Callum Smith is relishing finally making the first defence of his WBA super-middleweight title — nine months after winning it in such style against George Groves.
The then-unproven Smith travelled to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in September to stop Groves in the seventh round of the final of the lucrative World Boxing Super Series, retiring the defending champion and establishing himself as one of the finest super-middleweights in the world.
If he was then expected to further his reputation by defending his new title, he has instead been at risk of becoming forgotten having waited until joining the undercard of Anthony Joshua-Andy Ruiz Jr on Saturday in New York.
The 29-year-old Smith’s baby daughter Alba was born in January, extending the delay in his return to the ring, but where he could have fought before now, he has remained patient to enjoy becoming a parent and then to fight at Madison Square Garden, perhaps boxing’s most decorated venue.
Cameroon’s Hassan N’Dam will be his first challenger and, while recognising how awkward the former world middleweight champion could potentially become, Smith is a fighter determined to “make up for lost time”.
“I wasn’t sitting, pestering Eddie (Hearn, my promoter) to get me out while he ignored me,” he told Press Association Sport.
“I chose to have the time off. But my boxing head’s back on and I’m back to pick up where I left off; at 12st I beat any fighter on the planet.
“That tournament dragged for a long time, and there was a lot of mental pressure on it. With the final getting postponed and the uncertainty over whether it was going to happen, it was mentally demanding as well as physically so it was good to switch off.
“I feel refreshed and ready to go, and excited to fight again, whereas by the end of the tournament it’d become a drag and I just wanted to get it over.
“Here I am, fight week, looking forward to making up for lost time and putting on a good performance so that people take notice of me again.”
James DeGale’s retirement has left Smith with one fewer potential opponent against which he could earn significant money, but his association with Eddie Hearn, alongside Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, means he has become a possible option for the Mexican, putting him under “pressure” to impress.
“It’s pressure, different pressure,” he said. “Before I beat Groves people were questioning whether I was good enough to beat him, and I was the underdog and that provides pressure. Now it’s the opposite; through beating Groves people expect me to go in and wipe opponents out.
“(N’Dam’s) good. I’ve sparred him before; he’s a two-time world champion, down at middleweight, and has some good wins; Curtis Stevens, Martin Murray, which he’s coming off.
“He’s a good mover, has good feet and will try and make it as awkward and tough as possible. He’s not an ideal opponent, not fan-friendly, but if I perform as I can, I can win in a fan-friendly style.”