By Terence Dooley
“We fight as one and lose as one,” was the defiant message from the Smiths after a mixed night for the Liverpool’s fighting family on Saturday night. Liam posted an impressive stoppage victory over Barrie Jones at the city’s Olympia venue, Paul knocked out Paul Samuels in a single stanza, but the fight and shock of the night came in the main event, Stephen losing his hard-won British and Commonwealth belts after a tough tussle with Lee Selby.
Liam looked a fighter reborn in his outing; Jones was out-gunned early before succumbing to a quality double left hook, body and head, in round three. Barrie has mixed in good company, the Welshman was on a run of five defeats going in yet tends to go the distance with all but the top domestic boys, Kell Brook, Craig Watson, and Jason Cook the only men to halt him; ‘Beefy’, though, put enough meat into his shots to underline his supremacy at 2:12 of the third.
“I was happy,” said Smith, speaking before Stephen’s shock stoppage reverse. “It was great just being back in the ring because I’ve been out since December after having a few hand problems. [Trainer] Joe [Gallagher] was happy with it. If you look at Barrie’s record you see that only good fighters have stopped him. Ronnie Heffron couldn’t stop him and I know Ronnie can fight so he must be tough. I knew when he went down that he wasn’t getting up.”
Smith’s body shots strayed south of the border on one or two occasions, Jones showed out to the ref when his 23-year-old opponent sank home rib crunchers and gave no sign of beating the count when the finish was applied.
“Against a southpaw you are going to get head clashes and a few low blows,” Liam’s explanation. “It wasn’t deliberate. My shots bounced off his elbows a few times, and strayed low. He complained about it, I knew I was hurting him and that my variety of shots was getting to him.”
An ABA light-welterweight titlist in 2008, Liam suffered a few hand injuries during his 7-0-1 (3) pro journey, he believes that expert medical advice has accounted for the problems. “I’ve done loads of sparring so didn’t think about my hands, Dean [Powell] wrapped my hands well and it was sound,” his summation, he also puts his sparkling display down to Gallagher’s training regime.
“I enjoy going to the gym. People ask if it is a pain doing the travel but there are all three of us in the car, sometimes Tom Stalker and Callum (Smith) as well, so we have a good laugh. We’re one big family.
“I didn’t make the decision to move straight away. I don’t drive so stayed close to home but it wasn’t nice asking my two brothers how they were getting on and not being with them. I missed them so made the change. Joe’s done great with his fighters, as soon as I got with him I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t anything against [former trainer] Georgie Vaughan, I had trained with my brothers for years so wanted to be with them.
“I’ve always rated Joe, we stay up there and study fights with him, working on game plans, this is something I’ve not done before. Joe does it with all of us, it can only help.”
Liam slipped to a draw against Terry Caruthers in Glasgow last September; referee Kenny Pringle turning in a 38-38 card after a keenly contested bout. Smith came in at his highest pro weight, 156lbs, and has learned from the slip up.
Saying, “It was my own fault. I wasn’t sure if I was boxing, went away with my mates at the end of the season, came back and got the call on the 19th of August that I was boxing in September. I was 12st 9lbs and lost a lot of weight, weren’t fit as I could be and still thought I won the fight, a lot of people did. It was a blessing in disguise.
“I could have boxed him straight away but I’m over it. I want to be ranked at welterweight; Terry got a draw out of me. If I go in with him again it is lose-lose because I’m a welterweight.
“I would have liked a few more rounds on Saturday but am happy. I am fit and hope to have a fight in October then a title fight. I was a good amateur, I don’t need to sit around waiting.”
Liam’s fight preceded Stephen’s stoppage loss, Paul Smith closed the show; he watched Stephen’s fight via a TV screen. ‘Smigga’ knows the rigors of the sport, he had to quickly put the night’ events from his mind in order to chalk up a W over Samuels and set up a British title fight with George Groves.
“It was hard,” mused Paul when I spoke to him over the phone earlier this evening. “I was devastated, it felt horrible. I’ve never seen Stephen put down before, never seen him not hold his own never mind getting stopped so it was a bad feeling. Credit to [FWP matchmaker] Dean Powell, he came in, got the gloves on me and told me to get my mind on the job, to be a professional, and it was the kick up the arse I needed. Then Joe came in, got me ready on the pads and I was ready to go.”
The Liverpudlian hammered Samuels from the get-go, stopping the Newport-based 38-year-old at 2:20 of the opener. “I wasn’t looking for the knockout,” admitted Smith. “But I knew if I cracked him I would get him out of there because I know I can hurt people.”
“I know how hard Paul can punch, the upsets he’s caused, after what happened with Stephen I didn’t want to get caught so I went out there and did what I had planned to do. Maybe there was a little bit more spite because of what had happened but I was going to go out there like that anyway.
“Get in the ring with me and I’ll show that I can punch. Everyone who has shared a ring with me knows it. It has never been an issue, in the past I was probably guilty of thinking I could hit someone on the chin and put them away and suffered for so it has been a double edged sword at times. If a kid can punch then he’ll go looking for it. I know it is about boxing your way in beforehand, which is what I’ve been working on with Joe, rather than using power as a ‘get out of jail’ card.”
Groves-Smith has been penciled in for December 17th, Paul lost the 168lb belt to James DeGale last December; he insists that he can make an impact on ‘Saint’ George despite indications that he would pursue middleweight titles. His reason? “I want my title back!”
“As soon as Groves beat DeGale I went over and asked Dean if he could make the fight. When I moved to Joe the word going around was to get down to middleweight, I had a look at that, could do it, but always wanted Groves because I can beat him. Our styles will gel, he is made for me and I know I can get him out of there.
“It is a fight I’ve wanted. It is the harder route but I have two notches on the Lonsdale belt already. If it puts me back towards European and world titles then I’ll be where I was when I lost to DeGale.
“Everything will come into it with Groves. People rave about him like he’s the next coming of Thomas Hearns but he’s nothing special. He’s tough, heavy handed but he’s not this massive digger, he is a naturally strong kid with a questionable chin. I don’t think his chin is good – other kids have rattled him before. If Kenny Anderson were fit he’d have stopped him, if Anderson had notice we wouldn’t be talking about Groves right now. He is limited, people rave about him, he gets publicity and rave reviews but is just strong, that is all he’s ever had.”
Groves moved to 13-0 (10) with a razor thin win over DeGale on May 21st, the Hammersmith boy came to the O2 Arena ring with a plan, implemented it to perfection and took ‘Chunky’s 0. Smith, though, feels that Groves was boosted by the slack work of his southpaw opponent.
“DeGale was bad that night,” his précis of George’s win. “I’ve always said about DeGale and Groves in relation to my own fight with Groves that I got in the ring with DeGale and found him really awkward – I’ve never been in with anyone like that. I beat the likes of Craig McEwan as an amateur, he’s a very awkward kid, but I got in there with DeGale, didn’t know what was going on and lost. Who is better for beating DeGale than the guy who beat him as an amateur and knew how he boxed from sparring. Adam Booth didn’t have to use rocket science to create a tactic to beat him.
“George knew all about DeGale, you have to judge him on that fight because of what he did but he was the one guy who didn’t have the shock value when he got in the ring with DeGale. I wasn’t ready, he was because he’s been there before.”
Smith stopped short of outlining his plan of attack, revealing that he only took an interest in Groves after George called for Paul, then British champion, after a Commonwealth win over Charles Adamu in Aril 2010.
“I hadn’t paid close attention to George before the DeGale fight. I watched the stoppage of Adamu when he was mouthing off for a fight with me. I saw one or two of his early fights but that is it. I’m not a big fan of boxing, I don’t watch much of it – anyone will tell you that. When I did watch him against Anderson it was my opinion that a fitter Anderson would have beaten him.”
“Not yet,” he answered when asked if he had already started to formulate a plan. “I didn’t want to think about it going in against Samuels because that would be unprofessional. I’ve got the fight now, it is the one I want and my mind and heart is set on getting my titles back. Joe will come up with a plan.
“I know I don’t need any more rounds – I get more than enough rounds with Joe in the gym. I’ve had 33 fights (31-2 with 17 stoppages), know what it is like and the best part about being with Joe is his corner work, he trains you great in the gym and is great in the corner during the fights.”
Returning to the subject of Stephen’s shock defeat, Paul refused to offer any excuses for his brother’s performance, opting instead to point out that the Smiths take the rough with the smooth.
“It was shocking. I’m not being harsh on Stephen here but he had a bad night at the office. He didn’t fight to his usual standards. It wasn’t the plan he was given, the way he told us he would box or the way we imagined he would box. Stephen neglected a lot of stuff that he can do very well. It was one off night. He’s done a lot in only twelve previous fights, will get Selby again and come back straight away.”
He added: “Stephen will be the first to accept the blame. I can answer questions for him because I know what he will say when you speak to him. He knows what he did wrong, he is only young, the fact he’s had so many amateur fights and done so much so fast means people expect so much from him already. There’s plenty more to come. People who don’t like him might get carried away but he’ll be back.
“Stephen said afterwards that Selby couldn’t punch, it meant he walked through punches more than necessary before getting caught by one that he couldn’t see, which will take any one out. The fact he felt Selby couldn’t punch was probably what he did wrong because he tried to walk through them.”
Liam’s late night Tweet in support of his brother had underlined the Smith family bond, two of them posted wins yet elation of victory was tempered by the loss of two titles. “I watched Liam’s fight, he boxed great,” said Smith.
“Liam boxed well, I boxed well but we’re just gutted over Stephen. We’re a family, this is how we are and we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Selby moved to 11-1 (3), his early wins coming in his three title fights, against Dai Davies, James Ancliffe and Smith respectively. The Barry boxer celebrated wildly whilst Smith was still on the canvas yet there is no bad blood.
“We talked about it over a cup of tea in Stephen’s kitchen at 3am in the morning, as much as Lee did celebrate it is something we’ve all done before. It is not something you’d normally do as a gentleman, but in the heat of the moment the guy has just won the British and Commonwealth titles – it is basically a lottery win for him – so you can’t criticise him for celebrating like that. There’s no sour grapes from us, he’d just won two titles so good luck to him,” his thoughts on the ending.
“Watch how I celebrate when I beat Groves. I just hope Lee gives Stephen a rematch, he didn’t have to give Lee a shot at the titles so why not give him a chance to win them back?”
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