Eventually, at the end of a bloody and brutal night in Liverpool, the career of Callum Smith has lift off at long last.
The youngest of Liverpool’s four fighting brothers is into the semi-finals of the World Boxing Super Series and one step closer to realising a dream that seemed to be slipping from his grasp.
But in front of his home crowd at the ECHO Arena on Saturday, a place in the last four did not come as comfortably as many predicted. Erik Skoglund, an unbeaten fighter but somewhat unknown on these shores, dragged Smith into a gruelling battle that will have taught him more than all of his 22 previous wins combined.
Callum Smith celebrates after earning victory via a unanimous judges decision
‘Mundo’ looked exhausted but booked his place in the semi final of the Super Series
Scores of 117-111, 116-112 and 117-110 rewarded Smith’s superiority and earned him a unanimous decision. But they belie just how deep Smith had to dig to extend his unbeaten record and secure the WBC Diamond belt.
A nasty injury to his nose threatened to take the fight away from him in the fifth round. But Smith, who has rarely been tested in his promising career to this point, showed great conditioning and resilience to wrestle back control and book his place in the semi finals.
In the months and years to come the talented super-middleweight’s victory, which was neither pretty nor totally convincing, may mark only a small step in his pursuit of the Muhammad Ali trophy.
Erik Skoglund (left) and Smith put on a hugely entertaining fight in Liverpool
But for now, all that matters for Smith is that his career has received a vital shot in the arm at a time when it was threatening to to stall badly.
Nearly 18 months has passed since Smith put himself in line for a shot at the WBC super middleweight world title.
And despite his win over Skoglund, that famous green belt still eludes him. But he leaves the ECHO Arena the holder of the title’s Diamond version and one step closer to the world honours and worldwide recognition he craves.
The super-middleweight duo both landed heavy shots in a back-and-forth encounter
The Liverpool fighter grew into the fight and dominated the later rounds in front of his crowd
Skoglund, unbeaten in 26 professional fights before Saturday night, lived up to his billing as the toughest test of Smith’s career. And some.
The Liverpool fighter selected the Swede as his quarter-final opponent, believing the away boxer’s style would allow him the chance to remind people how good he was. Over 12 gruelling rounds, he had to rely on all of his considerable skills as well as heart in abundance.
After bossing the opening few rounds and landing several heavy right hands on the solid chin of Skoglund, the fight looked to be turning against him when blood started to pour from his nose in round five.
Up to that point, Skoglund had been game and willing to trade. But he seemed to be making little dent on his opponent. As the blood turned Smith’s torso crimson, however, Skoglund went for the jugular, backing the home fighter up.
But towards the end of his opponent’s best round to that point, Smith simply smiled and landed a right hand of his own.
Both men showed a huge amount of mutual respect for each other after their scrap
In round five, Skoglund bloodied the nose of his opponent and came into the fight
Smith recovered well and had already regained the ascendancy when he floored Skoglund in the penultimate round. Again it was a big right hand that landed for the home fighter.
Skoglund’s legs did a funny dance and Smith capitalised, sending him to the canvas. The Swede survived the round and reached the final bell. But the 10-8 round cemented Smith’s ascendancy on the scorecards and helped ease the nerves of a home Liverpool crowd.
He now faces the winner of Juergen Braehmer’s clash with Rob Brant in the last four, In the pipeline, too, remains a potentially massive domestic scrap with the three Britons waiting in the other side of the draw.
Whether any of a George Groves, Chris Eubank Jr or Jamie Cox reach the final is for now uncertain. But whoever emerges as the king of that quartet will bring Groves’ WBA world title to the table.
That is the reality now from Smith: one more victory and he’s back with a shot at becoming a world champion at last.
The judges scored the bout unanimously in favour of Smith after 12 rounds