After bagging British and Commonwealth featherweight titles after just a dozen pro starts, former white hot amateur star Stephen Smith was widely touted to advance to major international honours.
However, after a shock loss to Barry's Lee Selby last September, the popular Scouser has re-grouped and is on a mission to avenge the loss and reclaim his titles.
Smith returns to action this Saturday night in Munich, Germany, on the undercard of Dereck Chisora’s WBC World Heavyweight title challenge against Vitali Klitshcko in an eight-rounder against Arpad Vass
The man they call 'Swifty' spoke to Glynn Evans about how he intends to re-establish his standing.
Watch Smith v Vass and Klitschko v Chisora live and exclusive on the Undisputed Home of Boxing BoxNation (Sky Ch. 456/Virgin Ch. 546).
What are you hoping to get out of the exercise?
I’m fighting a Hungarian, Arpad Vass, over eight-threes. Apparently he’s won seven of nine and stopped five. (The 25 year old was outpointed over six by Belfast flyweight Luke Wilton and stopped in two by ex John Murray victim Andriy Kudryavtsev). It’s an opportunity to get back to winning ways, become a winning fighter again.
It’s an absolute privilege to be on such a huge bill and it’s going to be great experience. It’s a bill I’d like to be at as a spectator so to actually be part of it in a small way adds to the incentive. There’s going to be a lot of people watching so it’ll be an ideal platform to announce that I’m back, then push on from there.
I boxed overseas many times as an amateur, often against hostile crowds so I’ll not be fazed by going to Germany. I boxed in front of sell out crowds every day at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre when I won the Commonwealth Games in 2006. It’s far more exciting, more motivating, than boxing down the undercard of some British show.
I have to prove that last time was just a blip and none of the ambition has gone out of me.
The loss of your British and Commonwealth belts to Lee Selby last September (KO8) wasn’t supposed to happen; given it was a voluntary defence in your home city. How do you account for it? It appeared as if you were trying too hard to satisfy the Liverpool crowd. Did you underestimate Selby?
No. I rated him. I knew he’d be tricky and long limbed. It was never going to be easy. I’ve still got every confidence I can beat Lee Selby because I knew it wasn’t me in the ring that night. If I’d performed, and Lee had just been better, I could accept that but I wasn’t a tenth of what I could be. No disrespect, but I’ve beaten far better fighters than Lee Selby in the amateurs.
If you remember, I was primed to defend the titles on July 9th (beneath Murray-Mitchell) but, when that show was put back a week, I couldn’t appear because it was our Paul’s wedding and I was best man. The fight was re-made for five weeks later which wasn’t enough time to take a break to let my body rest and recover, and it told on the night.
If you under train, you can still knock out four or five decent rounds but, having over trained, I felt dead after just two. I had no legs. I’d have preferred to have boxed him but, with nothing happening in my legs, I decided to try and grind him down but it backfired. He was hitting me with jabs I could blatantly see coming and normally would’ve avoided easily.
There’s nothing much I could’ve done differently. It was just circumstances.
You were on the wrong end of a bad knockout. What affect did it have on your confidence?
It didn’t dent my confidence or self belief but it hurt my pride and I felt very embarrassed. I’ve never even been over before in my life and I took far bigger shots earlier in the Selby fight. I took too many shots all night but seriously didn’t rate Selby, power wise. The kinockout was purely through exhaustion.
On the Monday following the fight, I went on holiday to Tenerife for a week but, on my return I dreaded going out for a week, for fear of bumping into fans on the street. Everyone in Liverpool gets behind our fighters and I felt I’d let ‘em down.
Facing the lads back at the gym was easy. They all understood. Our Paul, who I’ve always really looked up to, has had a couple of similar setbacks but he was the perfect big brother; put his arm around me and gave sound advice.
Have you ever had to comeback from such a devastating loss before, in the amateurs?
Nothing of that magnitude but, when I first moved up to feather back in 2005, I lost three fights consecutively, to Alex Tischenko, the reigning world and Olympic champion, to France’s Daouda Sow who went on to get silver at 60 kilos at the Beijing Olympics, then to a Swede, in Sweden. That last one was a real bad decision. Nothing was going for me. With the 2006 Commonwealth Games looming, I knew I had to get my act together and won 20 of 21, including the ABA title and Commonwealth Games. The only defeat was in the European Seniors semi-final so I’ve proved my character before.
The Selby loss was your second start under Manchester coach Joe Gallagher. He was criticised after but you were quick to defend him. What has he added to your make-up as a fighter?
I felt very sorry for the stick Joe took because it definitely wasn’t his gameplan for me to walk Selby down, taking shots. As I say, I just didn’t feel right in my body. I defy anyone to have won, feeling as I felt. I knew my spark wasn’t there in the dressing room but what fighter would pull out at that stage?
Joe’s added more to both my attack and defence and the quality of sparring at his gym, with the Murrays, Anthony Crolla, Scott Quigg, is different class.
What are you hoping to achieve in 2012? A return with Selby? How would the outcome be different?
Provided I come through in Germany, I’m due to fight Ben Jones for the WBO InterContinental title at the Troxy in London on March 2nd. That’s up at super-feather but I’m still a feather; just taking the job to keep busy.
I want to climb back up the ladder and I want my British and Commonwealth titles back. And I want to get them from Selby, I definitely want him back. I didn’t have to fight him. It was a voluntary defence so I’d like to think he’d be enough of a gentleman to give me a chance. Anyway, he’s as much to prove that, it wasn’t a fluke as I have. I believe Frank has options on us both so it should be easy enough to make. He’s long limbed and very awkward but nothing I haven’t seen before.
Do you still feel that a world title is a realistic expectation or has the Selby defeat made you re-assess your goals?
Yes, a world title is still my ambition. You have to aim high but I intend getting there by following short term goals. I’d like one (fight) to get the rust off then I’m more than willing to fight Selby or whoever anytime after that.
Right now, I’m not looking beyond anything other than getting my titles back. I’ll not rest until I’ve got ‘em again.
***Stephen Smith’s return and Dereck Chisora's WBC World Heavyweight title challenge against Vitali Klitschko can be seen live and exclusive on the New Undisputed Home of Boxing BoxNation (Sky Ch. 456/Virgin Ch. 546) on Saturday 18th February from 8p***
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