By Nick Halling
Frustrating, patience-testing times in the Smith household, where two of Liverpool’s four boxing brothers are waiting patiently for their respective world title chances.
Eldest brother Paul, the reigning British super middleweight boss, is still awaiting official confirmation that his WBO title fight with Arthur Abraham is going ahead on 27 September. This one has been discussed openly for weeks, with all parties seemingly happy for it to progress.
However, promoters Sauerland have yet to issue a formal statement saying the fight is on. There were thought to be venue issues which made it tough to stage it in Abraham’s adopted home city, Berlin. The German capital looks like it’s off limits. Instead, the northern outpost of Kiel could end up being the venue. Expect an announcement imminently.
Paul’s not the only one hanging by the phone. Younger brother Stephen is also hoping for news that he can go ahead and challenge for Takashi Miura’s WBC super-feather crown.
Stephen has put himself in a good place by winning the WBC’s silver belt. That gets his name mentioned as a potential contender – although it doesn’t give him the mandatory spot. Ahead of him on the WBC ratings list are a pair of Mexicans, Edgar Puerta and Sergio Thompson. Miura beat the latter in 2013, but Puerta is agitating for his chance.
So too is WBO featherweight title holder Orlando Salido, and Vasyl Lomachenko’s conqueror is currently the favourite to face Miura next. The veteran southpaw is due out again at the end of August, and his connections have indicated that they are in contact with Miura’s people – a provisional date of 11 October in Singapore has already been kicked around.
It also doesn’t help that Miura has been quiet over the last few months. After beating three Mexicans in WBC title fights in 2013, the Japanese southpaw has yet to make a competitive appearance in 2014.
Whichever way you slice it up, there’s some serious horse trading to be done before Stephen Smith can start checking flight schedules to Tokyo. But the horse trading is happening – it’s going to take a while to get a deal done.
If there’s a bad break to be had in this business, chances are that Craig McEwen has had it. Three years ago, the Edinburgh southpaw seemed to be living the dream, based at the Wild Card gym in Los Angeles, and on the fringes of the world title scene. Today, he’s back in his home town, and wondering where his next fight is coming from.
It’s been quite a fall from grace and it shouldn’t be this way. McEwen is slick and talented, and it’s a mystery that he has spent much of the past three years spinning his wheels, waiting for the phone to ring.
It wasn’t always like this. Back in 2005, he went over to California on holiday, came into contact with trainer Freddie Roach, and the two immediately clicked. A year later, Roach invited him to come over for longer. Much longer. Roach liked what he saw of the classy southpaw, and had good things to say about the Scot. Promoters Golden Boy were similarly enthused. They signed him up to a five-year deal. It looked like he’d hit the jackpot.
He made his pro debut at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas later that year. For the next four years, the wins kept coming, McEwen improving to 19-0. But Roach, meanwhile, was experiencing more demands on his time. First Manny, then Amir Khan. McEwen began to see less and less of his mentor. And it was beginning to show in his boxing.
In March 2011, the wheels came off. In an all-Celtic battle with Irishman Andy Lee, McEwen built up a useful lead, only to be put down in the ninth. He survived to the bell, but with only one round to go, Lee knew that he had to halt McEwen to win, and poured it on. The Scot, gassing badly, was stopped less than a minute into that final round.
Logic would have dictated a comfortable return after losing his unbeaten record in such fashion. Instead he was sent to Mexico to take on soon-to-be world champion Peter Quillin. McEwen did nothing through five rounds, and was well behind. Then, in the sixth, he was stopped for no clear reason. Quillin would go on to become WBO champion. That was the end of the road as far as Golden Boy was concerned. For McEwen, the American dream was over. It was back to Edinburgh and harsh reality.
Since that night in Cancun in November 2011, McEwen has been British boxing’s forgotten man. There were a couple of meaningless wins against journeymen, a Prizefighter appearance which resulted in a cut eye and the wrong end of a split decision, and another fight which was scrapped in the first round when his opponent was cut in a head clash.
McEwen hasn’t boxed since December, when he was offered a six rounder on the undercard at BB King’s in New York by promoter Lou DiBella. By now, he was literally travelling on his own. All his preparations were wrong, and he duly dropped a six round decision to journeyman Dashon Johnson. It wasn’t the kind of performance to quicken DiBella’s pulse. McEwen, as he wryly observes, is out of DiBella’s sight and possibly out of his thinking too.
So now he trains at Morrison’s gym in Glasgow, working on an ad hoc basis with trainer Paul Weir, the former two weight world champion, and waits to see if anyone is going to take an interest in him. He’s unattached in the UK in promotional terms, and gets work these days as a top-end sparring partner (Callum Smith employed him ahead of his fight last week with southpaw Vladine Biosse).
McEwen is still only 32 and is so much better than this. Everyone understands that boxing is a harsh, unforgiving business, where you need more than talent to survive. You need contacts too. McEwen seems to be out of connections, and is in an awkward place: not good enough to be thought of as a contender, but way too good to be risked against an up-and-coming prospect.
It’s a sad and disappointing waste of talent. He’s British boxing’s forgotten man – and somehow it doesn’t seem right.
Heavyweight Anthony Joshua duly disposed of 47-year-old Matt Skelton with a minimum of fuss last weekend, and now faces Ukrainian tough guy Yaroslav Zavorotnyi in August. But don’t expect this to be the end of domestic opposition for Joshua as he continues to move up the ladder.
Two names thought be under consideration for Joshua’s planned appearance at London’s O2 Arena in October are former European champ Michael Sprott, a mere stripling at 39, and one-time Commonwealth boss Sam Sexton, who celebrated his 30th birthday last week.
Of the two, Sprott is the more likely contender. The Reading man is vastly experienced and should be able to take of himself (well, through a couple of rounds at least), although he hasn’t won a meaningful fight in two years.
Sexton is a fresher, livelier option, but he’s also the busier of the two. The smooth Norwich boxer is due out in September in an eliminator for the British title against giant Scot Gary Cornish. That’s assuming that his stiff back responds well to physiotherapy.
It wont be a surprise should Sexton pop up somewhere in Joshua’s future. But Sprott looks likely to get the call for October.
Nick Halling is a commentator for Sky Sports.