By John Hargate
Current undefeated British and Commonwealth super middleweight champion ‘Saint’ George Groves meets former British boss Paul Smith at Wembley Arena on Guy Fawkes night. His trainer, the ‘Dark Lord’ Adam Booth, spoke to me in the Hayemaker gym - nestled under a railway arch in Vauxhall - to give his insight into how he believes the fight will play out.
“Paul has good basic boxing ability,” mused Adam, smiling thoughtfully. “He’s a sound boxer. But because his main attributes are that he’s sturdy and he can whack a bit - plus he’s got his experience - he’s got to use his best attributes.”
Listening to Paul Smith speak in the aftermath of his ninth round defeat to Groves’ arch-rival James DeGale, one might be justified in thinking that he may try and use his boxing ability (he was a successful amateur) and box with George after appearing to partly blame the DeGale defeat on the way he stormed in recklessly without a plan.
Booth thinks otherwise and is confident that if Smith does try and box that he’ll sorely regret it. “If he does try and box George he’ll find out early that it won’t work for him and then he’ll revert to what he is anyway. I’m expecting Paul to try and pressure George, put the right hand over George’s jab and try and capitalise on what they’ll see as George having a low defence and being light on his feet.”
Tony Bellew, a fellow Scouser, surprised more than a few people in the way he boxed superbly against Nathan Cleverly - especially early - in their recent world title fight, but Booth is adamant that whatever was in the Mersey water won’t do Smith any good.
“[Smith] will be motivated and he’ll be in great shape - and Joe Gallagher’s fighters know how to close the distance. So that’s what I think we can expect from Paul - some smart pressure. He’ll probably try and stand up and box a bit at times but he’ll find that won’t work and then he’ll try and apply smart pressure.”
I wondered how much of an effect moving to Joe Gallagher might have had on Paul. Can the old dog learn new tricks? “I think he’ll be in better shape [than he was for the DeGale fight],” answered Adam. “I think the combination of losing to DeGale and joining up with Joe will mean that there will be a better Paul Smith on Saturday night. I think those two factors will make him a better fighter and a harder guy to beat.”
Styles make fights. It’s one of the oldest clichés in boxing but age hasn’t diminished its veracity. Booth explained how it is particularly relevant to the cream of the current crop of British 12st fighters.
“I don’t think Paul did rush DeGale. I don’t think he pressured him enough. Styles make fights. I think that James’ natural style will always cause Paul Smith problems. Whereas I think that Paul Smith can bring a better fight out of George than James DeGale can.”
Booth, intense and serious one minute and gregarious and light-hearted the next, elaborated. “You can’t make a comparison between what Paul does with DeGale and what George does with DeGale. The bottom line is if you look at the top super middleweights in Britain - take out Carl Froch - you’ve got George who is British Champion, James [DeGale] who is European Champion, Paul Smith and Kenny Anderson.”
Does Brian Magee come into that mix, I enquired?
“No,” retorted Adam. “Brian Magee has some version of a World Title [interim
WBA super middleweight title - one of nineteen current WBA champions at 168lbs] so doesn’t come into the mix. I’m talking about people who are eligible for the British Title.”
Leaning against the Hayemaker ring while the ‘Saint’ strummed the speedball for the cameras while hot prospect Bradley ‘Super’ Skeete began to shadowbox in the ring, Adam continued. “If you look at the mix, George has beaten James. He’s beaten Anderson, and now he’s fighting Smith. If you look at those four alone, George is just about to fight the last one. George is the one who’s proving he is the best. He’s got to beat Paul Smith first and, as far as I’m concerned, in more convincing fashion than he beat Kenny Anderson.”
A self-confessed perfectionist, Booth no doubt tortures himself about every mistake his fighters make - in the ring or out. Groves came in for a lot of flak from some quarters after his up and down win over Scotch Braveheart Kenny Anderson - despite the fact he was only a baby in professional terms and in only his eleventh fight. Such is the landscape of the boxing world that today’s young fighters inhabit.
After the fight with Groves, Anderson claimed several times on record that he’d only be given two weeks notice and that this had been the determining factor in the defeat. Not so according to Booth.
“Regardless of what Anderson said, he had more than two weeks notice for that fight because we were talking to Anderson’s people weeks and weeks before that. I also know that he was sparring with Carl Froch and the Cuban kid living in Ireland - [gifted prospect] Luis Garcia - he was sparring with them for weeks on end prior to fighting George. This strap line - Kenny Anderson’s people saying that he only had short notice - is a crock of shit.”
In full flow, fighting to make himself heard over the growl of the overhead trains shaking the gym and the rat-tat-tat of George on the speedball, Adam finished his point. “George beat Kenny Anderson because he beat Kenny Anderson. Kenny dropped George so there is a question there, but it’s got nothing to do with him having short notice - because he didn’t.”
There are always going to be comparisons drawn between Groves and DeGale and their respective performances - especially against common opponents. Booth wants George to forget ‘Chunky’ for now and focus on his own performance against Paul Smith. “[George] has got to do a better job on Paul Smith than he did on Kenny Anderson as far as I’m concerned. That’s all I care about. That he wins the fight and that he improves.”
Booth continued, “Paul has a better arsenal of punches than Anderson. Kenny is quite basic with the shots that he throws. The difference is that Kenny is world class strong, hard. I would say of the four of them that Kenny’s the hardest by far. He’s got a granite chin and he’s got this attitude where he will not give anyone respect [in the ring]. He’s made that way. Paul Smith isn’t made that way.”
Booth then relates two fascinating - and perhaps telling - stories from Groves’ and Smith’s amateur days. “When Paul was still an amateur, boxing for England, I brought a light middleweight up to spar him called Gary Logan.” Logan was a solid pro and a former British title challenger.
“Gary was making his comeback and sparred with Paul Smith at Crystal Palace [then home to the British amateurs]. From the first second of the first round Paul Smith was totally intimidated by Gary.”
Now the second tale. “Roll on a few years. I took Anthony Small, an awkward, strong light-middleweight to spar with this fifteen year old boy at Dale Youth called George Groves - and George Groves went through Anthony Small like a hot knife through soft butter. Didn’t care what was in front of him. I think there you have the key difference between George Groves and Paul Smith.”