Sadam Ali pulled a major upset in his last fight when he outpointed Miguel Cotto on Dec. 2 to win a junior middleweight world title. But when Ali makes his first defense, the odds figure to be far more even.
Ali will defend his 154-pound belt against former titlist Liam Smith, who will journey from England to the United States to fight for the second time when they meet on May 12 (HBO, 10 p.m. ET/PT) at the Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York, promoters Oscar De La Hoya of Golden Boy Promotions and Frank Warren announced Monday.
"Sadam Ali climbed onto the world championship stage with one of the biggest upsets in boxing history when he snatched the WBO junior middleweight world title from four-division, six-time world champion and future Hall of Famer Miguel Cotto at Madison Square Garden," De La Hoya said. "Being in the ring with a hungry fighter with a world championship belt on his résumé like Liam Smith will be nothing new to Ali. Sadam will prove yet again he's someone to watch out for in the division."
Ali (26-1, 14 KOs), 29, a 2008 U.S. Olympian from Brooklyn, New York, had a previous shot at a vacant welterweight title but lost by ninth-round knockout to Jessie Vargas in 2016. Since then, Ali has won four fights in a row, culminating with the win over Cotto, which was Ali's first fight as a junior middleweight.
"It felt great to accomplish my dream of becoming world champion," Ali said. "I'm excited to defend my title and to demonstrate that it is not up for grabs. Liam Smith is a great fighter and I'm sure he'll be ready, but so will I."
Smith (26-1-1, 14 KOs), 29, is from the fighting Smith family that also includes super middleweight contender Callum Smith and former world title challengers Paul and Stephen Smith. In 2015, Liam Smith stopped John Thompson to win a vacant title and went on to make two successful defenses before he traveled to Arlington, Texas, and lost it by ninth-round knockout to Canelo Alvarez before more than 50,000 at AT&T Stadium in September 2016.
"I'm confident that I can go to the States and make the statement that I wanted to make the last time I fought there," Smith said. "People go to America and establish their name as a world-class fighter by beating world-level fighters. I went there and my first fight was against an elite fighter in Canelo Alvarez. It would have probably been better for me to go over there and fight the likes of Sadam Ali, your people that have been around world level for years.
"The first time I got over there was against Canelo and people have judged me on that fight against one of the world's elite fighters. I'm looking forward to going back over there and beating a world-class fighter in Sadam Ali, and then people will recognize me as a world-class fighter."
Smith has won three fights in a row since the loss to Alvarez and comes into the fight as Ali's mandatory challenger.
"I'm very happy that we've got this fight," Smith said. "I'm looking forward to pitting myself against a good fighter in Sadam Ali, a former Olympian and now world champion who is coming off the back of a good win against Miguel Cotto. I'm confident going into this fight. I know I'm naturally the bigger man, and that will come into play, especially in the type of fight that I think it will be. I think the longer the fight goes on the more my size advantage will come into play."
Said Warren: "This is Liam's chance to reclaim his world title. He's come through two hard fights against Liam Williams to earn his shot, and he's done what he set out to do. When he lost his belt against Canelo Alvarez, Liam said he would be a world champion again, and on May 12 he will deliver on that promise."