By Terence Dooley
Stephen Smith’s rapid pro advancement was lost in the midst of quibbles over variances in scoring after last night’s British featherweight title win over defending champion John Simpson at Liverpool’s Olympia venue. The 25-year-old netted a 114-114, 115-114, 118-112 majority decision victory, with much of the post-fight talk focusing on Terry O’Connor’s six round margin yet Smith showed a lot of mettle after starting quickly, weathering a mid-stanza storm and sticking to the task over the final furlongs.
Smith moved to 12-0 (6) and has two titles; his Commonwealth belt was not on the line last night. Perfect professional progress, then, for ‘Swifty’ who feels he is now ready to move on. “It was a close fight,” admitted Stephen when speaking to me earlier today.
“He showed a lot of bottle coming back into it after I got my shots off early. He gave me a lot of trouble in the middle rounds but I finished strong – I believe I won better than I did in Glasgow last September.
“I showed a lot of character again and not so much of my boxing ability because against a strong fighter like Simpson you are not going to get your boxing off. He’s hard to out-box, very underrated and he’s world ranked, number four with the IBF. I beat him in Glasgow and have done it again.”
Fans will argue over the two results. The two-time ABA featherweight winner, though, is ready to draw a line under Simpson. “I can move on from this now and show my boxing ability,” he said after hearing that his Scottish foe is going to move down to super-bantamweight.
John was visibly disappointed with the decision, shaking his head as the totals came through, his ire spilled over in the post-fight interview. The Greenock-based bruiser praised Smith before insisting that he had been harshly done by.
“Of course,” confirmed Smith when asked if he could understand John’s frustrations. “It was the heat of the moment after a tough fight and to only hear you’ve won two rounds on one card must be disappointing because you’ve put all that hard work in.
“I do believe he lacked a bit of class in the interview with the way he went about it, he was a bit like a kid throwing his toys out the pram but I’ve got the upmost respect for him as a fighter. I believe the best man won on the night; there is no argument about that even if the score was a bit wide so I’m not complaining.
“I’ve beaten him back-to-back and went straight in after seven months out and beat him better this time. People will get to see my improvements, boxing ability and how good I really am in my next fights. I want to defend this title and keep it.”
Smith won a gold medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games; Joe Gallagher, his trainer, feels that there are a few edges to be ironed out, that his new charge will learn as a champion. With the titles, though, comes a glaring spotlight – Smith will have to perform consistently if he is to fulfill his promise.
“Under the circumstances it a good win. It was a tough, hard twelve rounds and the training helped me come back strong. It was good having Joe Gallagher in my corner for the first time. I’ve the upmost respect for him and believe he’s the best coach in the country. The move was the right one,” said Smith.
“Both,” was his answer when asked if his inexperience coupled with Simpson’s grit resulted in the midpoint struggle, “he gets a lot of credit for coming back from some big early shots. He caught me with a couple of good shots and I went off the boil a bit. I felt a bit kind of bloated from the body shots, really. There was an accumulation of shots building up to the eighth, where he caught me with a good one, but I got myself together and showed true grit in the ninth round. It shows what I’ve got.
“I thought I was up going into that one. I thought as long as I didn’t lose the last round I’d win the fight and you could see that in the way I was boxing. When the bell went I believed I had won by a couple of rounds.
“A lot of people forget that I’ve only had twelve fights and don’t judge the fight for what it is. That was my eleventh pro fight, in against a seasoned campaigner and a world ranked fighter. One fight was on a Frank Warren show, one on a Maloney show so that shows that I mixed it up. I can only improve from here because I’m still learning.”
As for Simpson’s aim to gain from a move south in weight, Smith is reserving judgment until John hits 122lbs. Saying, “I heard this last time to be honest but wish him all the luck in the world. I hope he goes far but I’ve seen enough of him now to last me a lifetime. All I’ve heard is his name for a bit so I can move on and wish him luck down at super-bantamweight.”
Smith was straight back to work the morning after the contest. Phoning through to Dean Powell, Frank Warren’s matchmaker, to ask about his next bout. “I’ve been onto Dean already asking for a defense in the summer because I want to get straight back in there, improve and show how much I’ve improved in the gym under Joe and bring it into the fights,” stressed Smith, his Liverpool fans will no doubt hope that he brings both titles home after turning out for last night’s tussle.
He said, “It was amazing, unbelievable to get that many in on a Wednesday night, it was special and an achievement in itself. When the going got tough the crowd cheered me on and it was massive push for me.”
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