by Terence Dooley
Paul Smith was on hand to cheer for fellow Liverpudlian Tony Bellew when ‘Bomber’ challenged Nathan Cleverly for the WBO light-heavyweight title on October 15th. Tony lost a narrow decision after twelve exciting rounds and now passes the big title baton onto ‘Smigga’ as Smith bids to dethrone British and Commonwealth super-middleweight champion George Groves on an FWP-promoted show at Wembley Arena on November 5th.
The ‘Real Gone Kid’ held the domestic 168lb belt before running into James DeGale last December and is determined to wrest back the title that DeGale lost at the first attempt when defending against Groves in May. Smith made his own return to the ring that night, hammering Jozsef Matolcsi to a single stanza stoppage; he has since registered a quick fire KO over Paul Samuels.
“Training’s been great and the preparation has gone well because I’ve had two fights to work on things in the gym,” enthused Smith when speaking to me at the Cleverly-Bellew bill.
“I’ve had enough rounds over my career not to worry about stopping fights in the first and I get plenty of rounds in sparring. I did loads of great rounds for my first fight with [trainer] Joe [Gallagher].”
Groves is the British man of the moment; he rode a tidal wave of goodwill going into the DeGale test and has now been elevated in the eyes of many pundits and fans. Smith, though, feels that DeGale architected his own downfall by playing into George’s hands, he believes that this particular ‘Saint’ is not perfect.
“I think he might try a few different things to see what I’ve got, maybe try a bit of shock and awe, but I’m ready for whatever he brings. If he wants to box I’ll be there, if he wants to fight then I’ll be more than ready for that,” his declaration.
“I watched it (DeGale-Groves) live. I saw enough to know George can be beaten. I had DeGale winning – he was poor on the night but did enough to win it. A lot of people had George so that is fair enough. But DeGale lost that fight rather than Groves winning it.”
Gallagher believes that Smith has yet to show peak form during his 33-fight career, 31-2 (17), but has long felt that the 29-year-old has all the tools. The trainer believes that Paul’s reaction to his defeat to DeGale showed plenty of the mental strength needed to climb to the top of the pile.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Gallagher, fresh of guiding younger brother Liam to a win over Gerard Healey. “There are good omens, things come in threes and we had three disappointments with [Matthew] Macklin, John [Murray] and Stephen [Smith] losing title fights but that is the end of it now and we’ve had good wins since.
“Almost a year ago, Paul was sat at ringside straight after losing to DeGale. Most fighters would have hidden away in the dressing room or hotel but Paul didn’t – it spoke volumes of the man. Now he’s got another chance just before Christmas, last year it was a terrible Christmas but this time he’ll be having a great Christmas.”
“I thought Groves won it myself,” Joe’s take on the George’s win over ‘Chunky’. “Styles make fights and you had two kids who sparred lots of rounds as amateurs and knew each other which worked for Groves. [George’s trainer] Adam Booth didn’t reinvent the wheel, the two lads knew each other and it helped Groves win on the night.”
Indeed, Gallagher believes that a Smith win would be doubly great as it brings two titles back to the Smith family trophy cabinet and Gallagher’s Gym.
“It would be brilliant for Paul to win this – two belts, British and Commonwealth, and the fact that he’d be a two time British champion. People don’t realise the support and following that Paul has got. A lot of Liverpudlians want him to do well. They will travel to London to cheer him on and lend their support. Paul won’t let them down.”
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