by Terence Dooley
Eddie Hearn has responded swiftly and succinctly to yesterday's quotes from the BBBoC's Robert Smith in which the Board's General Secretary insisted that Hearn’s latest signing Stephen Smith has to defend his British Super featherweight title against Gary Sykes on a Frank Warren-promoted show at Liverpool's Echo arena on December 7th.
Smith announced his managerial split from Warren last week, but the veteran fight figure has stated that the Liverpudlian is still under contract and Smith could face a stark choice: fight Sykes on Warren’s show or lose his British belt. Hearn, though, has said that Smith, 17-1 (10), will move forward with the November date and defence.
Sykes was initially pencilled in to meet Smith in an eliminator earlier this year, with then-champion Gary Buckland set to defend against Scotland's John Simpson, but an injury to Simpson allowed Smith to step in and win the belt courtesy of a stunning fifth-round KO.
The fight was put together on the proviso that the winner of Buckland-Smith defended against Sykes, and it was set in stone once the contracts were lodged with the Board — the governing body sent out a circular this week confirming the fight had been agreed between Warren and Steve Wood, who manages Sykes.
"As we speak, there is no reason why Stephen Smith shouldn’t defend his British title against Gary Sykes on a Frank Warren show," said Smith. "We have agreements lodged with both Smith’s manager Frank Warren and Sykes’ manager Steve Wood for that contest to take place in Liverpool on 7th December. Bar injury, there is no reason why that contest shouldn’t take place on that date, regardless of whether there is a dispute. If Smith doesn’t fight Gary Sykes next, he will be stripped."
Hearn, though, was brief and bullish in his response, he believes the fight will still go ahead: "It's not true," he stated to BoxingScene. 'It's ongoing — (we're) happy to go ahead on November 23." Indeed, the fight itself had piqued Hearn's interest when he announced the signing on Thursday: "[It's] a fight I’m very excited by and one that I would want to make even if it wasn’t a mandatory. Stephen will have to be at his best to keep hold of his title, and when he does, he’s got big things in front of him.”
Smith was equally as keen, saying that: "Our styles will gel well and the fans are in for a cracker on a great bill, and of course the British title is really important to me and to all of us in the family."
Still, Robert Smith's quotes have thrown everything into the air. Although Smith and Hearn are likely to fight to put the contest on the 23rd bill, which is topped by Carl Froch versus George Groves, in a bid to ensure that Smith can defend his cherished belt, but the fact that the agreements for the fight are already lodged with the BBBoC would indicated that, barring injury, the governing body will seek to ensure that the original fight agreement is honoured.
It's a tricky situation for the 28-year-old, who made history by becoming one of three brothers to hold British titles at the same time, Paul Smith holds the Super middleweight title and Liam Smith has the light-middleweight belt, and "Swifty" will want to put a notch on his Lonsdale belt by meeting and beating the former titlist.
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