By Terence Dooley
Greenock's John Simpson feels he has point to prove going into next Wednesday's rematch with Stephen Smith at Liverpool's Olympia venue. Smith will have plenty of hometown support as he bids to annex Simpson's British belt. The Liverpudlian also holds a 'W' over Simpson after edging a close split decision win for Simpson's Commonwealth belt in Glasgow last September.
Simpson, though, has an amazing record in rematches, 3-0 (3) in return bouts, and is also 6-3 in away day title tilts, a record he maintained by winning the British belt when travelling over to Ireland to hand Martin Lindsay his first pro defeat last December.
“Training is going well, I'm just wrapping the hard part up ahead of the fight. I can't wait for next Wednesday,” declared the 27-year-old when speaking to me over the phone. “I'm coming off a good win and know how to put things right on the night against Smith. I am really up for it and am fitter than ever. I am ready for twelve rounds and will be better than in September but I'm sure he'll be ready as well.”
Simpson hit the title jackpot on his fourth attempt by handing Andy Morris his first defeat back in 2006, the Scot lost his next contest, a foul filled WBU affair against Derry Matthews, before establishing dominance over Morris with a stoppage win in September 2007. A points defeat to Paul Appleby in 2008 saw Simpson lose his British belt only to bounce back with a brace of Commonwealth wins over Middlesbrough’s Paul 'Trussy' Truscott. Indeed, the 22-7 (9) fighter feels that his tough experiences on the road will come into play during the Smith rematch.
“I've always got confidence in myself. I think that going away and feeding off the home support gives me a bit of a buzz and something to prove. Going in there to surprise the home fighter and support gives me that wee edge,” admitted Simpson, although he rued the fact that he has yet to win a title fight on Scottish soil.
He said, “I am disappointed that I've not boxed to the best of my ability in Scotland but I think I've over trained a bit in the past for title fights at home. I know I've got to be at my best to defend or win titles away. I'm consistently good away from home but it is unfortunate that I've had my bad title nights in Scotland. I will look forward to coming back home and performing well after this one.
“I've boxed boys who are undefeated through my career and on their home ground. It is the same for this one with Stephen, he's at home in Liverpool and is a good prospect but he's fighting a different John Simpson this time around. It won't be the same as last time.”
Smith also maintains that we will see a different fighter next week. The 25-year-old recently told me that an injury to his left hand impacted on his performance, pledging that he will be a different proposition this time around. A claim that was greeted with scepticism by Simpson.
“I've heard him say that”, says Simpson when discussing Smith's hand injury, “but if you watch the fight back again there was never a point where he only used one hand or even used both hands effectively. He punched with both hands throughout that fight. I don't think he got to the point where he couldn't punch so I can't see how much better he will be. I don't see what he can do to make it so much different in this one.
“If he is saying he didn't box well because of his hand then I don't know, it sounds like a bit of an excuse because at no point in that fight did he show a strong left hand. I think I will go onto dominate this one anyway – I'm really looking forward to it.”
Their first meeting was a messy affair, lots of holding, mauling and falling in from both men. Simpson has vowed to clean it up this time around yet places the majority of blame on his opponent. Saying, “I know he said it was because of his hand but he did hold on and spoil an awful lot.
“I suppose it is my own fault for letting him do that. I showed him a bit too much respect in that one after seeing him look so good against so many blown up super-bantamweights so I gave him a bit too much credit but won't make the same mistake this time. I know what I'm facing going in the second time and know how I boxed in the first one. I've had my hard nights but have often boxed prospects on their own shows. I always do better in rematches and am more consistent in them.”
Simpson has faced a who's who of British featherweight talent, vying against Morris, Matthews, Appleby, Smith, Stephen Foster Junior, Dazzo Williams, Stevie Bell and Truscott. The long-time featherweight is highly ranked by the IBF; John feels that he will have earned the right to move on should he post a revenge win over Smith.
“I am not the type of guy to talk about boxing for world titles and won't look past Smith but I am number four in the IBF just now with Billy Dib and Mikey Garcia above me, the number two spot is free so a win could put me into a decent position for a title. I could go to mandatory if I win this one impressively because the title is vacant. I'll have a Lonsdale belt outright so there won't be anything else to prove and I could also be heading for the European title,” he opined, ruling out a rubber match should he defeat Smith.
“Stephen would have that decision over me but if I put it right then I can't see myself fighting him again because the first fight was close. I know how awkward he was last time so have worked hard but will be moving on – I'm 28 so I want to push on and have a chance on the world scene.”
Billy Nelson is now Simpson's full-time trainer. The affable coach works out of his Fighting Scot gym in Stepps, Glasgow, guiding Ricky Burns to the WBO title after picking Burns up from the floor following losses to Alex Arthur and Carl Johanneson. Simpson believes that he has improved under Nelson's full-time guidance.
“Stephen will improve as well and has moved to a new trainer [Joe Gallagher] but I am training with Billy full-time now and alongside a world champion so I think that has brought me on again since the last fight,” he explained.
“Billy is a great guy. A great friend as well. Billy worked with Scott Harrison and is training Ricky at the moment so he's got that experience and works with a lot of prospects, he must be doing something right.”
Paul Appleby recently joined Billy's roster of fighters. The 23-year-old has had a tough time of late, failing to kick on after beating Simpson in 2008. Defeats to Lindsay and Joseph Laryea have taken some of the shine away from Appleby. Paul, however, jumped straight into sparring after hooking up with Billy in order to aid his former foe.
“Paul came here after his last fight and has helped me in sparring. Paul got down to sparring me without taking time settling in so that is great. Ricky also came in to help me. My sparring has been spot on. I cannot ask for more to be honest,” mused Simpson as talk turned to Appleby's arrival.
The torch paper is now lit on a fascinating dual featherweight title duel. Both men have declared themselves better than ever. Each fighter is convinced that he will put things right come the first bell. With Simpson adamant that the new training regime has unlocked his raw potential.
“I've said before that I was making the weight amateurishly and not coming down properly but since getting that worked out I've been punching harder. I am doing everything differently now and feel a lot stronger for it,” confirmed the British titlist.
“Get ready for a John Simpson win,” was his pre-fight warning. “I'm confident of winning as long as I box to my ability. I want to move on now because I've fought a lot of domestic guys and am due to move on. I should have gone onto the European title after beating Andy Morris for the second time but lost to Paul so lost out on that one at the time. It would be nice after all these fights to go for that title or to a higher level.”
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