By Terence Dooley
Stephen Smith suffered his first professional reverse in September, an eighth round KO loss to Lee Selby, in a fight that shocked many in attendance at Liverpool’s Olympia venue. ‘Swifty’ rose rapidly to the top of the domestic rankings prior to the defeat, a brace of narrow but fair wins over John Simpson bringing with them the British and Commonwealth featherweight crowns.
Selby, though, tore up the script, ripped through Smith’s defence and posted an early candidate for domestic upset of the year. The Welshman looks set to defend against Simpson in November whilst Smith sets about proving the doubters wrong. Stephen was at Frank Warren’s Echo Arena bill on Saturday, the Liverpudlian had a slew of supportive messages following the Selby slipup and has vowed to put things right.
“I just felt flat from the first round,” admitted Smith when analyzing the Selby bout. “The thing that disappointed me most was that I had no legs from the very first minute. Selby’s jab was very different from what I expected, I could see them coming and couldn’t stop them.
“I looked back at it (the fight) and think ‘What are you doing?’ because I wasn’t moving my head enough or using my feet to get out the way. I had a constant battle with myself, one thing led to another and the fight was over. I’ll get the titles back.”
Smith’s decision to bite down on his gumshield and march his opponent down resulted in him going out on his shield after taking a left hook to the ear in the fateful final stanza. However, online claims that the failings were down to the 2007 and 2008 ABA winner’s trainer, Joe Gallagher, and the lack of a Plan B or C are firmly rebuked by the 26-year-old, who found that his mind knew what to do but his body could not comply come the first bell.
“I didn’t have the legs to do half the things I’d planned to do,” he revealed. “I went away on my holiday after the fight but believe Joe [Gallagher] got a bit of stick over it on the Internet because of the tactics – I can’t stress enough that the tactics we had before the night were spot on, I just didn’t execute them on the night.
“I felt a little bit flat. You put it down to being on the weight, you never feel full of beans coming down, but I carbed up right and felt good after weighing in then felt really different on the day of the fight. I was flat all day to be honest. Looking back, I knew I was going to lose the fight on the day but no fighter would pull out because of feeling a bit flat.
“I won’t take nothing away from Lee, he beat what was in front of him and that is all you can do. If I were on form then I’d come out and say it. I know I stunk that night, it wasn’t me and there’s more to come from me. My confidence isn’t knocked and I will be back.”
Eyebrows were raised post-fight after Smith, 12-1 (6), claimed that Selby’s punching was nothing special, with the KO ending seen as proof that the 24-year-old can crack. Smith, though, was tagged hard, clean and often from the first round. Therefore it was the cumulative effect, rather than huge one-shot power on the part of the challenger, that brought about the finish.
“I didn’t want people to think I sounded stupid or had sore grapes when I said he couldn’t hit, they were clean shots and I took a lot of them when watching it back so if he was a real big puncher I wouldn’t have walked through them for so long,” argued Smith.
“I knew I was taking shots and they were clean because I could hear the crowd reacting but didn’t think they were huge punches. I felt Simpson got more of a reaction from me when he landed clean. But if you take that many big shots from anyone you will go down in the end.”
Smith’s performance was sluggish, his balance and timing looked off, signs, perhaps, that he had suffered a perforated drum ear early and it had impacted on his balance. Ringside suspicions that this was the case were confirmed in the days after the fight.
“Yeah, I burst it again but I’ve got a problem with my eardrum anyway,” mused Smith. “I’ve seen a specialist who said they can fix it but I don’t see the point when I’m still fighting and it can go again. It has gone five times, my right ear, and did this fight but it is no excuse, it didn’t bother me that much and I should have still won the fight. It does affect your balance but I’ve learned to live with it and cope.
“A lot went wrong, my right hand swelled up so it was one thing after another. I was having constant arguments with myself throughout the fight. I put it all down to feeling flat on my legs. When I’ve got my legs they’re my best assets.
“It (the knockout shot) was behind the ear, that wasn’t the shot that did my eardrum, I knew it had gone in the first. People talk about getting knocked out and not remembering anything, I remember everything about the knockout and was all there.”
This said, Selby used his jab well, dictated outside and inside, stepped up the pace at crucial times and could be a force if the win boosts his confidence. After acknowledging that the best man won on the night, Smith reiterated his desire to put things right.
“I want the rematch,” his declaration. “I’ll get the winner out of Lee and Simpson. I’m not taking anything away from Simpson but I’d like Selby to win so I can get the revenge. He’ll come in full of confidence and I’ll hope to bring him down a peg or two.
“I wouldn’t begrudge a third fight with John. People say it wouldn’t be anything different than the other two but I’d take it if he had the titles anyway. Whoever wins next month is the man to beat. I’d like Selby to win and give me the opportunity – I don’t want it hanging over me.”
“Of course”, he added when asked if Selby has impressed by scoring three stoppages in three title fights, “but in my eyes that was his first real title fight. Beating James Ancliffe for a Celtic belt isn’t a big title win, he got his first big shot against me and won it so fair play to him.”
Rested, relaxed and eager to return, Smith hopes to have a run out before the year’s end, in the meantime he will watch with interest when Selby makes the maiden defence of his belts.
“I want to be out as soon as possible but couldn’t tell people I was flat and had an ear problem then not have a rest. I’ve rested, feel better and am running again now. I’d love to get out by December. They fight on November 18th; it could be a war with the winner getting cut and not getting out again straight away so I need to stay sharp. But I’d be more than willing to go straight into it with Selby again.”
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