Artysh Lopsan, the Russian who stopped Vijender Singh in March.
The Verdict Smith takes a risk, but it could well pay off.