In his final Boxing Social column of 2020, Russ Anber reflects on Callum Smith’s loss to Canelo Álvarez in San Antonio at the weekend …

Canelo is Red Gold!

Let me start off by saying how truly honoured I was to have been in Callum Smith’s corner on Saturday night at the Alamodome and the long and the short of it is this: Callum lost to a great fighter in Saul ‘Canelo’ Álvarez.

Callum gave no excuses after the fight which is typical of the sort of stand-up, genuine guy he is.

But, truth be told, he did suffer a massive injury in there to his arm, which lots of people have been asking about, and it was physically a very tough 12 rounds for him.

When Callum came back to the corner after the second round, his right eye was already 10 shades of purple and blue and was starting to swell. At that point I thought: ‘Oh shit, this is early in the fight.’

For the most part in the breaks between rounds, I was concentrating on keeping Callum’s eye under control. And I’m happy to say that with Joe Gallagher and Anthony Crolla, we did a good job with that in the corner. Every round he came back I’d make sure I cooled him off with the ice water and got to work on the eye.

At one point early in the fight, I heard Callum say something to Joe but I wasn’t sure what it was exactly. However, I soon noticed that he wasn’t using his left hand as much as he should have been. So much so that I was yelling at him: ‘Snap it! Snap it! Snap the jab!’

Then I turned to Crolla, the third man in the corner alongside myself and trainer Joe, and I said to him: ‘What’s wrong with his arm? Did he hurt himself?’

Crolla said to me: ‘Russ, I think he’s broken his hand.’ Man, when Crolla said that my heart sank – it went into the pit of my stomach. I take pride in how carefully I wrap a fighter’s hands and I thought: there’s no way he could have broken his hand. Bruised his knuckle, maybe, but not broken his hand. The hand wrap was just too good.

Anyway, that scared the shit out of me, thanks Crolla!  However, as more time passed I realised it wasn’t his hand – instead I could see that his arm had taken on a really grotesque look.

Anber (right) wraps Smith’s hands ahead of Saturday night’s big fight with Canelo.
Photo: Instagram @russanber.

How can I describe what it looked like? Jeez, well it looked like there was a huge wrap around his muscle – you couldn’t even make out the look or normal shape of his bicep. It was a big, ugly almost square swelling that went all the way around his arm, 360 degrees.

I don’t know exactly how the injury happened. Callum thinks it was from being punched there and that Canelo deliberately targeted punching him on the arms. Maybe. One thing I do know is that I’ve never seen a guy’s arm swell up like that before. 

And the arm really bothered Callum, of course. If you were watching the fight closely there were a few times when he threw the left hook and missed and then he couldn’t snap his arm back like he normally would. Afterwards in the dressing room when Callum was sat down with his hand on his knee he couldn’t lift his arm up more than eight inches above his knee.

Callum showed a lot of guts, especially to fight on with that injury. In the tenth round, I walked over to Joe, who was sat on the other side of me to Crolla, as we all had to sit socially distanced. Anyway I walked over to Joe and said: ‘Joe, we’ve got to start thinking about pulling the plug on this one.’

In the corner, Joe told Callum, ‘If you don’t show me something I’m going to stop this.’ But Callum said, ‘No, I’m fine Joe. I can’t do anything with my arm. But I’m fine, don’t worry.’

Anber’s handwrapping and cornerman’s kit for Smith’s bout with Canelo.
Photo: Instagram @russanber.

So Joe rolled the dice a little bit and let him go out there to go the distance. I kept watching the clock and thinking: ‘Come on now, tick away, let’s go the distance and then get away from here!’

And luckily Callum did. He managed to keep a good guard up and although he took a lot of shots he never got hit with anything that really shook him or made him lose his legs. His head wasn’t being snapped around his shoulders. He got through it and anyone who can go 12 with the best fighter in the world, well that’s something to be proud of. It wasn’t the objective, he wanted to win, but that’s life sometimes.

Before this fight, of course, Callum had been on a good run. Aside from the John Ryder fight he’d been scoring some debilitating knockouts along the way.

So it’s impressive that Canelo went into the eye of the storm against a bigger guy with no fear whatsoever.

I see Canelo as a real throwback fighter. Real old school. He has defence, in-fighting skills and real power. It’s truly rare to have all three of those traits at such a high level. Some people have one or two out of three, but when you get all three that’s a truly gifted fighter.

Canelo possesses a fine defence, in-fighting skills and real power, says Anber.
Photo: Michelle Farsi/Matchroom Boxing USA.

Canelo has it all – he has truly outstanding defence, he rolls with punches beautifully even if you hit him, he’s also got great power, he’s strong, he can fight on the inside and on the outside and he’s got a good jab. 

He may well be the most complete fighter in boxing today. It’s very hard to make a case against him being the pound-for-pound number one guy in the world when you look at the skills he has, the things he can do in the ring and the opposition he’s faced.

It’s funny, because the first pro fighter I ever trained was Vinnie Curto. He was a similar size to Canelo, maybe an inch smaller, and fought most of his career as a middleweight. I learned a lot about boxing from Vinnie. He didn’t have the power Canelo has but Vinnie was a pure old school boxer like Canelo. He had short alligator-like arms and would outbox guys bigger than him. They couldn’t hit him with a handful of rice – that’s how good he was defensively. 

Canelo on Saturday reminded me of Vinnie with all those moves in the pocket. As I was sat in the corner watching Canelo, it was like a flashback to 40 years ago when I used to watch Vinnie go to work and he’d make great fighters like Bennie Briscoe and Eddie Melo miss him with punches while he was standing right in front of them. They’d be throwing bombs and he’d move his head a little bit to the left, a little bit to the right and they just couldn’t touch him. That’s why Vinnie had about 100 pro fights because he avoided taking punishment.

Anyone who faces Canelo is in for a long night. One fight that would be very interesting to see is Canelo vs Artur Beterbiev. The fact we’re taking about Canelo going up to 175lbs for potential fights shows how good he is because he really isn’t a light-heavyweight, yet he could give up all that size and weight and still be considered favourite against a lot of light-heavies.

The thing Beterbiev would have going for him against Canelo is that he’s not bothered by taking shots. He would come forward relentlessly – he wouldn’t be interested in going backwards –  he would just say: ‘Okay, let’s go!’ and he’d do anything he could to get Canelo to exchange with him.

And it would potentially only take one shot for Beterbiev to win because he hits so hard. 

Now successfully landing that one shot might be hard to do, but if he could … that’s extreme danger for Canelo.

I’d love to see that fight happen – and so would Beterbiev! 

Russ Anber was talking to Luke G. Williams.

Russ Anber is the founder/ CEO of Rival Boxing, as well as a highly respected trainer (of both pros and amateurs), a gym owner, a cut-man, an entrepreneur, a broadcaster and one of the best hand wrappers in the boxing business. Vasiliy Lomachenko, Oleksandr Usyk, Artur Beterbiev and Callum Smith are among the many top boxers Russ currently works with.

Main image: Michelle Farsi/Matchroom Boxing USA.