By Tim Royner: WBA Super World super middleweight champion Callum Smith and his promoter Eddie Hearn are hoping to put together a unification fight next May against either WBC champ David Benavidez or WBO belt holder Billy Joe Saunders. Hearn says he would prefer not to make the Callum vs. Saunders fight just yet, because he wants the match to marinate a little more before he puts it together.

It’s a little soon for Callum to be facing Saunders, since Billy Joe’s career has been hampered due to inactivity and poor match-making in the last four years. Saunders’ management has failed to make the fights needed to turn him into a superstar or even moderately popular fighter.

Callum to fight in May in Liverpool 

Smith (26-0, 19 KOs) and Hearn want his May fight to take place in Anfield in Liverpool, and they need a world champion like Benavidez (22-0, 19 KOs), Saunders (28-0, 13 KOs) or Saul Canelo Alvarez to be standing across from him inside the ring. Canelo hasn’t talked about wanting to fight the 6’3″ Callum, but it’s possible he could show interest.

What hurts Callum’s chances of getting a fight against Canelo Alvarez is his lack of popularity in the U.S. If Canelo were to face Smith, he would be fighting an opponent similar to Rocky Fielding as far as name recognition in the U.S. Callum is a better fighter than Fielding, but the casual boxing fans in the U.S still don’t know who he is. There’s no gain for Canelo to fight Callum.

David Benavidez defeated Dirrell last Saturday

Benavidez, 22, defeated WBC super middleweight champion Anthony Dirrell (33-2-1, 24 KOs) by a 9th round TKO last Saturday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. With the WBC title now once again back in Benavidez’s possession, he says he wants Canelo, Caleb Plant, Gennady Golovkin or Benavidez for his next fight. Hearn can make the Callum vs. Benavidez fight if he starts working on it soon.

Ryder challenges Callum Smith on November 23

Callum will be making a defense of his WBA 168-lb title against his mandatory John Ryder (28-4, 16 KOs) on November 23 on Sky at the Echo Arena in Liverpool, England.

Ryder earned his title shot against Smith by defeating Bilal Akkawy by a 3rd round knockout last May. Akkawy was previously undefeated at 20-0 at the time ‘The Gorilla’ Ryder beat him.

Callum to fight in Anfield against Saunders or Benavidez

“You fight John Ryder, you win, and then we go to Anfield and do a unification fight with Billy Joe Saunders,” said Hearn to IFL TV. “We’ve also written to the WBC to find out what’s happening, because he’s got the WBC Diamond fight. Last year at the WBC convention, I pitched the idea of Benavidez vs. Callum Smith as ordered. But then he failed the drug test, Benavidez. But now Benavidez had won [the WBC title after beating Anthony Dirrell last Saturday].

“He’s got to fight [Avni] Yildirim, which will probably take place in December, why not order Callum Smith against Benavidez, because Callum Smith has been right up there with 15 WBC sanctioned fights,” said Hearn.

Benavidez will be defending his WBC title against #1 WBC Avni Yildirim (21-2, 12 KOs) in December. This will likely be a short fight unless Yildirim’s chin holds up. The German based Yildirim recently gave Anthony Dirrell all he could handle February in losing a 10 round technical decision. However, Yildirim, 28, is still the same fighter that Chris Eubank Jr. destroyed in 3 rounds in October 2018 in the World Boxing Super Series 168-lb tournament. Dirrell, 34, was too long in the tooth to expose Yildirim in the same way that Eubank Jr. did.

Hearn: The WBC should order Benavidez vs. Smith

“So I feel the WBC should be ordering [Benavidez] against Callum Smith,” said Hearn. “I think it’s a great fight but we also have Billy Joe Saunders, and that’s a fight that can be made like that for Anfield. It’s a big, big domestic fight, and a great fight as well. I do want those guys to go a separate path, to be honest. But I have no problems making that fight if everybody is on board, and they are on board, because they both want career-defining fights.

They’ve both been treading water for a little bit too long, and they both want those big [Sky] Box Office stadium fights. They’ve made that money now, and they want those legacy [fights] and those nights, and I will provide both of those nights for Callum Smith and Billy Joe Saunders, and perhaps against each other,” said Hearn.

What could keep the Callum-Benavidez unification fight from taking place next May is the location of the contest. Hearn wants the match to take place in Anfield in the UK, and that could be a problem for Benavidez’s management. They might not want to place Benavidez at a disadvantage against Callum by having to fight in his hometown in Liverpool.

Callum wants any of the three champions at 168

“I want to do a good job on John Ryder and get people to sit up and take notice,” said Callum Smith to IFL TV. “I don’t have any illusions that I’ll be sitting out there at Anfield all alone. It’s going to take a big name to do that, but that puts pressure on Eddie [Hearn] to deliver a big opponent for the big fights that I want. There are three champions in my division.

“Benavidez is a fighter that I’ve kept an eye on. He fights very similar. I think the fight would be very exciting with two explosive styles that would gel pretty well. He’s unbeaten, and so is Caleb Plant and Billy Joe Saunders.

“I think it’s natural for all of us to fight each other in the near future, and cement a #1 in the division, which is me. I watched Benavidez, and it’s hard to not watch him and think, I’ll beat him. If I believe I can beat him, then why not give me a chance to prove it?

“They’re [Benavidez, Saunders and Plant] all about as good as each other with different strengths and different weaknesses. I wouldn’t say I would wipe the floor with all three of them, but I believe I’d beat all three of them in any order ideally. Those are the fights that I want, and those are the fights that motivate me,” said Callum.

Most boxing fans would agree that Callum’s best shot at fighting a unification match would be against Saunders, but only if the money is right. Matchroom promotes both fighters, and it would be a straightforward match to make. Hearn realizes that Saunders and Callum aren’t big names in the UK and U.S, and it wouldn’t be a good time for that fight to be made next May.

Saunders and Callum need to fight other champions at 168

To transform Callum or Saunders into a popular champion, they need to go across the pond and beat the top super middleweights in the U.S in Benavidez and Plant. Carl Froch increased his popularity in the UK a decade ago by competing in the Super Six tournament against Arthur Abraham, Glen Johnson and Andre Ward. Callum needs to do the same by fighting Benavidez and/or Plant.

Saunders is fighting on November 9 on the undercard of KSI vs. Logan Paul at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. However, Hearn is looking to pick off some of the low hanging fruit for Saunders to defend his WBO super middleweight title against. Hearn was foiled by the WBO in his attempts at getting 2nd tier fighter Denis Douglin as Saunders’ opponent for the November 9 card. The WBO rejected Douglin (22-6, 14 KOs) as the opponent for Saunders to face. Douglin has a 2-2 record in his last 4 fights. Hearn clearly isn’t looking to match Saunders against  a real threat.

Callum willing to fight at 175

“I’d be a bit disappointed if I retired or moved up to a different weight division if I hadn’t fought one of the champions,” said Callum. “That is the main goal. If the right opportunity comes, I would move up [to light heavyweight]. I believe I’m big enough. I’ve sparred light heavyweights, and I believe I’d be just as good if not better at light heavyweight. I’d like to achieve as much as I can at 168, but if the right opportunity or right opponent presented itself, I’d move up. If I move up, I think I’d stay up there. I don’t think I’d come back down.

“So it would have to be the right offer, but 175 is definitely an option in the future. It’s getting tougher [to make weight], but I’ve got the right team around me to do it right. I’m still sharp. Once it starts affecting me, I’ll gladly move up [to 175]. I don’t mind moving up. But I’d hate to move up before winning a world title. So now that I’ve done that, when I feel like moving up, I will,” said Smith.

It would be a bad idea for Callum to fight any of the good light heavyweights. Dmitry Bivol has already made it clear that he wants to fight Callum, but Hearn has shown zero interest in making that fight. Callum wouldn’t match-up against the talented 175-lb champions like Bivol, Artur Beterbiev or Oleksandr Gvozdyk. It’s likely that the fighter that Callum has in mind for him fighting at 175 is WBO champion Sergey Kovalev. The Russian fighter Kovalev has problems taking body shots, and this would be a perfect fight for Callum, because he’s excellent in going downstairs.

Canelo & Golovkin fights interest Callum Smith

“I would like a fight with any one of the three, and obviously if [Gennady] Golovkin if he wants to move up,” said Callum. “There’s Canelo. There’s a lot of big names in my division, and I believe I’m #1. I’d like to fight Canelo. He’s the biggest name in boxing at the minute.

“I just can’t afford to sit around for a fight that may never happen. But I thought I’d keep busy, and there’s a lot of big names that I can fight in the meantime. If a phone call comes for me to fight Canelo tomorrow, I’d jump at the chance,” said Smith.

Golovkin and Canelo hasn’t said anything about wanting to fight Callum. There’s no point in Callum even discussing a fight with either of them when he’s still messing around fighting guys like Ryder.