By Jake Donovan
The main event may be down, but the show will still go on for Liam Smith and John Thompson.
The pair of super welterweight contenders will vie for a vacant title on October 10 in Manchester, England, with BoxNation to air live in the United Kingdom. Their bout was originally part of a trio of title fights, but the middleweight heat between defending champ Andy Lee and unbeaten contender Billy Joe Saunders was once again postponed when the challenger suffered a cut during training camp.
Promoter Frank Warren is on the hunt for a replacement bout, but the rest of the show remains intact. The vacant title fight between Smith and original opponent Michel Soro was the last piece added to what was previously billed as a triple title bill. When Soro went down with the injury, Thompson (17-1, 6KOs) found himself in a similar role, and acted accordingly.
“It's a great opportunity for Liam and for John,” Artie Pellulo, Thompson’s promoter acknowledged during a recent media conference to promote the event. “When this opportunity came up, John—who came out of the blue as a last-minute replacement to win the Boxcino tournament—once again came up to accept this fight.
“It didn't take him 30 seconds to say, ‘Yes I'm going to England to fight for the world title.” It is an opportunity for both guys due to circumstances. Neither one of them said no. They both said they want to fight for the world championship.”
For Smith (20-0-1, 10KOs), it’s the chance to beat his brothers to the finish line, in the family quest to bring home a major title. Liam’s brother Paul came up short in two separate bids versus Arthur Abraham, in addition to falling miserably short in his non-title fight with Andre Ward in June. Callum and Stephen Smith both remain in contention, but for now Liam stands the best chance of being the first in his family to claim a major title.
Not that it’s a race to the top.
“There's no rivalry,” Smith insists. “I'm going to be the first but I'm not going to be the last.
As for Thompson, it’s the chance to continue on a Cinderella run.
The 26-year old from New Jersey—has won three straight fights heading into his first title opportunity, as well as his first career fight outside of the United States. All three wins came in his role as a late replacement in the 2015 ESPN Boxcino 154 lb. tournament, scoring wins over Ricado Pinell (10-1-1 going in), Stanyslac Skorokhold (9-0) and bracket favorite Brandon Adams (17-1) to run the tables.
Prior to the tournament, he’d been out of the ring for more than a year following the lone loss of his career, a 2nd round knockout at the lethal hands of Frank Galarza in their matchup of unbeaten super welterweights last January.
Despite the rocky road leading to his unlikely newfound stardom, Thompson wasn’t the least bit surprised when the opportunity came to challenge for a title.
“I was waiting on my chance. I've been boxing for 22 years waiting for this day to come,” Thompson stated. “I want to be number one. I plan on collecting a lot of belts. Number one is the WBO title, then the rest of the champions.”
Tickets for World War III are priced at £40, £75, £125, £200, £300 and £500* and available now from www.frankwarren.com and Manchester Arena on 0844 847 8000.
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com.
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