Earlier this week, the announcements went out that John Thompson (17-1, 6 KOs) and Liam Smith (20-0-1, 10 KOs) will meet for the vacant WBO junior middleweight title on October 10 in Manchester, England. The fight will be on the undercard for Andy Lee’s defense of the WBO middleweight belt against Billy Joe Saunders.
Thompson positioned himself for this opportunity with an outstanding run through the Boxcino tournament broadcast on ESPN’s Friday Night Fights earlier this year. Although a late replacement for the tournament, Thompson beat Ricardo Pinell and Stanyslav Skorkhod in the first two rounds and knocked out Brandon Adams in Round 2 of the finals. Adams had been the runner up for 2014’s middleweight tournament and I had him as a big favorite over Thompson.
Thompson showed a lot of technical skill and versatility in the Boxcino tournament and seriously raised his profile by winning it. Smith is the brother of super middleweights Paul and Callum Smith. Paul is well-established on the English domestic scene and lost to world champion Arthur Abraham and pound-for-pound star Andre Ward in his most recent fights. Callum is undefeated and a top British prospect at 168 pounds. He most recently beat veteran Christopher Rebrasse last June.
This fight is a solid matchup, but it underscores the strange status “world titles” hold in this alphabet soup era. Smith is the British Commonwealth champion at 154 pounds. In addition to winning the Boxcino tournament, Thompson picked up the NABA and WBO Inter-Continental straps when he knocked out Adams. Both of these guys have scored some respectable wins, but nobody in their right mind is going to argue that the winner of this fight will have a legitimate claim to being the best junior middleweight on the planet. At most, the winner here nudges his way into the top 20 rankings at 154 pounds.
Still, winning the belt will most certainly give either fighter leverage for future fights against much more high-profile names in the division. As Thompson’s co-promoter Artie Pelullo of Banner Promotions pointed out in a press release for this fight, opportunities like this are “few and far between.” Boxing is a wide-open, free-lance sport, with no set path to follow to stardom. Winning this “world title fight” won’t make either Thompson or Smith a true, international star. But it will give them a solid step in that direction.