Liam Smith earned a majority decision over Liam Williams in a rematch that failed to live up to expectations on Saturday.
Smith, who lost the WBO world junior middleweight title by ninth-round knockout to Mexico’s Canelo Alvarez in September 2016, will now get the chance to win back his old belt in 2018.
The English boxer beat his Welsh rival by scores of 117-111, 116-112 and 114-114 in an eliminator for the WBO title — held by Puerto Rico’s Miguel Cotto — at the Metro Arena in Newcastle.
After a thrilling slugfest in April, this was more of a technical and tactical affair that lacked the blood and thunder of their first fight.
But Smith (26-1-1, 14 KOs) was not complaining and was happy at how he controlled some of the rounds with his boxing and defense.
“It was a different fight this time — I think I showed a different Liam Smith,” said Smith. “I think people were surprised how I boxed him. I’ve just beat a very good boxer in Liam Williams. Some people think I just walk forward, but I showed I’ve got a very good jab.”
Smith’s promoter, Frank Warren, says the Liverpool boxer will fight for the WBO super welterweight title next year, even if the 37-year-old Cotto — a six-time world champion over four different weight divisions — decides to retire after his Dec. 2 fight with American Sadam Ali.
“Even if Miguel Cotto does call it a day, Liam Smith’s next fight will be for a world title next year, 100 per cent,” said Warren.
Smith, who is one of four boxing brothers (Paul, Stephen and Callum), was just a little bit cuter than Williams.
Williams (16-2-1, 11 KOs), 25, from Clydach Vale, lacked the explosiveness he displayed in the first fight while Smith was definitely better than he was before.
“Liam Smith brought something very different to what he had in our first fight,” said Williams. “He had a lot more respect for me than the first fight. He took it to the next level, and I believe the right man won, just about.”
Their first fight in April had been an enthralling encounter with more blood on show than an abattoir.
A cut eyelid, caused by a clash of heads, prompted Williams’ trainer, Gary Lockett, to pull out his fighter in the ninth round.
Williams was leading by a point on all three scorecards at the time of the stoppage.
Smith, 29, was sluggish for much of the first fight with Williams, but he was a lot sharper the second time around. After a quiet opening round, both exchanged right uppercuts in the second round and it was clear that Smith looked better.
Both were tense and more considered with their shots than earlier in the year, and the third round was close, with Williams landing an uppercut at close quarters.
Williams threw some successful combinations in the fifth round, but at the halfway mark neither had opened up.
Smith was sharper in the sixth and seventh rounds, with his jab effective, and in the eighth the Liverpool boxer seemed to be pulling ahead. Williams was not as free with his punches as he was earlier in the year but responded to Lockett’s words in the corner with a better ninth round.
Williams continued to look aggressive in the 10th round, when the fight began to heat up with the best action so far.
Both landed some good punches, but Williams connected with more as he attacked Smith with a suddenly gained purpose.
Williams impressively dug hooks into Smith’s body with either hand in the 10th round, but Smith finished the 11th in style by hurting the Welshman with a flurry of punches.
Smith controlled the last round with some carefully selected shots and movement around the ring. It was just about enough to put Smith back into world title contention.