IT has been almost two years since Liverpool’s Paul Smith (38-9, 22 KOs) faced boxing’s version of a mission impossible, an away outing against current pound-for-pound kingpin Andre Ward (then 27-0, 14 early) in Oakland, California. Smith suffered a broken nose en route to a punishing ninth-round TKO loss on June 20 2015 in what was a chance of a lifetime.
When word of the contest came through, he was on a beach in Marbella with his wife and had to bring forward an operation on a troublesome elbow niggle. On the day of the official weigh-in, Smith came in at 176.4lbs, four pounds over the catchweight limit of 172. The visitor hit 184lbs on the morning of the non-title contest, which cost him $15000 due to an agreement that he would be fined $5000 for extra every pound added over the hastily renegotiated 181lbs limit.
Smith was criticised for travelling to the U.S. a week before the fight. Indeed, it is one of the few regrets he has about taking what was a once in a lifetime opportunity—that and the fact that he did not join trainer and friend Joe Gallagher earlier in his career.
“My chances were always slim, if I landed on the chin then something might happen, but when I did land he came back with three or four shots,” he said when reflecting on the fight. “He is one of the greats of this generation.
“I look at myself in the mirror and can say I wasn’t happy with the build-up, I wasn’t happy with the camp. It is all my fault, the lot of it, but I’d feel worse looking at myself in the mirror if I’d have said no to the fight.
“Looking back, I’d have gone over earlier and done it a lot differently, not looked for that one shot and tried to do what I did against Abraham, but you forget the speed he’s got. Speed kills, and he’s totally different than the likes of Abraham.”
A muscular stylist of a fighter, Ward is not afraid to bend the rules, break a few noses, Smith’s went for the first time in his career, and does what he has to do to win. According to the Liverpudlian, the 33-year-old’s greatest asset is a tough streak forged on the streets of Oakland.
“He is a scallie, he is from similar places to where we are from other here, places like Kirkby and other rough areas like Toxteth,” he explained. “You can tell that Ward is a product of that type of an environment when you see him as a fighter. He’s a spiteful b*****d in there, a born fighter who is also smart. ”
“I think it will be different this time, we will see a better Ward at times, a more aggressive, come forward Ward,” he said when looking ahead to this month’s rematch between Ward and Sergey Kovalev, who was on the wrong end of a hotly disputed decision loss in November and ceded his WBA Super and IBF World light-heavyweight titles to the American.
Never one to hold back, Smith recently outlined his stance towards Twitter for BN, as well as touching on the, largely mistaken, assumption that he believes only boxers can talk boxing. There is one other thing that irks Smith, bad writers and writing, and there has been a marked increase in both in recent years.
“That annoys me, when I see a boxing historian, expert or blogger and there are more spelling and grammar mistakes than you’d see in my English exam,” he said when asked about the state of modern boxing writing. “I’m not a well educated man, but how can you be a writer if you can’t write? It doesn’t matter how keen you are, if you can’t do it properly then what’s the point?
“You get fellas who don’t know boxing that well who say things with certainty, like talking about a right hand or check left hook, that’s what makes me cringe the most. They’ll say someone throws a good check left hook, which is like me watching a professional DJ spinning records for his mate in the corner and trying to talk about the technicalities of that.”
Now a mainstay of Sky’s current broadcast team, the 34-year-old is relishing the challenges of punditry, telling me that the shock factor of boxing mentioned above can make fools of us all, which is one of the things he appreciates most about the sport.
“I like being wrong sometimes and saying on Sky: ‘I didn’t predict that one’,” he revealed. “Like when Tyson [Fury] beat [Wladimir] Klitschko. I didn’t see him winning on points at all. I just didn’t see him getting a decision in Germany. Tony Bellew against David Haye is another one. I thought if he gets him past six or seven then he has got every chance, but did I predict he’d snap his Achilles and it would become the fight it did? No, no one did.”
“Look at [Anthony] Joshua against Klitschko. I was looking at a bet that said both fighters would be knocked down twice and thought it would never happen, and then it almost did. It was mad. Boxing’s very unpredictable so you can’t predict round-for-round what is going to happen.”