By Nick Halling
British super middleweight champion Paul Smith, who boxes in London on Saturday night, is targeting a world title shot in 2014 – with the winner of next year’s WBO championship matchup between champion Robert Stieglitz and former boss Arthur Abraham in his sights.
After suffering defeats to fellow Brits James DeGale and George Groves, Smith has momentum behind him again after regaining his domestic crown against Tony Dodson earlier this year. The eldest of the four Smith boxing brothers, the intelligent Liverpool man wants one more defence of his British title to earn the Lonsdale belt outright, before pushing ahead for global honours.
“I’m ranked number eight by the WBO, and you look at the list, five of the guys above me will be going down a different route,” he said. “Take Mikkel Kessler, for example (currently number five). He wont fight again unless its (Carl) Froch. He’s told me that himself.”
Others higher up the rankings include Groves, DeGale, Julio Chavez Jr and Anthony Dirrell, all of whom have varied agendas which do not immediately appear to have the WBO top of their list of priorities.
“That leaves me and Dmitri Sartison (the Kazakh currently ranked number seven). A fight between me and Sartison could easily be made as an eliminator, with the winner facing the winner of Stieglitz and Abraham (who are due to meet in March).
“There’s no reason I don’t belong at that level,” he added. “I’ve always felt that I belong above British level, but I just need that chance to prove it. I want to be active and hopefully that will lead to a world title fight.”
Smith has been tripped up twice at domestic level (admittedly by two high class operators), and would love the opportunity to make amends, while accepting that neither rematch is likely in the short term. “I shouldn’t have taken the DeGale fight,” he admits. “I wasn’t right, and that was totally my fault, but I’d love to be able to put that right.
“I’d love a rematch with Groves , but I’m not calling him out or anything, because he’s got bigger fish to fry right now. I got chinned in that one, simple as that, never saw it coming. I’ve been hit harder, but the ones you see coming don’t hurt as much.
“But if those guys can get eliminators and world title shots, then why can't I? It’s about levels, and I want to prove that I’m above British level. I’m not just going to hang around with the belt just for a local fight and domestic money. What would be the point of that?”
Smith has a clear understanding of how the business works inside and outside the ring. If 2014 goes as planned, he could be facing Steiglitz or Abraham with the WBO belt at stake in three fights’ time.
Kevin Mitchell, the Dagenham lightweight, is another with sights trained on the summit. Mitchell has rebuilt himself impressively over the last few months since rejoining his old amateur trainer, Tony Sims. The popular East Londoner may have lost two previous world title challenges, but a third is definitely not beyond him.
Mitchell has another stay-busy outing on Saturday, against late sub Karim El Ouazghari, but his focus is on IBF champ Miguel Vasquez.
“Everything is leading in that direction. That’s the fight I want,” he said.
Assuming there are no mistakes on Saturday, only one obstacle is likely to stand between Mitchell and his intended target – and that is his Matchroom stablemate Tommy Coyle. Eddie Hearn, who promotes both boxers, hopes to set up an eliminator between the two Brits, with the winner advancing to take on Vasquez.
Should it happen, Mitchell is confident it would be third time lucky, after failing twice against Michael Katsidis and Ricky Burns.
“For once in my career, I’m training like a professional,” he admits. “I’m back in the gym, and doing it right. You’ve got to live the life in this business. You cant go out, live it up and come back a stone and a half overweight. It doesn’t work.
“I’ve been beaten at the top level because I haven’t had the lifestyle. That’s a lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way.”
His teacher has been the no-nonsense Sims, who guided Darren Barker to world glory and runs a thriving stable in Essex. Sims is not a shouter, but he has little patience with timewasters – and Mitchell knows he cannot step out of line.
“Tony is very hard with me,” he said. “But he’s my mentor. He’s there, telling me what to do, and like a lot of fighters, I need to hear that. Now I’m staying in shape, not letting my weight go out of control, and it seems like I’m sparring all the time!”
Written off by many as a man of prodigious yet wasted talent, the former British and Commonwealth champion could yet be in position to silence his critics. And if the match with Tommy Coyle can be made, that has the potential to be one of 2014’s domestic fights of the year.
Lee Purdy faces Leonard Bundu for the European light welterweight title on Saturday’s busy card at the ExCel, but the Colchester puncher is another who might be tempted to cast an interested eye to the future too.
Purdy is being lined up for an IBF eliminator against the Canada-based Romanian JoJo Dan in the New Year, but only if he can spring a surprise with the bookies by beating Bundu. Despite home advantage, the oddsmakers rate Bundu’s experience and ringcraft highly.
The IBF light welter division is in a state of flux and the moment, following Shawn Porter’s surprise victory over Devon Alexander. Two weeks ago, Dan outworked Canada’s Kevin Bizier in Quebec in another minor surprise. Purdy, who lost to Alexander in May when filling in at short notice for the injured Kell Brook, also lost his IBF ranking, but victory over the fourth-ranked Bundu would put him back into the mix.
Brook himself is currently in a holding pattern, still in the mandatory position, and there could even be the prospect of an all-British eliminator between the Sheffield man and Purdy. However, promoter Eddie Hearn admits: “that is a possibility, but its a long way down the road.”
The more likely scenario is for Brook to be steered back into world title contention against Porter, leaving Purdy with the carrot of an eliminator with Dan as the prize for defeating Bundu.
Nick Halling is a commentator for Sky Sports. Tags: Paul Smith