Liam Smith will be heading back to England this weekend wondering just how he hasn’t got a new belt among his luggage.
The Liverpudlian went to Ekaterinburg in Russia on Friday night in the hope of getting his world title ambitions back on track against the undefeated Magomed Kurbanov.
Smith, who had been out of the ring for 17 months leading into the contest, was without his long-time trainer Joe Gallagher, having been on an odyssey that led him back to the place of his roots, to the place of his boxing birth under the watchful eyes of local duo Joseph McNally and Declan O’Rourke at the Rotunda ABC.
The former WBO champion at 154 pounds had the better of the early stages, scoring what seemed to be a legitimate knockdown in the opener –– which was ruled a slip by the referee –– before picking up the pace and applying a lot of pressure to make Kurbanov work hard in return to get off his own shots.
Kurbanov, the hometown favourite who was born in Pervomaysk, Dagestan, rocked Smith on a few occasions and the latter stages were particularly entertaining, with both men having their own successes.
It appeared, come the final bell, that Smith had done enough to get the victory, but it was Kurbanov’s hand that was raised, with the judges scorecards reading 115-113, 115-113 and 117-112. It is expected Kurbanov will now go on to face Tim Tszyu, should the Australian star overcome domestic rival, Michael Zerafa.
Tszyu is currently the WBO’s number one contender to the champion Brian Castano and, with Castano facing Jermell Charlo for all of the other major belts in the division in July, it could well be that the fight is made as a final eliminator to face the winner.
Kurbanov moves on to 22-0 (13 KOs) as a professional with the win, while Smith, who was flanked in Russia by his three brothers Paul, Stephen and Callum, slips to 29-3-1, with 16 quick finishes, in defeat.