By Terence Dooley
John Simpson defends his British featherweight title in a crunch rematch with current Commonwealth holder Stephen Smith at Liverpool’s Olympia venue on Wednesday night. The two men met in Glasgow in September of last year, Smith eking out a narrow split decision victory on that occasion to bring the Commonwealth belt back home to Liverpool. Simpson, though, excels when fighting for titles on the road. Going 6-3 in away day engagements with a point’s win over Martin Lindsay last December – the Greenock-based bruiser is also 3-0 (3) in rematches.
Certainly, the bitty and hard fought nature of the previous meeting provides the contest with an interesting backdrop. There is also the small matter of the corners; Joe Gallagher trains Smith; Billy Nelson coaches Simpson; the two trainers are in red hot form and will both be keen to come out of Liverpool with a W.
Gallagher is currently riding a 46-fight winning streak. Smith joined him earlier this year after parting company with Liverpool’s Georgie Vaughan. The Simpson rematch was already on Swifty’s plate, which goes a long way to quashing the idea that Gallagher is overly keen to protect his streak. Joe maintains that the run of wins is just reward for the hard work put in by his fighters, rather than something to be massaged along via a string of easy outings.
“Everyone wants that bit of gold dust. We’re having it at the moment. You wish you could bottle it but you can’t so you just have to train them the best you can through these periods when things are going well,” said Gallagher, his pride over the record tempered by the knowledge that things can change quickly in boxing.
“But every fight is a big fight so there is a bit pressure there every time one of the lads is out. It is good pressure. My job is to make sure they’re all ready when it is their turn to put themselves in the spotlight. Things like the record get put to one side at times like these because it is all about the lads and how they perform.
“The main things is that the lads are all benefitting from the quality in-house sparring. It is like going into work when you really enjoy doing your job and being with your work pals. All these lads really enjoy working with the guys around them. You see the Smiths getting up early of a morning and coming over here from Liverpool. It shows the hunger and desire these lads have.
“We’ve got young lads like Joe Murray, Stephen, Anthony Crolla, Mark Heffron, Callum Johnson and the Burtons [Hosea and Zak] coming through so it keeps older lads like John, Macklin and Paul Smith on their toes. We’ve a great gym. We have the benefit of teaming up with Kerry Kayes, and the access to his CNP nutritional products and advice. Throw in the best cuts man in the world, Mick Williams, and there’s a lot of factors that go into the success.”
Smith is 11-0 (6). Simpson 22-7 (9). The two men have a lot to lose. John’s IBF number four ranking could be impacted by a defeat; a loss for the Liverpudlian would see him lose his 0. Gallagher, however, insists that Smith will consolidate with a home victory and an improved performance.
“He is bouncing, can’t wait for this fight. Stephen is like a little Crolla, he listens to everything you say and has had good sparring with Crolla and Joe Murray. I had to give him days off because he’s so ahead of the schedule all the time. He was within the weight limit last night [Tuesday],” enthused Gallagher.
“Stephen has bubbled through nicely. This is a tough fight. He’s going to come through it but will have a few problems. I like John Simpson. I’ve enjoyed watching his fights in preparation for this. John does everything thing well but nothing exceptional.”
Joe does not place much emphasis on Simpson’s impressive away record, nor the Scottish fighter’s notable form in return contests. “I wasn’t aware of the rematches one at first but this will be the one where the wheels come off for Simpson, who is a good, solid pro,” he opined.
“There is no razzmatazz from John. He’ll come to Liverpool to do his business just like Stephen went up to Scotland to win the Commonwealth title. The Olympia is a great venue and a good hunting ground for us because we’re coming off Crolla’s British [lightweight] title win over [John] Watson at the same venue. But this fight has given me a lot of concern.”
Chief amongst those worries is the champion’s stellar form during his win over Lindsay. Simpson handed the Belfast boxer his first defeat, leaving Ireland with the Lonsdale belt tucked under his arm. Nelson believes it was one of John’s most accomplished performances – Gallagher concurs.
“Simpson is coming off a fantastic win over Lindsay,” he acknowledged. “And don’t forget that this is my first fight with Stephen. Although in my first fight with Macklin we were straight in the lion’s den against [Wayne] Elcock for the British title and got a stoppage win so it shows we don’t need any warm-up fights. It is a tough test against a solid champion but I think we’ll surprise a few people.
“Stephen’s left hand went in the fourth of the last one, that impacted on his overall performance. Just like Macklin in his last fight [a routine point’s victory over Ruben Varon], Stephen had to pickpocket his way through to win when not at his best. I know what they’ll be looking at and hoping to capitalise on so we’ve got to make sure those same errors from before aren’t there in this fight.”
The respective corner teams have replicated the healthy rivalry shown by both combatants. Gallagher and Nelson will go head-to-head for the first time once the opening bell rings. Joe wants to test himself against the best; this contest gives him the double whammy of a Simpson-Nelson partnership to get his teeth into.
“I hear that John is the slight bookies favorite so that is probably based on his career and his last win but we’re confident going into the fight. I went over to introduce myself to Billy and to John at the weigh in, we all shook hands and it is onto tomorrow night,” he mused as our conversation wound down.
Simpson weighed in at 125.6lb; Smith scaled 125.7lbs.
Sky Sports 1 and HD1 televise live 10pm on Wednesday.
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