By Terence Dooley
Paul Smith closed out the 2010-11 boxing season with a destructive single stanza win over Jozsef Matolcsi on May 21st. ‘Smigga’ copped a left hook early in the contest before wiping out his foe with a big right hand; it was Smith’s first fight since losing his British belt to James DeGale in December of last year.
The loquacious Liverpudlian is due to fight another eight rounder at Liverpool’s Olympia on September 17th ahead of a crack at the domestic 160lb title or a Commonwealth tilt. The former English 160lb titlist believes that he will be ready to make another run at the belts if he comes through his next one unscathed.
“I’ve got an eight rounder. I’m just waiting to get the opponent confirmed but I think it will be Danny Butler [Writer’s note: Dean Powell, Frank Warren’s matchmaker, has confirmed that Butler, 19-4- (4), has been penciled in]. Then it will be onto a title, which is what I want and need,” revealed Smith when speaking over the phone earlier today.
“I felt good against Matolcsi. I just took a silly shot but it is the worst thing that could have happened to him because it woke me up. He came back looking to catch me again but I caught him. We’d been working on catching and throwing in the gym, stuff that I’d stopped doing, so it was a good shot and a good knockout. It is what I wanted to do at middleweight and what I can carry on doing.
“I know I can produce knockouts like that at middleweight, I’ve had about ten of them down there. I don’t regret not getting the rounds because I needed something to boost my own confidence to get the loss to DeGale out my head. Now my last result is a first round knockout over a kid who is ranked well by the EBU and was no slouch. Matolcsi has 20 KOs himself [his overall record is 29-16-1], he’s beaten Mahir Oral, went the distance with Domenico Spada and did twelve rounds with Predrag Radosevic before our fight.”
It was Smith’s first fight under Joe Gallagher’s stewardship, the 28-year-old holds no regrets over not getting a few more rounds under his belt, telling me that he knows there will be plenty of opportunities over the coming season.
“I don’t need rounds in the corner to gel with Joe. If Joe tells me to go out and not throw a punch for a round then I’ll do that because I trust him and know that what he says is right,” he mused.
“Joe brings stuff from the gym into the fights. I think I should have made the move sooner. You don’t want to change when you’re winning and I’ve nothing bad to say about [former trainer] Georgie [Vaughan], it just wasn’t right for me at the time – I was getting stale. If you aren’t motivated in training then you switch off in fights, which has been proven over time. With Joe you turn up not knowing what he’s got planned for you – you just know that whatever it is will relate to what you do in the ring.”
“That is exactly right”, Smith’s answer to my question of whether Gallagher’s love of the sport shines through, “the obsession shows when his fighters get in the ring, the shape they’re in for starters, and the way they stick to game plans. The plans pan out and work in the main.
“[Mathew] Macklin against [Felix] Sturm was one where Matt did everything right but never got the decision, [Anthony] Crolla against [John] Watson was another one where everything went right and [John] Simpson against our Stephen. Joe and Stephen worked on a slightly different game plan but got there on the night and the ring was a bit smaller so they did the job anyway. There’s times when it doesn’t go right but Joe’s strike rate is right up there.”
Smith journeyed over to Germany for Macklin’s WBA world title shot; he soaked up every minute of the event, believing it has strengthened his own resolve ahead of a crucial time in his career.
“It was a big world title fight, a big German event and it was the type of thing I would love to be involved in. I’ll take whatever title comes first, British or Commonwealth, and would love to get hold of [IBF incumbent] Daniel Geale,” stated Smith.
“Me against Geale would be a great fight, he’s a good come forward fighter so it would be great to get it on. I know I can reach that level but I’m running before I can walk here, I need to get the domestic titles, prove myself to anyone who has doubts and maneuver my way into a world title shot by picking up British, Commonwealth and European titles.”
Martin Murray holds the British and Commonwealth 160lb belts, the St. Helens-based machine looked impressive when dismantling Nick Blackwell in June. There has been talk of a Murray-Smith showdown. Paul, though, believes that their paths may not cross.
Saying, “I like Martin, we get on and have gone on record as saying that if it is made for a title, makes us a few quid and progresses our careers then we’d have to get it on but I am not going around calling Martin out. We could move on without each other but the fight makes sense if the board mandated it. I think Martin has said that he wants to move on to the European or another title so he may vacate and I’ll fight for either the vacant title or another title.”
Smith won and defended the 168lb British belt against Tony Quigley and Tony Dodson respectively before losing in nine rounds to DeGale, he feels that his power will hold him in good stead now he has made the move south.
“The power will definitely tell. I know I can punch and the people who know me know I can punch but if you’re hitting kids who’ve been hit by light-heavyweights then it is going to be hard to make it tell on them. The skill factor is coming into it with Joe and the stuff I’m learning every day. Sparring Macklin also helps. Plus being with lads like Callum Johnson and Hosea Burton in the gym and sparring them is helping me learn all the time,” admitted the 30-2 (16) boxer.
Stephen and Liam Smith are also in the Gallagher’s Gym camp; Callum Smith, a highly rated amateur who has already picked up Commonwealth silver at the Delhi Games, periodically joins his brothers for training sessions.
“We’re loving it,” enthused Smith. “It is great having my brothers there because everyone knows we’re a close family, too close at times when we fight but that is part and parcel of having brothers in the sport. It is good knowing that they’re going through what I go through. We are all there for each other and we’ve also got young Callum coming over when he’s not with the England squad.”
The brothers have been united during Yoga sessions, joining Anthony Crolla and the Murrays in a bid to add an extra dimension to their training regime. “It was Joe’s idea,” laughed Smith. “We tried Yoga just to loosen up and keep supple. It is one of the best things I’ve done. I really do enjoy it and get a bit of stick because I like it so much.”
Gallagher recent moved from Kerry Kayes’s Betta Bodies Boxing Gym to Amir Khan’s Bolton base, the world champion picked up the phone and offered the team a home when news of the split filtered through.
“Amir was doing his own thing, winning titles and making money, and he had his own gym sitting there so called out the blue to offer us the use of the gym. It was a nice thing to do; he didn’t have to do it for PR or anything because he gets publicity anyway,” stated Smith, now one of the older heads in Liverpool’s thriving boxing scene.
“It has been steady for the past few years”, his thoughts on his city’s recent rise, “right from when I first turned pro right through to the latest batch of lads coming through. There are a lot of good fighters in Liverpool. It is a shame we’re with different promoters and can’t appear on the same shows but [David] Price is coming along well, he’s standing out at the minute. Stephen’s a champion, [Tony] Bellew’s a champion, I’m a former champion and a lot of good kids are coming through.
“Nine out of ten Scousers enjoy seeing a kid from their own area doing good. It is a brilliant feeling to see Liverpudlians doing well. I look at the likes of Bellew and Price and am the first on the phone before and after they fight to wish them well. Same for all other Liverpool kids. There’s one or two who break the trend but we’d be here all day if we got onto them.”
Stephen is the British and Commonwealth boss at featherweight. ‘Swifty’ holds two narrow but fair wins over Scotland’s John Simpson, doing enough in both contests to move on according to his older brother. “He has got nothing to prove,” blasted Smith.
“What can he do, beat Simpson again and have another excuse from [Simpson’s trainer] Billy Nelson? Billy can’t take it on the chin; he’s OK on the night but then brings it up again. Over two fights and over six different judges only one of them thought Simpson won.
“They were close fights but if you get the top kids at featherweight in there then you’ll get close fights. You do get hitters down there but big one-punch guys aren’t always in the division so if you get Stephen and Simpson it is always going to be a tough fight. Stephen has got a lot more class – I think it showed over the two fights.
“Stephen has proved a lot. If Simpson was to go out and get the EBU title then maybe but he’s got nothing for Stephen now. No one has really seen what Stephen can do. In his early fights he was fighting journeymen and blowing them away. When he got his title fight he had a hard fight against a guy who comes on strong and adapted to it. You can’t really judge him on those two fights because he wanted to win by any means possible and grab the belts.”
Liam Smith is 6-0-1 (2); he joins Paul on the Olympia bill. ‘Beefy’s draw came against Terry Carruthers last September; referee Kenning Pringle popping out a 38-38 card. The 23-year-old former ABA titlist has since registered a decision victory over Matt Scriven. Although a huge disappointment at the time, Paul believes that the draw could hold his brother in good stead.
“Liam was devastated, the whole family was devastated by it because we know what Liam can do. There are a lot of lessons from that fight. He was in Ibiza weeks before it on a holiday that he’d had booked for a long time. Everyone told him to not go but he went because didn’t want to miss out on his holiday, he was still doing his runs over there but came back, dropped weight and went into the fight,” he recalled.
“At that age you learn your lessons. Liam had a holiday scheduled this year but cancelled it when his fight came through and will learn a lot under Joe. Liam is a very, very good kid and that draw was maybe the kick up the arse he needed to get his priorities right.”
The ‘Real Gone Kid’ married over the summer, tying the knot before friends and family means that the sometime DJ is now more at home on the couch than the recording booth. “I’ve been in the couch, pipe and slippers brigade for six years!” laughed Smith.
“I love my life, love my home and there’s nothing better than getting home, bolting the door and chilling out with my missus and my kids. It is always busy with family members or friends popping in all the time but that is how my house was growing up with six kids in it – I wouldn’t have it any other way. Boxing is a job but my life is in the house and that is what matters.
“I still have the odd blowout after fights. It is getting bad out there now, not for me but people can’t go out these days without finding trouble. It is not that people go out there looking for it – it can end up finding people anyway. Even if you’re just in a pub where there’s trouble it can put a real downer on your night so I’d rather stay local to where I live. I plan a few nights out with my brothers or mates around town or little holidays but I spend most of my time at home.”
Boxers are targets when they go for a night out in their own area, there will always be that one person who wants to impress his mates by challenging the local fighter. Smith is an advocate of keeping to yourself between fights, urging other boxers to avoid the temptations of the town centre.
“I’ve had it in the past where you have lads just calling your name and before you know it you’re going home having had an argument. It is just stupid. I don’t want to get dragged into fights in the street, no boxer does,” his advice for younger pros.
As the man said, “If you’re good at something, never do it for free”; boxers know the tools of the trade but the best ones only get them out when they are taking part in a paid outing. “Yeah, plus you can’t get nicked for fighting in the boxing ring!” joked Smith.
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