Noted trainer Buddy McGirt has a daunting challenge this weekend at the Videotron Centre in Quebec City, which is leading his charge, Callum Smith (29-1 21 KOs), to a victory over unified light heavyweight champion, Artur Beterbiev (19-0, 19 KOs).
But as the guy who guided Antonio Tarver to a victory over Roy Jones (when 'RJ' was thought to be be unbeatable in 2004), there isn't much that really intimidates McGirt.
"Nah, after going against Roy, I don't give a sh*t about nobody else," said McGirt, who is a member of the International Boxing Hall-of-Fame, for his efforts as a two-division champion during his fighting days. He added with a chuckle, "and I went against Roy three times."
In Beterbiev, they are not only going against a guy with the WBC, WBO and IBF titles, but someone who is on many current pound-for-pound lists. He is one of the most concussive and bruising punchers in the sport. With the way he makes his foes crumble, you could say that he is 'the Human Wrecking Ball', who caves you in with his two-fisted onslaught. times
But he is now 38 years old, and because of various circumstances has fought just one time in each of the past two calendar years. In his last outing 12 months ago, he got a real tussle versus the game Anthony Yarde. Some have suggested that there were signs of physical slippage, but in looking at the fight again (and a link is provided down below) perhaps the signs of decline are greatly exaggerated. Credit should be given to the challenger for a courageous effort but he was still stopped in eight by Beterbiev.
It will still take a really good fighter on a great night to overcome him.
At 33 years old, Smith is considerably younger, and has shown real jolt in his punches since moving up to 175. Unlike Beterbiev who throws clubbing shots, Smith's salvos are more of the whipping variety with his tall, angular frame. Beterbiev seems to beat you into submissions, while Smith knocks you suddenly from consciousness.
There are a few pundits, and a legion of fans from England who believe Smith is a live 'dog this weekend. But what is worrisome to this scribe is that Smith has actually fought less frequently than Beterbiev in recent years. Smith has fought just once a year since the end of 2019.
McGirt, who comes from an era when prizefighters performed much more often, stated to SNAC.com, "At this stage of his career it's just key to just remind him of things. You're not going to change much. You just got to correct the little mistakes, and try to enhance what he has."
But yes, it does frustrate the veteran trainer that fighters today in general, are sidelined as much as they are.
"I think that's what's hurting a lot of fighters -- it's not being active, enough," he said. And in his view, you can't actually improve as a boxer unles you are doing it often in live competition. It's just not enough to be in the gym consistently.
"You've got to keep your tools sharp, and you're not going to get the sharp by just letting them sit in the damn tool chest,'' said McGirt, who took over the duties of training Smith after his lopsided loss to Canelo Alvarez in 2020. In his view, Smith is a good pupil. "He listens, he may not get it right the first time, but he's going to keep trying till he gets it."
Versus the likes of Lenin Castillo and Mathieu Bauderlique, he has scored eye-opening knockouts. In his admittedly biased view, Smith is the hardest puncher in the division. "(Callum) can punch, man. He can hit you anywhere, and you're going to feel it."
There's no doubting that 'Mundo' can pitch, but can he catch and absorb the heat coming his way? That's the $64,000 question of the night. "I know Beterbiev can punch, and I know he's strong," said McGirt. "But Callum, if he doesn't knock you down -- you do funny things standing up."
Conventional wisdom says that Smith will have to box a bit, and utilize his length and reach. But at times, he will have to be on his front foot, and initiate the action. There were times when Yarde beat Beterbiev to the punch, and may have buzzed him more than once. Smith may not be the reflexive athlete that Yarde is, but he is a straighter puncher with more pure power.
"You've got to take Beterbiev out of his element, make him uncomfortable," said McGirt. "You don't make him uncomfortable then you're in a world of trouble. IF you can't hurt him, he;'s going to walk right through you.
For Smith, it will be a fine line between intelligent aggression, and recklessness. It's a risk he will have to manage because at times he will have to get the respect of Beterbiev.
McGirt says, "If you hurt him and get his respect, then he's in unchartered waters. He's never been in that position before."
Speaking of upsets, on December 9, Rafael Espinoza shocked the boxing world by dethroning Robeisy Ramirez for the WBO featherweight belt. In his corner that night was the respected, Manuel Robles, who prepared Saul Sanchez (20-2, 12 KOs) for his challenge of WBO bantamweight titlist, Jason Moloney (26-2, 19 KOs) on the Beterbiev-Smith undercard.
Robles is no stranger to all this as he lead Andy Ruiz to his victory over the heavily favored Anthony Joshua in 2019.
"It's an amazing feeling, especially when you're a big underdog. I think (Espinoza) was a 10-to-1 underdog if I'm not mistaken. It's always fun to prove everybody wrong, all the experts. It's a great feeling. It's a top moment in my career," said Robles.
While the money is important, after all, this is their profession, for guys like Robles, the feeling he gets from being a part of improbable results is priceless.
"100-percent, at the end of the day, we're not going to take anything with us anyway, right?" said Robles philosophically. "But these moments are worth anything. Moments like this are why you do it. This is the reason I do what I do."
Now he and Sanchez go into Quebec City hoping to win a belt, and change a life. For guys like Sanchez, winning these titles can put you into a different tax bracket.
"I'm feeling pretty good but I never like to get ahead of myself," said Robles. "We still have to fight the fight. Again, with Saul Sanchez were underdogs byt Saul's ready. He understands what's at stake. He's just got to go out there and perform."
The 2024 debut of 'the 3 Knockdown Rule' with Mario Lopez and myself is up and running. We preview this fight, and look back at the return of Vergil Ortiz, and Ryan Garcia reversing course on who he wants to face next:
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The Moloney-Sanchez bout is part of the ESPN+ portion of the broadcast leading into the main bouts. That stream begins at 5:30 pm, ET/2:30 pm, PT... ESPN will come on from Quebec City at 10 pm, ET/7 pm, PT, with the super middleweight contest between Christian Mbili-Rohan Murdock...Top Rank has announced that Bruce 'Shu Shu' Carrington will face Bernard Torres on the ESPN opener on February 16 at the Theater at MSG. That nights main event features WBC 130-pound titlist, O'Shaquie Foster versus Abraham Nova....The Seahawks are now coachless in Seattle, as Pete Carroll will no longer be leading them. That's a bit surprising...And yeah, Nick Saban is retiring. The rest of the SEC and the country is breathing a sigh of relief...I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.....