Though Sadam Ali’s HBO headliner on May 12 against Liam Smith will be just his second fight in the Junior Middleweight division, it also marks his first world title defense.
“I am very happy to have this world title,” Ali told Round By Round Boxing. “I’m excited. This is my first title defense. I know I have to come prepared and ready to show why I have this belt in the first place.”
The Brooklyn native is back in camp alongside his longtime trainer Andre Rozier. The two have been together since Ali was 11 years old, from winning two National Golden Gloves Championships to representing the United States at the 2008 Summer Olympics (the first Arab-American to ever do so).
Now Ali and his team have turned their focus on Smith (26-1-1, 14 KO), a former world champion. The Englishman was the WBO titlist for a year, defending it twice, before dropping the belt to Canelo Alvarez in 2016.
“He’s a good fighter,” Ali happily admitted. “I’m definitely not underestimating him. I’ve seen his fight with Canelo, I’ve seen a few other ones. He has a good jab and throws good body shots.”
Ali sees Smith as an opportunity to—again—prove his harshest critics wrong. He was met with criticism following his latest victory as a result of Cotto’s impending retirement and is now being knocked for his inexperience above 147 pounds.
“I do believe I am underestimated at this weight,” said Ali. “A lot of people don’t think I’m ready or strong enough for the 154-pound weight class. But I do feel I have a little more power here and I don’t feel like my speed falls away at all.”
Ali will have a distinct speed advantage come fight night but victory, some might say, depends on keeping Smith off of him. The Englishman from Liverpool is a banger who twice squared off with British champion Liam Williams in 2017, turning in two fun fights.
The defending champion is unperturbed.
“I’m confident in everything I do,” said Ali. “Nobody is perfect, but I feel I have all the tools. I have a little of everything, so it should be great.”
Expect a big turnout as Ali returns to New York at the Turning Stone Resort & Casino. Fighting between Brooklyn, New Jersey and the Madison Square Garden his entire career, Ali is a huge draw in the state.
His clash with Cotto, a staple in the NY fight scene, did huge numbers, peaking at over one million television viewers.
After four years under his own banner, World Kid Promotions, Ali is proud to join forces with Golden Boy Promotions, the company behind boxing celebrity Canelo Alvarez and blossoming teenage sensation Ryan Garcia.
“Golden Boy is really loyal,” said Ali, who joined Oscar de la Hoya’s stable in 2013. “You can trust them. They look out for you. I’ve always wanted to be comfortable and that’s what I am working with them.”
No different than de la Hoya, Ali is the son of immigrants. Ali’s parents migrated from Yemen to the US when he was a child.
Ali never forgets what his parents and the sport of boxing did to keep him off the streets of Brooklyn, showing up at the gym just days after his dad took him to the Madison Square Garden to see former featherweight champion Naseem Hamed crush Kevin Kelley in four rounds.
He hopes turning back Smith can spark the same kind of drive in the next generation of boxing fans. The American dream is in their reach as much as it was for him.
“Stay away from the wrong people,” Ali advised. “What helped me was staying in school and listening to my parents. Always work hard for what you want and you’ll be great.”
All photos by Marilyn Paulino/RBRBoxing