By Friday evening at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah, Callum Smith’s lengthy wait for a world title fight will finally be at an end.
The unfamiliar location may not be the one he has envisioned since before making his professional debut in 2012, but if it ends in victory over the WBA super-middleweight champion George Groves — established as the finest fighter in the 168lb division — the result will likely prove significant in his career.
Smith is the youngest, and most promising, of four brothers from Liverpool who impressively have all had successful professional boxing careers. Paul and Stephen, the two oldest, suffered narrow defeats when challenging for world titles, and Liam reigned as the WBO light-middleweight champion until losing to Mexico’s great Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.
For all of their achievements, however, Callum has long been the one around which there has been most excitement — the one considered most likely to guarantee success. He trained in the same Great Britain amateur setup in which Anthony Joshua gradually thrived before making his professional debut on the undercard of great British super-middleweight Carl Froch’s 2012 world title defense against Yusaf Mac.
Under trainer Joe Gallagher in Manchester he also worked out of one of the country’s most successful gyms, where Scott Quigg and Anthony Crolla became world champions and where the variety and quality of sparring is such that its fighters regularly excel.
A reputation established as much by his surname as for the abilities demonstrated as an amateur was nurtured by his influential promoters Matchroom and their Sky Sports plarform, and to the extent that even while Groves and James DeGale were ahead of him, he was swiftly being spoken of as the long-term successor to Froch.
The now-28-year-old continued to make such encouraging progress that in 2015 he was matched with cross-city and divisional rival Rocky Fielding, also of Matchroom, in an attempt to further build his profile. What followed was what remained his most exciting victory and biggest statement — an explosive, ruthless, first-round stoppage of a previously-undefeated opponent, one which appeared to prove he was more than just the latest product of Matchroom’s hype and instead was a fighter with the ability to truly succeed.
Even if he has since progressed to Friday’s World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) final — and when the competition’s draw was made, Groves and Smith were the likeliest victors — the sense of momentum behind him that night he won the vacant British title has since passed, meaning that what is unclear and will be determined on Friday is whether he has since met unsuitable opponents or whether his true level has simply been found.
Four victories followed before the start of the WBSS, and the second of those — against the little-known Norbert Nemesapati — in September 2016 earned him the status of mandatory challenger to WBC champion Badou Jack.
As perhaps the biggest fighter in his division — the 6ft 3ins Smith’s physique is that of a convincing light-heavyweight — there will be a temptation for rivals to avoid him, but the reality regardless remains that in those four victories he struggled to excel.
While Jack progressed to more lucrative and higher-profile occasions that include succeeding at light-heavyweight, Smith has continued to wait for his world title opportunity, one that after such a lengthy delay he only has after reaching the WBSS final via a lower-profile route.
It was in the quarter-finals where he overcame Erik Skoglund and in the semis where the proven Jurgen Braehmer withdrew through illness, denying him a victory against a reputable opponent and leaving him to instead defeat Nieky Holzken.
Smith had even been left waiting to see if Groves would recover from his dislocated shoulder to be passed fit for Friday’s final and ensure that his world title chance was finally in front of him. Groves ultimately represents the profile of fighter over which victory would truly launch his career; the continued frustration is most likely that even in the event of him winning, Smith will face question marks over if the defending champion was truly fit.
MEET THE FIGHTERS: George Groves has chance of defining win in Jeddah
MEET THE FIGHTERS: Time for Callum Smith to prove his class against George Groves