By Elliot Foster
STEPHEN SMITH is ecstatic to be creating a bit of boxing history next month.
The former two-time super-featherweight world title challenger, 32, will return to the ring on December 9.
You could be forgiven for thinking that ‘Swifty’ (25-3, 15 KOs) may return on an undercard somewhere after being out since his June win over Karoly Gallovich.
But Smith, whose last outing was in Wetzlar, Germany, will light up Las Vegas when he takes on Francisco Vargas over 12 rounds, thus becoming the first Liverpudlian to fight in Sin City.
The pair will meet at Mandalay Bay, exclusively live on HBO in the States, with Mandalay Bay the venue.
And Smith is delighted that he could be the one to pioneer a chain of events which would hopefully see many other Scousers –– one potentially being his super-middleweight brother Callum, the WBC Diamond champion –– getting their names out there on the Strip.
“It’s good to be the first to do anything before anyone, isn’t it?” Smith said when speaking to Boxing Scene. “With the way our city is, full of boxers, it’s a big surprise to me, but it’s extra special because Scousers stick together and get behind their own.”
The fight itself had been bubbling for a while, though official word on the match-up only came last weekend as Smith watched brother Liam put himself in position for a shot at his old WBO super-welterweight title with a majority decision verdict over Liam Williams in their rematch at the Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle.
“Now, it’s nothing,” he continued when asked about the status of the showdown. “But he’s the number two with the WBC and if I beat him and take that ranking then that puts me close to the mandatory position for the world title anyway, whether the fight ends up an eliminator or not.
“I think it’s a bigger fight than the one we had planned and if I get a world title fight off the back of it, if I beat him with him being the name that he is, then it’s a good move.”
Smith had been set to face Juli Giner in a mandatory challenge for the European super-featherweight crown with the fight signed. However, a date for the fight to land on couldn’t be tied down, leading to him and his team taking this offer of a fight against ‘El Bandido’.
“It doesn’t really bother me, not fighting for the European title,” he said. “It’s not one of those where I look back when I’m retired with regrets about not getting the title. I think it’s a little bit undervalued –– it used to be a great belt when we were growing up –– but the difference is if I don’t win a world title by the end of my career it’ll be something I’ll always be a bit gutted about.
“We were looking towards the end of the year to fight Giner, but there was never a concrete date and then this came about. It’s not like I’ve pulled out of the European title fight to take this. I’ve been mandatory for it since I beat Gary Buckland in a British title fight four years ago, so you can’t blame me that they’ve called the fight now, four years later.
“I’ve still got a lot of respect for the belt, but I believe this a bigger fight for me, a bigger opportunity and it’s out in Vegas, so it’ll open more doors for me.”
Vargas has been out of the ring since losing his WBC title by knockout to Miguel Berchelt.
And Smith is taking heaps of confidence from that, stating that the recent wars the Mexican has been in are taking their toll.
“He’s a former world champion, a great fighter and a great name, but you only have to look at his face after his last three fights. He’s not the hardest to hit.
“I don’t care who you are, when you’re in top fights like he is and taking punishment like he has taken in his recent fights, that’s got to put miles on your clock. He’s 32 and his body is different when it comes to reacting to things like that than it would be if he was 21.
“I reckon I can use that to my advantage and if I get in there and start landing on him, get my own stuff off and use my own skillset then I can definitely win the fight.
“I don’t think he knows another way of fighting. He’s just a very tough, fit man and he brings it 100 per cent every time.
“But I’ve got to use my own ability to negate his offence and make sure that the fight plays into my hands before I can think about anything else.
“The main thing is, I’m going out to Vegas to get that win.”