By Terence Dooley
As previously reported on BoxingScene, Liverpool’s Stephen Smith (25-3, 15 KOs) has his eyes set firmly on the European Super featherweight title and is in line to meet Spain's former holder Juli Giner (21-2, 8 KOs) for the vacant belt at London's O2 Arena on December 17. It is the first confirmed fight on the undercard of Tony Bellew’s rematch with David Haye.
Smith has vied for world title honours twice in recent times—a decision loss to Jose Pedraza and the same result against Jason Sosa for the IBF World and WBA Super World titles respectively in 2016—and believes he is still capable of bringing a world title back to Liverpool, but he wants to add the EBU belt to his trophy haul of British (at featherweight and Super feather), and Commonwealth titles (at featherweight) first.
“I’ve been mandatory for it since I beat Gary Buckland (W KO 5 in 2013), which funnily enough was on my son’s first birthday,” he said when talking to BoxingScene about the EBU title. “I went into number one position, never moved from it and fought for the world title a few times before the mandatory got called again to fight (former holder) Guillaume Frenois for the belt. Giner held it while I was mandatory as well, he knocked out Romain Jacob (TKO 8) for it and is a good fighter.
“In all the time I’ve watched boxing, I’ve always liked the British, Commonwealth and European route. I’ve won the British twice and the Commonwealth, so winning the European would be nice and hopefully then it is third time lucky for the world title.
“I’ve not been active this year, but finished last year with a very physical fight against Sosa. I had a first rounder against Karoly Gallovich on Paul’s undercard (of his WBA title challenge to Tyron Zeuge) in Germany. Then I got married. I think if anyone deserved a soft fight by that point it was me. It is now all about winning the European title this year.”
Although this has not been the most active year of his professional career, the 32-year-old has enjoyed it on a personal level and an EBU title win would allow him to close 2017 out on a high and look ahead to a busier 2018.
“I have only fought once, but it is a year I will look back on fondly because of my personal life and my marriage,” he said when reflecting on the year thus far. “I’ve been with my girl for 15 years. We always talked about it and then this year we put the wedding into motion (marrying in the summer). We enjoyed it, but, as people told us, it went too fast. She has always supported me in my boxing career, which is all about winning titles, so I want to do that again by winning the European and then a world title.”
He added: “I believe I wasn’t out of my depth in any of those (world title) fights. It wasn’t meant to happen both times, but it wasn’t through a lack of trying. I never felt sorry for myself, never stopped trying and won a lot of rounds across both fights. I think I showed that it is my level. It wasn’t my time both times. Before the Pedraza fight, I picked up a little niggle in my back, but that wasn’t something that I wanted to say because when the adrenaline kicked in and I was in there I didn’t feel a thing.”
Rather than using his injury as an excuse, Smith told me that it did not hinder him in the ring and that he lost both fights fair and square. “It was not an excuse, it happened the week before but I had a great camp and I’m not one of these people who say that they had hand injuries and this or that after the fight,” he said.
“After the Sosa fight, I had a hand operation, but I didn’t feel it in there and, again, it is not an excuse because I few every shot I wanted to throw. In both fights, I didn’t lose to injuries, I lost to the better man on the night and am hoping it will be my night when it is third time lucky.”
Smith’s brothers Paul and Liam have both faced off against world-class opposition in recent times. Indeed, Paul met Andre Ward in June 2015 (L TKO 9) and Liam lost his WBO light-middleweight belt to Saul Alvarez (L KO 9 in September 2016), two of the world’s best.
All three brothers learned lessons after stepping up, with Stephen echoing Paul’s assertion that it is the little things that you pick up on, saying: “Paul fought Andre Ward, a man who retired on the top, so it must have been a little bit daunting in there because he was a man who probably does the little things so well that you overlook them.
“Against Pedraza, which was my first time around that level, I backed him up to the ropes early on and went to throw a shot. He feinted a shot, stepped one way, stepped again and then stepped away, and I couldn’t throw my shot. In my next sparring session, I remembered the way he drew the shot with a little feint then moved away on the ropes, and how he showed that ability and world-class. It was a sign of the quality of the operator I was in with. It makes you think: ‘I’m going to do that to someone’.”
“I tried it in sparring that day. I threw a little shot, stepped one way and then another, and before I knew it I was in the centre of the ring. Little things that he was doing just showed me how good he was. As the fight went on, I thought I was capable of winning it, but I didn’t look back and think I was robbed or anything. Then I had a nightmare start again Sosa with a knockdown (in round two) that wasn’t a knockdown, he stood on my foot, then got cut in round three.
“I didn’t feel sorry for myself, people had paid to travel to watch me fight so I thought I’d give it a go even if it wasn’t meant to be. Cuts and injuries happen, you get people who bring it up afterwards. Don’t get me wrong, people have lost fights because of injuries in the past yet some people bring it up too often and I believe that so many people make excuses that people don’t believe it anymore.
“Mine was the opposite case. I got an injury before Pedraza—I couldn’t finish my last sparring session—but I’d done the hard work and I believed I’d win the fight. My adrenaline kicked in after I’d warmed up and I never felt it until the next morning. If I’d have used it as an excuse afterwards I’d have been lying.
“I remember Ricky Hatton talking before he retired, he said boxers are a special breed and we are. If you think of excuses, you will give yourself reasons to come back for the next one and the next one if you go on for too long. You have to be honest with yourself. If that knockdown wasn’t scored I’d have still lost the fight, just by fewer points. You can only kid the public so much. I fight out of Liverpool, where people know their boxing—they know if you are good enough or not. The people saw I was at a good level.”
With the R-word triggered, it was time to ask Smith if he was entering the endgame of his professional career, the point where you work out what could be your final moves and, hopefully, start to come to terms with the idea of retirement.
“I’m nearly at the back nine,” he revealed. “I’m not soft, I’ve got to win this European title. I believe I am good enough to win a world title, but if a world title (win) doesn’t happen then that is it for me. I’m not going to hang around and be an opponent for up-and-coming kids. I don’t want my kids to grow up seeing my losing fights left, right and centre, I’ve had too good a career and upbringing to go out like that.”
All four Smith brothers are still active in the sport—although Paul seems firmly ensconced in his punditry role for the time being—so the Smiths hope that they can add a few more world titles to the family’s trophy cabinet.
Liam meets Liam Smith in a WBO title eliminator against Liam Willams in Newcastle on November 11 and Callum picked up the vacant WBC Diamond Super middleweight title by beating Erik Skoglund (W12) in his first outing of the inaugural World Boxing Super Series 168lb tournament. Stephen believes that more success is set to come their way.
“Callum is now in the semis of the World Boxing Super Series,” he said. “He is unbeaten and I believe he can win it. Liam has a rematch with a bit of needle that can get him back at the number one for the WBO. We feel we can get world titles back into the family again. I just have to try to bring my own world title.”
Smith has two boys of his own, one of whom is already “boxing mad”, so we could see another generation come through at a later date. Some boxers baulk at the idea of their children following them into the game. “Swifty”, though, was philosophical when asked how he would feel about it.
“If my boys want to do it then it wouldn’t be a problem,” he revealed. “It is a tough game, there are easier ways to make a living so I would point them towards those. My oldest already calls himself ‘Smasher Smith’ and has his own shorts—I’m hoping it is a phase. At the end of the day, I was allowed to go to the gym by my parents. I have everything I have through boxing and if they want to do it they will have my support.”
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