Gary Lockett believes the time is right for Liam Williams to fight Liam Smith for a world title
Now is exactly the right time to quench the thirst for the eagerly anticipated Liam Williams (16-0-1, 11KO) vs Liam Smith (23-1-1, 13KO) matchup, according to one of the people who put the deal together.
After years of progressing almost parallel to each other, the super-welterweights will finally cross paths with Smith’s old, and potentially soon-to-be vacant, WBO world title possibly on the line at the Manchester Arena on Saturday 8 April.
Gary Lockett has managed Williams since his professional debut in 2011 and trained ‘The Machine’ for his last 15 fights. The 40-year-old feels events have worked out very well for the close-knit duo, who work at the U-Fit Gym in Cardiff Bay.
He said: “We’ve been negotiating all over Christmas and it looks like we’ve come to a good deal. I think what I’ve had to do is make sure the fight is at the right time.
“They’ve talked about this fight before but as his [Williams’] manager, it’s been my job to make sure the money is right. Now, I can say the money is right and we’re happy with everything; the terms, the contract and the money. It’s game on.
“Whether people think he’s ready for it, we’ll see and we’ll show you he is. Obviously, Smith is the betting favourite and most peoples’ choice but we think different.”
Frank Warren has invested in Williams with back-to-back shows in his homeland and been repaid with thousands of fans attending the events, compared to the sparse crowds when Smith, who is managed by MGM Marbella, headlined an almost empty Echo Arena in June 2016.
The Hall of Fame promoter wanted to launch BoxNation TV’s partnership with BT Sport in Wales. However, the contest will take place 200 miles away from Williams’ hometown and has landed in the North West.
Lockett, who maintains all parties are happy with a neutral venue, said: “I know that Frank Warren wanted to do it in Cardiff. As far as I was concerned, when we first spoke it was going to be here. The next thing I know, it’s not. We all know why it’s there…
“It’s no problem, though. Liam [Williams] is still going to bring 2,500 fans there. It’s what you’d expect. With Smith being a former champion, you’d expect him not to do it in Cardiff but it’s all good. It’s nothing that we’re not happy about.”
Though Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez’s expected decision to face Julio Cesar Chavez in an all-Mexican super fight is likely to render the WBO belt vacant and benefit Williams, it’s been a far from straightforward five-year road to reach this point. They’ve faced challenges and it wasn’t until recently that Lockett was sure it would lead to this point.
He said: “There have been a lot of obstacles along the way. When Liam first came to me, BoxNation was just starting and there were a couple of bills that fell through. They were bitter pills to swallow but he dusted himself off and stayed training. We went through the small hall circuit for a while, earning next to no money and he’s had a very serious hand injury to overcome as well. It’s not been easy.
“We took a risk when Liam fought Kris Carslaw after nearly 13 months out and he just hit the ground running [in December 2015 – W TKO2]. That’s what natural talents do, I don’t believe in ring rust. Looking at that performance, I knew it wouldn’t be long before this fight was put to us and here we are.”
When Lockett puts on his trainer’s hat and uses the knowledge that led him to his own world title shot in 2008, he’s full of praise for Smith. Recognising the tough task ahead for his charge, Lockett believes the difference will be mental, rather than physical.
He said: “Liam Smith is someone I really rate as a fighter, he’s very good at what he does. It’s completely different to Liam Williams, they’re complete opposite fighters. Obviously, they’re both aggressive but the one is an all rounder and the other one tends to do the same thing every fight.
“I think Liam Smith comes forward, hands high and has a lovely left hook to the body, which he sets up well. It’s a really intriguing fight. With a challenge like Liam Smith, he [Liam Williams] knows he has to use his brain a little more and be forward thinking.
“I think they’ll gel together naturally. It’s going to come down to who uses their smarts more and intelligence better. Liam Smith wears his heart on his sleeve, he is going to get wound up but I think it’s important for Liam [Williams] to remain professional and be the better man.”
While Lockett concedes that it’s the hardest match-up Williams has faced, he also believes that Smith has only operated at world class once – a three knockdown/ninth round stoppage loss to Canelo in September.
He said: “The only world class opponent Liam Smith has fought is Canelo. I’m not saying he isn’t world class but the WBO title fights he’s been in, they aren’t what I call world class fights.
“I was a pundit for that fight, Smith gave a really good performance and he showed what he’s all about. If he had four or five proper world class 12 rounders, he’d be ahead of Liam Williams but he hasn’t had that, so I don’t think he is ahead of him.”
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