Welsh Star Liam Williams talks Smith showdown, motivation & assesses last two knockout victories
By Michael J Jones
ONE OF THE most talked about pieces of British boxing news recently was the announcement that former WBO light-middleweight champion Liam “Beefy” Smith would take on Welsh star Liam Williams on April 8th. The mouth-watering clash of talented name-sakes takes place in the Manchester Arena and sees the more-experienced Smith return from a gallant defeat by Mexican superstar Saul “Canelo” Alvarez to take on one of the most dangerous young fighters in the UK.
Williams, 24-years-old and the reigning British, Commonwealth and WBO European champion, has had a stop-start career since turning pro just over five years ago but had arguably one of his finest years in 2016, stopping all three opponents in style.
The Clydach puncher eased into 2016 with a stoppage of Argentinian journeyman Gustavo Alberto Sanchez in June. The warm-up victory paved the way for a grudge match with unbeaten Londoner Gary Corcoran in Cardiff just a month later. The British title bout lived up to the hype before the champion eventually retained with a clinical eleven-round knock-out.
The heavy-handed Welshman then closed the year with a body-shot stoppage of the slippery Hungarian Gabor Gorbics to add the WBO European belt to his rapidly-growing collection. Implored by his corner in between rounds to target the ribs of Gorbics, Williams duly marched out to sink the Hungarian with a powerful left-hook downstairs to dramatically conclude matters in the eighth.
Now 16-0-1 (11), Williams is undoubtedly in superb form but will need to be when facing by far his toughest opponent to date in Smith. Speaking to Livefight during a sparring trip in Scotland a few days ago, Williams reveals he is hugely motivated for his show-down with “Beefy”.
“I’m absolutely buzzing the fight has been made and I’ve not had this kind of motivation for my last few fights” the Welshman tells Livefight over the phone. “I’ve been waiting for this kind of big fight for a while and I’m just made up it’s actually happening.”
Around two years ago the fight was first mooted with Smith the reigning British and Commonwealth ruler. Williams’ trainer and manager Gary Lockett declined the contest at the time as his fighter was still building up experience. Smith went on to vacate both titles to lift the WBO 154lb crown before defending twice and surrendering his title to Alvarez last September in Texas.
“When the (Smith) fight was first offered I didn’t know about it and Gary (Lockett) turned it down as he felt I wasn’t quite ready. He’s my manager and I listen to what he says. He said I wasn’t ready then and I respect that he made that call.”
In an interview a couple of months ago Liverpool's Smith appeared to disrespectfully comment that Williams’ title wins were merely a case of picking up the Scousers’ "left-overs" after he had vacated the British and Commonwealth belts to pave the way for the South Walian to claim both titles.
Williams surprisingly doesn’t take any offence to the comments as he explains…
“Well he’s right really isn’t he?” comments the 24 year old matter-of-factly. “He’s not wrong in that he vacated the titles and I went and won them. A lot of people have said he’s disrespected me but it’s just the way it was so I haven’t taken any offence to what he said.”
Was Williams shocked that, after facing “Canelo” in Texas in a high-profile match, Smith agreed to face a dangerous domestic rival back in the UK in his comeback contest?
“No I’m not at all surprised. It’s a big fight over here and a good domestic match and the best lads at British level are only just below world level in my opinion. I’m the WBO number three and he’s the number five and we’re just hoping this fight will be for the full WBO belt we are just waiting to see if Alvarez vacates*. Fingers crossed he does and it will be a world title fight.”
*Alvarez faces fellow Mexican Julio Cesar Chavez Jr at a whopping 164lbs on May 6th in Las Vegas.
Williams has always been a strong fighter who goes to the body well. It was thus frustrating to see him in his last fight with Gorbics continuously head-hunting, though, once Lockett and John Pegg had ticked him off, Williams landed that sickening left to the ribs to abruptly halt the Hungarian to hand the beaten man his first inside-schedule defeat.
With Smith getting stopped by a similar shot last time out vs Alvarez is that an obvious tactic for team Williams?
“Against Gorbics I was guilty of targeting the head too much as I was in search of a knock-out. I neglected body shots but when I started using them they paid off.”
“Our tactics for Smith will just be to go out and do our own thing we’re not taking too much from (Smith’s defeat by Alvarez). He showed a weakness to the body that night but body-punches can hurt anyone if they land the right way. I’ve been hurt by a few over the years and they really sicken you.”
“Smith is more experienced than me in terms of the amount of fights he’s had (25 in total compared to Williams seventeen) but I think we’ve had similar opposition in our British title fights. The guys he fought for the WBO title; John Thompson, Jim Kelly and the other guy (Predrag Radosevic), weren’t world beaters either apart from “Canelo”.
“There’s no needle there between us” continues the British and Commonwealth champion. “There’s a bit of tension but it’s nothing personal. I think we mutually respect each other but you can’t get too friendly when you’re going to fight someone!”
Was the former six-time ABA champion pleased with his progress last year?
“I was overall happy but we had one or two little setbacks with a couple of fights falling through but that’s boxing. I would have liked another fight really but apart from that it was a good year for me.”
Williams’ grudge-match with the 15-0 Corcoran was easily his most exciting contest of the year after the two men had engaged in a lengthy spell of goading ahead of the match. During the fight it appeared the prefight trash-talk had gotten in the Welsh-man’s head at times as his work often proved messy by his usual standards against a dogged opponent.
After an enthralling slugfest, Williams detonated a smashing right-hand in the 11th to stop his dazed opponent and win the battle of unbeatens.
“I was disappointed with my performance at the time” admits Liam. “It did get messy and I made hard work of it but I still feel I ticked a lot of boxes so no whinging; I got the win and I got the knock-out so that’s the main thing.”
To top a solid year, the undefeated Welshman was then named the Boxing Writers ‘Young Boxer of the Year’ at the BBB of C awards ceremony to complete 2016.
“It meant a lot to win that award to follow some of the names that have won it in the past is an honour. Ricky Hatton, Joe Calzaghe, Amir Khan are massive names to be following and I’m proud they voted me to take the title.”
To finish I ask how the sparring has gone up in Scotland with super-middleweight contender David Brophy?
“It’s gone great. Brophy is a big strong guy with a good defence and keeps coming forward. He’s only lost to George Groves and is bigger than me so it’s very good work. He’s got a Commonwealth title fight soon in Australia and I’ve no doubt he’ll take that.”
“To everyone reading this, tune into my fight with Liam Smith on April 8th as it will be a great fight. I don’t want any backward steps in my career so if this isn’t a world title fight my next one will be. I’m working my nuts off to be a world champion.”
April 8th A New Era
Undefeated WBO World Lightweight Champion Terry Flanagan defends his belt against Petr Petrov at the Manchester Arena, with a mouth-watering clash between Liam Williams and Liam Smith in support on April 8th.
Also on the show, two-time Olympic Flyweight gold medallist Nicola Adams makes her professional debut after an impeccable amateur career where she won Commonwealth, European and World honours as well as her success at the London and Rio Games.
Flanagan (32-0, 13 KOs) holds the longest current unbeaten run in British boxing and will be making the fifth defence of his crown. Since winning the belt in July 2015, he has convincing wins over Diego Magdaleno and Derry Mathews and destroyed Orlando Cruz in Cardiff in November. This will be the 27-year-old first appearance in his hometown since October 2015, when he blitzed the tough Magdaleno in just two rounds.
The southpaw is targeting unification bouts at Lightweight this year. Russian-born Petrov (38-4-2, 19 KOs) fights out of Madrid and his only two defeats since 2007 came to Marcos Maidana and Dejan Zlaticanin. The 33-year-old is the WBO second-ranked contender behind Felix Verdejo.
Manchester fans will also witness the mouth-watering Super-Welterweight clash between domestic rivals Williams and Smith. Williams recently picked up the WBO European Title with a win over Gabor Gorbics in Cardiff. The unbeaten Welshman is ranked at number three with the governing body and is aiming for a World Title shot this year, but first he must overcome a former World Champion who is eager to get back to the top of the division. Last September Smith put in a brave effort against Saul Alvarez in Texas but was stopped in the ninth round by the powerful Mexican, handing Smith his first defeat and lifting the WBO belt.