Father and son combinations in boxing divide opinion. At one point there was even talk of the WBC trying to ban fathers from their sons’ corners. However there is no denying the success that many have had in the sport, even if the limelight can be a difficult spot to share. Dalton Smith has no such worries, as he begins his professional journey on Friday in Nottingham, after a highly successful amateur career, with his father and trainer Grant running the corner and guiding him through the murky political waters of the pro ranks.
At just 22, he has been snapped up by Matchroom Boxing and the Sheffield man is being billed as a future star. Those that saw him in the amateurs will confirm his potential to go far. With the doubts surrounding boxing’s definitive future at the Olympic Games, Smith wasn’t going to wait around to see how the pieces fell. Dalton explained, “It’s been a long process, getting released by the amateurs, turning over and then starting training camp but that’s all done and I can concentrate on my first fight. The Olympics in Tokyo are only next year, but they [are going to] change the weights so it would have been difficult for me to either go up or down, so the only other option was to turn professional.
“Matchroom are the biggest promotional outfit out there, so to have them backing me, as well as fighting on both Sky Sports and DAZN in the US is massive for me. Starting in Nottingham as well is great, as most of the Matchroom cards seem to be at the O2 Arena in London, but to debut close to home and be able to take plenty down is perfect for me.
“I was on the GB program for five years and being alongside some world class amateurs and world champions like Anthony Joshua at the Institute of Sport, as well as in my home gym with Charlie Edwards has been a great example for me. I don’t want to move too slow, but I also don’t want to rush everything, so it’s about finding the right balance.”
Smith is adamant he is ready to prove that he has what it takes to succeed now he has turned over. He points towards his experience in the World Series of Boxing, which has seen the top amateurs represent their countries in weekly bouts, regularly coming up against their closest rivals.
That has seen the amateur game slowly become more professional, with WSB bouts fought over five rounds. As the gap between the pros and amateurs continues to shrink, elite amateurs are now moving quicker in their careers, taking difficult fights early as they aim to become world champions in record time.
But for Smith the biggest difference between the two codes will be the gloves that will protect the valuable tools of the trade. Smith has had operations on his hands already but insists that the pro gloves will make a huge difference due to the protection he can now use.
“When amateurs turn over now, they don’t wait around and take easy fights for long. A lot of them, like myself have the experience of fighting in the WSB, where it’s five rounds and geared towards being in a professional environment, so it’s a seamless transition. I remember my WSB debut, where I fought Yasniel Toledo Lopez from Cuba who won Olympic bronze and that was when I was 18 and I handled it well.
“The gloves and the wrapping around your hands in the amateurs isn’t as good as in the pros, where you can make a better fist so they fit to the shape of your hands much better. I’ve been trying out a few different gloves so they will suit me much better, as well as customising the hand wraps so it’ll be a big help for me, as I’ve had a couple of problems with my hands. There will be less injuries and I can look after them much better.”
Smith comes across as a reserved character, but is effusive in his praise for his father, already one of the top amateur coaches in the country and also responsible for guiding Charlie Edwards over the finish line to gain the WBC world flyweight title last December.
Smith told Boxing News: “My dad has trained me since I was five or six years old and when I decided to turn over, there was no decision to be made as to who would train me, I was straight in here with my dad. The gym is already extremely successful, but I think it’ll only continue to grow and get bigger.
“It’s always been a top amateur gym, but now it’s starting to get the recognition it deserves in the professional ranks, with Charlie and Sunny Edwards fighting out of here. My dad deserves all the credit he’s getting now and I believe that I can keep bringing more and more success to the gym.
“It’s always an interesting topic having your father in the corner, but for me it works. Everything I’ve ever set my mind too, I’ve done it and my dad has been the driving force behind me every step of the way. I don’t think that will stop now anytime soon now I’m a professional. Look at what Joe Calzaghe did with his dad in the corner, as well as the likes of Josh Warrington and Danny Garcia. It works for them and there is no reason why it won’t work for me.
“I’ve always said how good a coach my dad is, but now the proof is in the pudding and people are just starting to see how good he is. There’s plenty of good coaches out there, and some get a lot more credit than others, and I believe that my dad will be up there in the next couple of years as one of the best coaches in the country.”
The gym that Grant set up is tucked away in a quiet corner of Sheffield. You wouldn’t even know it was there. But, inside the gym, which Smith formed in 2002, is one of the best production lines of boxing talent in the country. Dalton is the most accomplished, but he is one of many who have tasted success with the no-nonsense Grant in their corner.
“I get asked how many national titles have you won in the amateurs? To tell you the truth, I’ve honestly lost count. I had seven one year and that was out of 10 fighters, which is the most that I usually like to train. If one packed it in, then I’d bring one up from the younger classes and keep the squad nice and small,” Grant said. “Sometimes we had less, but we have always had national champions and it’s not just the same kids, it’s always different ones. To have seven out of 10 that year was amazing. For some gyms they might only get that chance once every five or ten years, but I don’t know what it is, but we seem to be producing one after another every year.
“Obviously they’ve got to have the talent and I think we might be the only gym in history to have Schoolboy, Junior, Youth, Elite and Female ABA champions, so we’ve done very well in the time that we’ve been around.”
But his attention snaps back to his son’s opening fight at the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham on Friday. He has seen some of Dalton’s former teammates move quickly since turning over, but he is preaching that with Dalton, every step on the way has to be right and there will be no wrong steps.
If Dalton impresses as expected, the clamour for tougher tests will grow. With the weight of Sky Sports and Matchroom behind him he could become a star quickly. But, Grant points to his Dalton’s age and that time is on their side, as they look to eventually build up to an assault on the super-lightweight rankings.
He added: “It’s all about taking the right fights at the right time. You look at the likes of Lawrence Okolie, Joshua Buatsi and Anthony Fowler, who are all moving fast, as they were all top fighters and standout amateurs, but they are all a couple of years older than Dalton, who was only 22 last month.
“He’ll have time to progress as well as stepping up when the time is right. I don’t want easy fights as it’s not fair on him and in particular his fans, who are spending hard earned money to come and watch him. It’s boring having simple, knock-over tests that do nobody anybody good
“He’ll be doing super-lightweight without a doubt and he’ll tell you himself that he wanted to do lightweight, which I didn’t agree with as I said he will have grown out of the weight by the time the chance to fight for titles comes along. So we’ll do light-welter, make the weight nicely with no massive push and then grow into the weight properly before moving up to welterweight at the back end of his career.”
With Dalton turning over and as the Edwards brothers continue on their quest to become the Klitschko brothers of the smaller weight classes, it appears that success will be the most likely outcome for the Steel City Gym. With the addition of excellent Scottish prospect Lee McGregor, already a Commonwealth champion at bantamweight, that shows no sign of stopping.
Grant allows himself briefly the chance to look back at the gym’s biggest night, last December when Charlie Edwards reached the pinnacle of the sport by ripping the WBC flyweight title from Cristofer Rosales’ grasp. He has since defended the belt, but that victory was an upset few predicted before the fight. For Grant though it was anything but, as he explained: “When Charlie won the world title we were speechless. Me and Dalton both expressed on social media how much it meant to the gym, after all the years of hard work and graft to be able to achieve it was huge.
“He was a big underdog for everyone going in, but we didn’t take the fight just because it was for a world title, we took it because we knew we could beat Rosales. Everyone was speaking to me before, which I didn’t tell Charlie about obviously, but they were saying that he wouldn’t win, including some well-known people in the sport.
“So I replied that we saw it as a proper 50/50 fight and if Charlie sticks to the plan, he will win it and become world champion, which got a few comments and raised eyebrows. Then when he did it, plenty of the same people came up to me and were saying he boxed brilliant and they didn’t think he’d do that. It was good to say I told you so!”
As any father is, he is full of pride when it comes to his son, ending our conversation by declaring: “He won every title going for the amateurs in this country and learned so much in the GB setup. I’ve got him back full time now and he knows himself how good he is, but he isn’t big headed about it and he will do it the right way.
“He’s a beautiful guy, totally level-headed and you wouldn’t even know that he’s a boxer. The ability he has is second-to-none, and as long as he stays that way, he will fight for world titles, obviously we hope he wins one, and if he doesn’t we will honestly class it as a failure on my behalf.”
As for the reserved Dalton, he remains composed throughout and is refusing to let the occasion or hype run away from him. He is totally in control and focused on his goals. Like all fighters he has serious ambitions, but don’t expect him to be shouting from the mountain top about his future greatness. He will be working quietly in the gym, as always.