By Rachel Aylett: At the Olympia in Liverpool on Saturday night, 21 September 2013, history was made when home-towner Liam Smith won the vacant British light-middleweight title by unanimously outpointing Erick Ochieng. This entry in the history books will state that for the first time, three brothers have held British titles simultaneously. This is an amazing achievement by the personable scouse lads and will probably never be achieved again.
Liam was in tough in this fight and, although he was a slight favourite going in, there was a lot of uncertainty as to whether he would be able to pull it off. There was also a huge amount of pressure for him to make history whilst performing in front of his hometown fans.
The fight was intriguing and absorbing for the first seven rounds, swinging both one way and then the other, but with neither fighter taking a clear advantage. In fact, I had it even after the first seven. Both had success when in centre ring exchanging jabs. When the fight was taken to the inside on the ropes, similarly both fighters had their share of success. The turning point came in the eighth round when Liam seemed to hurt Ochieng for the first time and forced him to give ground. Unlike on previous occasions when Ochieng had voluntarily retreated to the ropes, this time he was forced back to them and was clearly outpunched. From that point on the outcome was never in doubt, as Smith went from strength to strength, appearing to be both fitter and stronger than his opponent going down the stretch. At the end of these later rounds Smith would punch the air on his way back to the corner, knowing that victory was in the bag. Ochieng simply did not have the strength, nor power, to keep his adversary off him. He had initially attempted the same tactics that had worked so well for him against another Liverpudlian, Nick Quigley, earlier in his career, in fighting off the ropes. This worked quite well in the first few rounds but, unlike Quigley, Smith was not coming in all guns blazing to be picked off by the fast hands of Ochieng. He was putting forth educated pressure and in the end Ochieng’s tactics backfired. The punches that Liam was landing whilst Ochieng covered on the ropes were hurtful, particularly the body shots, and clearly weakened Ochieng in the later rounds. Indeed, I had Liam sweeping the last five rounds for a score of 116-112. The judges had similar margins of victory, two at 117-112 and one at 116-113.
Smith had stated in an interview beforehand that he wants to win the Lonsdale Belt outright. On this form, I see no reason why he can’t go on to do this. He is tremendously fit and strong and put forth a very mature effort. Indeed, at the end of the fight, he looked as though he could do another five rounds at the same pace.
The nominal main event of the night saw Derry Mathews retain his Commonwealth lightweight title against ex-professional footballer Curtis Woodhouse. The hook here was that Derry has been in so many wars that surely they must catch up with him soon, and also that Curtis was moving down from light-welter and could possibly bring his power down with him and be a threat to Derry. From the opening bell though, it was clear that Mathews had no fear of his opponent. He knew it was just a matter of time and sure enough, after winning the first three rounds, Mathews lowered the boom in the fourth with a right hand to the side of the face which swept Woodhouse’s legs from under him. He managed to get to his feet but was gone and the referee rightly waved it over. Mathews proved what most people had feared going into the fight, that he was several levels above Woodhouse.
Another of the Smith brothers, youngest one Callum, won the vacant English light-middleweight title in what can only be described as a scintillating performance. He stopped experienced Patrick Mendy in the first round – his sixth first round victory in a row. This is an exceptional victory as Mendy has boxed in very good company for the last few years and has never been dominated. Smith, though, hurt him with a big right hand over the top which staggered Mendy back to the ropes and that was all she wrote. He tried his best to sway from the oncoming Smith’s follow-up, but a couple of well-placed body shots and a final right-hander brought the referee’s intervention right at the end of the round.
Although this was a tremendous win, it does raise problems for Callum and his team. They will now be desperate to get him some rounds and would have been certain that Mendy would take him to at least half distance. Having said that, this is a nice problem to have. Some careful matchmaking needs to be done now by Eddie Hearn’s team but we might just have a sensation on our hands!
In a facile “fight” Rocky Fielding was given the Commonwealth super-middleweight title as he stopped pathetic Ghanaian Mohammed Akrong in the first round. This was so obviously a mismatch as soon as it was made, but the hope was that Akrong would at least last a few rounds. However, he was even worse than we feared and he went over from virtually the first shot. The Commonwealth title is being devalued by regularly bringing in African fighters, who often come from Ghana, and whom we are told come from the same part of Accra as Azumah Nelson, etc. This has worn thin now, as more often than not, they cannot fight at all. However, they are obviously cheaper to import than potentially better opponents from Canada and Australia who would do the title justice.
The achievement over the past several months of the Smith brothers is made all the more amazing by the fact that save for Callum boxing at the same weight as eldest brother Paul, the British super-middleweight champion, they would very likely have four British titleholders at once, Callum being well capable of at least challenging for that title already. Not only that, but the Smith boys all seem such good lads and are a credit to their city and their sport.