Beterbiev vs Johnson: Callum Smith and Callum Johnson are more than just gym-mates
Watch Johnson challenge Beterbiev, live on Sky Sports Action, from 2am Sunday morning
By Tim Hobbs
Last Updated: 05/10/18 12:37pm
Callum Smith and Callum Johnson have always been sparring partners but, with both working closely alongside each other ahead of the biggest fights of their lives, there is more to their pairing than meets the eye.
Smith was the first to win a world title last weekend, Johnson can follow suit in the early hours of Sunday morning, live on Sky Sports. Smith overcame established world super-middleweight star George Groves, Johnson takes on unbeaten Russian beast Artur Beterbiev, but giant steps are not the only parallels that can be drawn from the Gallagher's Gym duo...
Johnson won gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, Smith the silver at the same event in Delhi and was the domestic champion, so both moved into the paid ranks with high hopes...
Johnson: It was eight years ago - almost to the day - that I turned professional. I'll be honest, when I turned pro, I thought it would be a breeze. I thought I would get all these opportunities, win all these titles and get onto the world stage very quickly. But it just didn't work like that.
Smith: When you start you are quite active, thinking it is easy. You go from the best in the world as an amateur to taking on guys who, with all due respect, you are expected to beat. It is all great, but I was lucky. Matchroom looked after me and it was only until the WBC situation last year that I was on the wrong end of all the politics.
Both soon realised that their amateur success counted for nothing in the pro game, where there are always questions to be answered...
Smith: Everybody knew who I was and had always told me I would do it but all of a sudden, when things weren't going right, they suddenly kept asking if I was actually going to do it. I even started wondering myself, if I was going to. You start questioning yourself: is the chance ever going to come?
There's always been a bit of hype around my name. There have always been expectations and people have always spoken highly of me, because they know what I can do.
Johnson: There's always been a bit of hype around my name. There have always been expectations and people have always spoken highly of me, because they know what I can do. A lot of people haven't seen it, what I've done so far, and they are all now wondering 'can he do it? Or can't he do it?'.
Breaking down Beterbiev
Artur Beterbiev defends his world light-heavyweight title against Callum Johnson, so here is all you need to know about the champion.
Every fighter has a first, defining fight, for Smith it was a Merseyside derby with Rocky Fielding, while Johnson met Frank Buglioni head-on, both out to prove a point...
Johnson: I think the way my career has gone, I think people started to doubt that I can do it and it was nice to finally prove I can do it against a good fighter like Frank as well. But all people have seen there is - just an explosive, brutal performance with knockout power. They've not seen the skills I've got and I am tough when I need to be tough, don't worry about that.
Smith: The Fielding one was the first time in my career when I saw Twitter polls and boxing people picking me to lose. Everyone has their opinion so you don't let it get your back up but that was my first "proper" fight if I am honest. I wouldn't say it was 50-50 but opinions were split.
I knew that if I won - and won well - I would prove a lot of people wrong, beat a rival, not a journeyman. It made me sit up and think it was a good win, so I pushed on. My next one was for the European... Callum's is even better.
Smith had been shunned by the WBC so went into the World Boxing Super Series, Johnson was given a call out of the blue, but they both knew it was a chance worth taking...
Johnson: I got a phone call from Joe (Gallagher) saying there could be an opportunity to fight him. Not at any moment did it cross my mind, or think 'oh it's him, do I want to fight him?', or anything like that. I rate him very highly but I was just buzzing at the opportunity. I am looking for the chance and opportunity to see if I can do it. For me, I want to see if I can.
Smith: I understood why but it did annoy me that people were just writing me off. For the first 22 fights they had been saying I would certainly win a world title, yet all of a sudden, they were just judging me on my last two performances Groves was on form, he was the world champion, and he had competed at that top level on numerous occasions, but that was good for me. I was an unknown quantity, I knew I would show people there was more to come from me.
Smith became Britain's latest super-middleweight world champion and won the World Boxing Super Series, Johnson could be our latest light-heavyweight success...
Johnson: I know him from the amateurs as well and what I am up against. I'm not deluded. I know what a tough ask it is and I know what I am up against. But at the same time, I am not bothered. I fancy that I can shock the world. I think this is the fight where people will see what I can do. I think win, lose or draw, people are going to see a great fight.
It's like the world title was my minimum, so there was a bit of pressure, but I'd only have felt that if I didn't believe I could do it.
Smith: It was somewhere I always believed I would be. But for me I had to win a world title, to justify everyone because they bigged me up so much earlier in my career. It's like the world title was my minimum, so there was a bit of pressure, but I'd only have felt that if I didn't believe I could do it.
Smith strides into new era at 168
Callum Smith's win over George Groves saw him join a new breed of world champions at 168lbs, where size seems to matter.
Smith's four brothers were there every step of the way and Johnson believes his late father will be watching and driving his son on...
Smith: They had no doubts, but with me, the doubts did start creeping in because it was up to me. They've always been my biggest fans and they've always believed in me. It is nice to have them there and even when I am sat there in the changing room, the little things they say to me just register in the back of my mind. I knew I was good enough to do it.
Johnson: I am continuing the journey for us both and achieving the goals we set out to achieve. We were always a team from day one; we were a pair, so it does hurt that he's not here to see it all happen and share it with me, but at the same time, it gives me so much comfort that I am doing it for me.
I promised the day I buried him and put the lid down, I said to him I would win the British and Commonwealth and do my very best to win a world title.
Smith has fulfilled a dream, so now Johnson can complete his journey...
Smith: It's a big ask against Beterbiev. He's a very good and very feared fighter but Callum Johnson's got more than a chance in that fight. Providing he turns up and does what he does well, he's got as much a chance as anyone.
Johnson: What people have seen there is just an explosive, brutal performance with knockout power. They've not seen the skills I've got and I am tough when I need to be tough, don't worry about that, they are going to see that Callum Johnson really can fight and can fight with the best them in the world.
Watch the action from Chicago with Jessie Vargas vs Thomas Dulorme, Artur Beterbiev vs Callum Johnson, Daniel Roman vs Gavin McDonnell and Jarrell Miller vs Tomasz Adamek, 2am, Sunday, Sky Sports Action or follow it on our live blog at skysports.com/boxing or on the Sky Sports App.